Tips For Adulthood: Five Signs You're Working Too Hard

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Sometimes it’s the off-hand comment that really gets you thinking.

So there I was in the playground yesterday, about to pick my daughter up from school, when I started talking to a friend who was also waiting for her son. We were midway into a vague, “How’s it goin’?” sort of chat, when she suddenly commented, seemingly out of nowhere: “You seem so busy. Do you ever eat lunch?”

I laughed, reassuring her that I did, even while suppressing the memory of stuffing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into my mouth but two hours earlier as I galloped up a hill towards a bi-monthly appointment with my life coach (whom I see to help me…relax.)

But it gets better. As we talked some more about my work schedule, my double-school-run-afternoons and my husband’s recent business travel, she asked – in all seriousness – “Do you ever watch TV?”

She meant it in the nicest way, of course. She’s a really nice person. But, still, it cut me like a knife.

I mean: Do I ever watch TV? Am I so busy that the image I now project is that of a pop-culture-bereft, ready-meal-popping freak show who zips around North London on her collapsible bicycle desperately trying to keep up with her life? (Don’t answer that question. And by the way, does falling asleep to the Director’s Cut of Pride and Prejudice count as “watching TV”?)

So I gave it some thought. And I realized that I have been working too hard lately and trying to do too much. And I really need to relax. Here are five other tell-tale signs that you need to take a break:

1. Strangers tell you that you look rushed. It’s one thing when a friend tells you that you seem over-worked. But when even a stranger expresses concern that you’re too busy, it’s really time to take note. I was in the pharmacy the other day – where, because of the multitude of medical problems afflicting my family – the pharmacists are basically my extended family. Again, seemingly out of nowhere, the owner of the shop stepped forward and observed: “You always seem to be in a rush.” (“Why do you say that?” I wanted to reply. “Because I just knocked 42 of your contact lens solutions on the floor when I whooshed in here to grab my prescription while – literally – jogging?”) Once again, she meant it in the nicest way. This lady brings the descriptor “kindly” to a whole new level. And that made her remark all the more telling.

2. Muscle pain migrates to new corners of your body. Remember my piriformis syndrome? Thought I had that licked, didn’t you? Nope. It’s back. Only it has inexplicably migrated to the left side of my body. As soon as the pain started about six weeks ago, I recognized the symptoms instantly. And for a while, I ignored it. (Even though you should never ignore pain. You heard it here first.) But you know it’s time to cut back on what you’re doing when your body is basically screaming: “Hey! Pay Attention to Me!”

3. You feel relieved when you *have* to read your favorite magazine. I love The New Yorker. But despite my Sabbath Saturday resolve to devote more time to reading this magazine, I’ve fallen off the wagon. There are three – quite possibly, four – issues sitting in my magazine rack as we speak. One day last week, I found myself waiting for one of my kids for an hour with nothing to do but read my New Yorker. And I felt…relieved. As in: “Thank goodness this hour presented itself miraculously in my life!” Not as in: “Gee, I love the New Yorker and I think I’ll spend an hour reading it this afternoon because I want to.” What’s wrong with this picture?

4. You mistake tragedy for comedy. I love Indie films. The bleaker, the better. So when I recommended Winter’s Bone to some friends recently, I was puzzled when one of them, while passing me on the school run, shouted out: “Hey, thanks for the movie recommendation. We had a lovely evening. But it was a bit…grim, no?” To which I responded: “Grim? Really? I found it kind of uplifting.” When I recounted this exchange to my husband later that evening, he looked at me as if I were smoking crack. Like me, he also loved the movie. But “uplifting”? To paraphrase his reaction, when you mix poverty, drugs, murder and rural American sub-cultures, that’s not generally characterized as “uplifting.” Just sayin’.

5. You read Nora Ephron. I like my books much like I prefer my movies: heavy and (often) dark. (For me, the Dragon Tattoo series constitutes “light.”) So when my book club chose Nora Ephron’s Heartburn as its selection this month, I was initially disappointed. Not my cuppa, as they say. Boy, was I wrong. It’s not a great novel by any stretch. In fact, it’s not so much a novel as an extended rant by Ephron against her ex-husband for cheating on her when she was seven months pregnant. (And who can blame her?) But, man is Ephron funny. She has a terrific voice. And sometimes, we all just need to laugh.

Fortunately, I will have a chance to take a break later this month when I travel with my family – and my mother – to Berlin, one of those European cities I’ve always wanted to visit. Let’s just hope that whole terrorist threat thing has lifted by then. Speaking of grim…


I was very grateful for this shout-out on the New York Times Freakonomics blog for my recent piece on health care reform in the U.K.

Image: Eat On The Run by Brave Heart via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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  • Reply Erin

    October 6, 2010, 4:59 pm

    Wow – you really are busy. I saw myself in several of these things. One thing about being really busy most of the time – when you do have time to yourself you truly appreciate it and make the most of it. I, like you, work too hard but no one likes relaxing and getting away from it all as much as I do (and I think you do too). Enjoy Berlin!

  • Reply Patricia

    October 6, 2010, 7:38 pm

    Wow did this speak to me this morning… ever since Yin-Yoga class yesterday morning, I have just been in a strange place and your post this morning just says it all – I am working too hard and doing too much…

    I would add that I do klutzy things…like overfill the shower soap bottle, leaving the soap pouring through the funnel while I run and do something else…and the whole bottle of refill oozes out the sides and down the cupboard and onto the floor and is not discovered until 5 hours later when I want to put the bottle back in the bathroom…now I have more work!

    I just got a one month consulting job starting next week, and book group next week, and my husband is out of town working next week ( he gets a train trip!) and I have had no vacation or time off…

    I think I need to regroup…
    I needed this to day….great timing

    This Autumn seems so much busier to me even without 8 apple trees to contend with? Is is just me?

  • Reply Sarah

    October 6, 2010, 7:45 pm

    Delia, I am laughing because I swear you end up really liking every single book club book that you initially fight tooth and nail against! And it’s the ones that you’ve always wanted to read and that you think are worthy and intellectual that you end up being lukewarm about. Maybe it’s time to think about what you really like and what you think you “should” read? (coming from someone who has recently decided that life is too short to do things I think I “should” do so somewhat biased…)

  • Reply delialloyd

    October 6, 2010, 8:46 pm

    @Erin. Yes, birds of a feather, and all that..
    @Patricia. Glad it resonated. I do the overflow thing too…or leave something on pot to boil and forget and then burn the pan…
    @Sarah-yes, it is nice to be surprised…still not convinced it’s a good *book group* book but i did enjoy!

  • Reply Hilary

    October 7, 2010, 9:49 am

    Hi Delia .. great post .. and by the sounds of it time for a break – Berlin should be fun, especially as you get to take your mother with you .. my mother and I went to Hamburg to see some friends & that was great – a sharing experience .. still going on.

    I used to rush around doing lots – no kids though .. but since my mother’s and uncle’s illnesses I just have to do what I can .. and no more – look after myself .. now life is getting easier – I feel the urge to get on the bandwagon a bit more ..

    Just have a good break .. and boy do you hit the boundaries of life .. it’s a great read .. thanks – I’m glad I’m here .. Hilary

    • Reply delialloyd

      October 7, 2010, 12:13 pm

      thanks hilary! so glad it resonated for you as well. i’m trying to take some deep breaths this week (yoga helps!) and prepare myself to downshift over the next few weeks. Thanks for stopping by!

      • Reply Hilary

        October 7, 2010, 12:30 pm

        Glad to hear you’re going to calm down! Sounds as though you’re appreciated a great deal and your opinions are valued .. tricky to balance life in these situations ..

        Enjoy Berlin – I’m sure you saw the film “Goodbye Lenin” .. I laughed at that ..

        Thanks – just enjoy .. Hilary

  • Reply Daryl Boylan

    October 7, 2010, 3:53 pm

    Overstressed? Gee whiz, what a surprise. And here I was thinking, “Hey, there must be a few more fascinating or totally necessary things she could cram in.” Next question — what needs to be let go, other than your back?

  • Reply Elizabeth

    October 7, 2010, 6:44 pm

    Does trying to multitask by brushing your teeth while you catch up on blogs count as another sign? Bad judgement, yes, but working too hard?

    Also, love the question, “do you ever have time to watch TV?” Because I always consider that a sign of busyness. Sometimes weeks go by in my house and then I feel like, “Oh, I remember that thing, the TV.”

  • Reply delialloyd

    October 7, 2010, 8:57 pm

    @Elizabeth-ha!! We are the same re: TV. Sometimes I find myself gazing at it and thinking: what is that thing?

  • Reply Cecilia

    October 13, 2010, 2:25 pm

    It’s to your credit that you wrote about being over busy with alot of humor ;-) I think that some people just have a harder time “relaxing.” I have a friend whose husband had to put her on a ship (cruise) in order to force her to rest, but even on her vacation she was the first in line waiting for the computer room to open each morning.

    Hope you enjoy a “light” and “uplifting” trip to Berlin!

  • Reply pve

    October 14, 2010, 3:45 pm

    I wonder if “gentlemen” are ever asked such questions? It seems that men are allowed to be busy and we women are always having to make time for everyone else and then, not until we have an ache or a pain, then we take note. My husband enjoys a show on TV, while I might see it as wasting time, it does allow him to relax. We as adults deserve to be as busy as we want to be, even over a leisurely lunch, a random walk in the park or a good snooze. I think we have begun to see the benefits of idling through life!

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