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You clock long hours at the office, thinking taking leave is “unproductive”, and are constantly glued to your smartphone. Sounds like your life? You’re probably overdoing it at work.

Contrary to the popular belief that millennials only care about work-life balance, a survey by US non-profit group Project: Time Off showed that 43 per cent of them consider themselves “work martyrs” who feel bad about going on leave. Compared to baby boomers, millennials are at least twice as likely to find taking time off difficult, because they don’t want to lose out in terms of being considered for a raise or a promotion, and want to show dedication. 

1. Don’t equate your self-worth with your job

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You’ve heard it before: Don’t let work become your life. But talk is cheap, right? An easy way to put this into action is to cultivate other interests outside the office. Halliburton mechanical engineer Dione Seet, 29, carves out time to exercise, and plays floorball competitively. Even more important: actually sticking to these routines. “When I’m on the court, the adrenalin helps to relieve my stress, and scoring a goal or creating a brilliant set-up (during the game) keeps my spirits up the entire week,” she says. It’s also a chance to build and work on your relationships outside of work.


2. Stop thinking that everything is important

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Believe it or not, nobody’s going to have a heart attack if you don’t get back to them ASAP. Lay down some ground rules for yourself – no e-mails or replying to work-related texts after-hours. A self-confessed workaholic, communications professional Christine*, 28, found herself exhausted and unable to get out of bed most mornings. She also had panic and anxiety attacks. It made her adjust her approach to work. You can start small, she says. “I have Whatsapp banner notifications enabled, so that means I can more or less tell if it’s urgent with a quick glance, without having to unlock my phone. If it’s not, I’ll tell them that I’ll get back to them the next day, or simply respond the following morning.”


3. It’s okay if you don’t tick off everything on your to-do list

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Cut yourself some slack. “Some days you have to work a little harder, but on other days when deadlines aren’t looming and you can take a breather, you should. Otherwise, you’ll always be running on empty,” says Christine. Don’t feel pressured to operate at warp speed 24/7.

Breezing through your to-do list may give you a sense of accomplishment, but it’s likely to leave you feeling completely drained.


4. Don’t chew on the problem


Try to be more aware of when work-related problems are playing over and over in your head. Many people do this subconsciously – even after they leave the office – and end up exhausted because they haven’t had a good mental break. If it’s not within your control to change the situation, learn to let go, says The Mindful Company co-founder Ciara Yeo, 32, who adds that mastering this has helped her navigate work stress.


5. Fit personal time into your work day

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Work-life integration works two ways, so find small pockets in your workday to do things that energise you and keep you sane. Sharon Koh, a 36-year-old academic, squeezes in Facetime chats with her kids in between meetings, or sometimes just takes time out to browse and buy stuff online. Remember that small breaks matter, and you aren’t supposed to feel guilty about them.


6. Try asking for flexitime

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General Assembly regional director Aziza Sheerin, 29, doesn’t mind if her team members don’t show up on time, as long as they get their work done. “As I work with our New York office, I have early morning conference calls with the teams there, and I like to spend about an hour sorting through e-mails before I head to the office,” she says. Her point is: Identify when you’re most productive, and talk to your boss about the results that matter to the company, and how you can deliver them without sticking to fixed hours. Stick to the agreement, and follow through with the goals you set. Even if your boss says no, at least he or she has a better understanding of your working style.


Are you a ‘work martyr’?





This story was first published in the March issue of Her World.