Work’s Got You Drained? Try Carrying Less Instead of Caring Less
Have you ever longed for a simpler way of working? More than a few times, my leadership coaching clients have expressed a desire to escape the complexity of their work lives to be a barista. And, each time that happens, I remind them that their trajectory would likely go something like this: they would use their high-performing habits to become the most efficient barista, redesign the coffee-making workflow, get promoted to store manager, take the store performance to new levels, get promoted to a regional management position, manage more stores and general managers…which would bring us right back to their current state of both stress and exhaustion. Often that realization leads to the next wish: “if only I didn’t care so much.” We live in a world filled with constant demands and ever-increasing workloads both at work and at home. For high achievers who strive to get stuff done, it becomes draining. The idea of caring less about work may seem appealing, but the truth is that no one wants the version of you who doesn’t care and you don't want to be that version of yourself, either.
Your ideas and your care are part of the "secret sauce”. If you stopped caring, you might feel better about the things that frustrate and drain you at work, but you would also lose your motivation, your passion, and your sense of purpose in the process.
The Fallacy of Caring Less
The notion of caring less about work often stems from a desire to escape stress, overwhelm, or dissatisfaction. But adopting an attitude of apathy or indifference can also lead to the unintended consequences of disengagement, mediocrity, and a lack of fulfillment. Our work occupies a significant portion of our lives and, while it might seem like the answer, dismissing it entirely can result in missed opportunities for growth, impact, and satisfaction. One of my brilliant, soon-to-be CEO clients said it best, “it’s not about caring less, it’s about carrying less.”
Carrying less involves actively managing your energy at work. By consciously directing your energy and attention towards the areas that are worth your energy and unsubscribing from the “energy vampires” (i.e., things that take your energy without giving you anything in return), you are able to load balance to carry less…and do more of what fulfills you. In doing so, you can find purpose, drive, and satisfaction in your professional life. Looking to carry less? Here’s how:
1. Conduct an Energy Audit: The goal of an energy audit is to identify and consciously invest in the aspects of our work and relationships that give you energy and divest time spent in the areas that take energy away. By focusing your attention on meaningful areas, you can cultivate a sense of purpose and derive greater satisfaction from your professional endeavors. Simultaneously, the goal is to unsubscribe from Sisyphean tasks where your efforts are futile, unwelcomed or simply not your responsibility. To get started, make a list of how you spend your time and bucket each item into one of the following categories: energy-giving, steady, energy-taking but must-do (understanding that some things that drain us also must get done), or energy vampires/unsubscribe (these are thing energy-takers that we are choosing to engage in).
2. Identify What Matters: To effectively choose what you care about at work, it is essential to reflect on your values and aspirations. Anyone who has described an aspect of their job as “soul sucking” (and who hasn’t?) is describing a lack of alignment between their job and their personal values. For me, that looks like not having freedom to make independent decisions about my work (a reflection of my value of autonomy). Ask yourself: What aspects of my work truly matter to me? Is it making a difference in people's lives, driving innovation, or fostering meaningful connections? On the other end of the spectrum, also ask yourself: Why do I consider this task/relationship soul sucking? What personal value is out of alignment here? Clarifying your values allows you to align your actions and priorities with your values which leads to greater fulfillment. Similarly, knowing when your values are out of alignment with your work signals where you need to muster extra energy in the short term for priorities or relationships that drain you. And, if that lack of alignment becomes long-term, it’s also a signal that it is time to move on.
3. Purge: Carrying less literally means not trying to do it all. Start with what is easy to let go. Consider purging any meetings/events you have on your calendar as “tentative” or as an FYI that you will attend if you have time. If you don’t care enough to accept the meeting, you should not be attending. Purge any tasks or endeavors you don’t own or are not having success influencing. Often, because we care, we are trying to drive change or initiatives outside our sphere of ownership. If others are not responding or welcoming your efforts, consider conserving your energy for where it’s welcomed. Finally, comb through your To- Do list and your calendar list with an eye toward NOT doing to determine what can be cut to conserve energy.
4. Set Boundaries: Carrying less involves setting boundaries and learning to let go of things that do not align with your priorities, goals, or values. Everyone should not have equal access to your energy. Boundaries allow you to minimize people who are claiming too much energy to conserve it for others whom you have a more symbiotic energetic relationship. Setting boundaries can look like putting limits on how much access to you people have (e.g., “I see you put a meeting on my calendar. Please let me know what you’d like to cover.”) or it might look like responding to a request with what works for you (e.g., “I won’t be able to turn that around same day to the quality level I would prefer. Would tomorrow mid-day work for you?”).
5. Practice Energy-Based Budgeting: Recognize that it is impossible to care deeply about everything at work. Energy-based budgeting means aligning your time budget with your energy budget by allocating more time to the people and things that are net positive and less time to people and things that drain your energetic budget. Practicing energy-based budgeting may involve letting others down because you are choosing yourself above what others need from you.
This is your permission to keep caring deeply, even when you’re feeling drained. It’s also your invitation to stop carrying so much and manage your energy. By understanding your energetic limitations and focusing on carrying less instead of “doing it all,” you can avoid spreading yourself too thin and ensure that your energy is directed toward the areas where you can have the most significant impact. Doing so might just unlock your potential, foster your growth, and support you to find meaning in the work you do…again.