A friend of mine was in a situation that many of you can probably relate to: She was working like crazy at a company that was making her miserable. Think 12-hour days, sleepless nights worrying about client demands, and nonstop pressure from her boss to do more with the same amount of resources. To top it off, she’d been asking for a raise for a year, and though her responsibilities and workload had increased dramatically, she’d been told she simply wasn’t getting a bump up.
Most people I know in this boat want to leave, but they aren’t sure how—with all those responsibilities and limited hours in the day to even eat, sleep, or see friends, where’s the time to network, browse job listings, and craft those perfectly tailored cover letters?
Well, here’s what my friend did: She simply stopped working so hard. And she stopped caring.
Yes, she still clocked a full day—from 9 to 6, she answered her email, took care of her clients, and knocked off her to-dos. But then she left the office and went about her life. She stopped checking her phone all hours of the night, she stopped signing up for new projects her boss threw her way, and she stopped obsessing about her job. In short, she did the bare minimum.
I know—this is making the overachievers among us cringe. But you know what happened?
Nothing bad, anyway. She felt better and more relaxed. She still hit all of her goals. And, because she left work at work, she spent time doing things she cared about. She started exercising, she spent time with friends and family, and she felt much more relaxed and healthy. She even re-connected with an old contact—who offered her a shiny new job.
Could she be on to something? I thought of her strategy recently when reading an HBR article in which Peter Bregman discusses that, to become your future self, you often need to put your present needs aside. “Sometimes you need to be irresponsible with your current challenges in order to make real progress on your future self,” he writes. “You have to let the present just sit there, untended. It’s not going away and will never end. That’s the nature of the present.”
But is that true with the job search, too? Is the secret to making time for resumes and interviews when you’re overwhelmed with your current position simply taking your foot off the gas pedal—and not giving a you-know-what about it?
“Absolutely,” says Muse Master Coach Jenny Foss, when I posed the question to her. “Lots of times, people are giving 150% to a job they despise and getting little in return from their employer in terms of respect, flexibility, or appreciation. In instances like these, I recommend figuring out what the minimum expectations are for this role, and delivering on all of these... and nothing else.”
That’ll give you not only the time, but the energy to devote to finding that next big thing, she adds. “Energy conservation is crucial during a career transition, and you also need as much time as possible to devote to the hunt. So figure out what the essentials are and, for the time being, stop worrying about being the office super achiever.”
Of course, I should note that not being the office super achiever is a far cry from checking out completely. After all, job searches aren’t always quick, and slacking for months could definitely mean you don’t have a new job or an old job. Not giving 100% could “damage your professional reputation, hurt your brand, and burn a bridge with your employer,” cautions Muse Career Coach Lea McLeod. “You don’t want your current employer saying, ‘Oh, we thought she was looking. She basically stopped working hard three months ago.’”
Fair point. But still, maybe instead of giving an A+ effort all the time, give a B+. Leave at 5:30. Take a couple of those personal days that have been sitting in your account to focus on your search. Don’t automatically say yes to that new project or committee. Let those non-urgent emails sit until tomorrow. Get out of the present and spend some time focusing on your future self.
It seems counterintuitive—and probably a little scary—to not kill it at work. But if you’re smart about it, the likely result will be: You’ll be less stressed, less overwhelmed, and far more likely to land your next job.