I’ve commented on busy as a badge of honour before. Like when when someone asks how you are, your default response is ‘busy’ or ‘soooo busy’. We fear that if we’re not really busy, we’re judged as being a poor leader, lazy, or not doing our best.
The danger with busy is that if you’re not careful, your constant busy can lead to burnout.
A burnt out leader will struggle because burnout drains your energy. It prevents you from thinking clearly, and from inspiring and motivating others.
Burnout is serious. It’s a combination of professional exhaustion, general disillusionment, and a lack of motivation and interest.
It’s not just the odd day when you feel a bit under par. The effects of burnout build up over time, and impact individuals over the long term.
Symptoms of burnout vary from individual to individual, and include insomnia, low energy, a loss of interest in work, headaches, and irrational irritability with colleagues, friends, and family.
Burnout results in low productivity and low creativity. You’re less likely to spot opportunities when you’re feeling burnt out. And even when you do, you don’t have the attention span to act on them.
If you’re constantly exhausted, anxious, annoyed and overwhelmed, and you prefer to watch generic television shows and eat chocolate than hang out with your friends and family, it may be a signal that burnout has got the better of you.
You can prevent this. You have to put strategies in place to look after yourself – and encourage your team to do the same – to prevent burnout happening in the first place.
You have to put your oxygen mask on first before you can help and lead others.
If you’re in danger of burning out, a quick fix like a spa day or a holiday might help. But it doesn’t offer a sustainable solution.
To prevent burnout, you must implement strategies and habits that create lasting change.
1. Get moving
Do more exercise. Your body and mind will be able to handle the effects of stress more easily if you take regular exercise. This isn’t about doing a mega workout at the gym. It’s more important to find exercise that you enjoy and that you can make a habit. Check out this excellent atricle on no gym workouts from our friends over at Groom and Style.
It’s one of the reasons I got a dog because it means that I have to walk every day. Research shows that in addition to improving fitness and cardiovascular health, walking outside can also increase your creativity and well being.
Walking helps me to think straight and get my thoughts in order. If I walk at the start of the day, it helps me to plan my day and prioritize urgent tasks.
Doing exercise can help you to sleep better and when we’re rested we’re capable of making better decisions about pretty much everything from work problems to what we eat for dinner.
2. Do something all-consuming
For some people, this is about practicing mindfulness and focusing your awareness on the present moment. For others, it might be immersing yourself in a good book or a film.
For me, I prefer improv. Several years ago, I was running a workshop on stepping out of your comfort zone. I believe that it’s important to lead by example, so I challenged myself to step out of my comfort zone and do something that scared me.
I signed up for improv classes. In my experience, it’s better than therapy. When you are practicing improv, you can only think and be in the moment. You have to fully apply yourself to be able to respond to the others on stage.
Find your thing that is all consuming and means you have to switch off from everything else, and do it often.
3. Ask for help
As leaders, we sometimes feel that there is an expectation to know all the answers. This can make us feel stressed and under pressure. It’s not your role to know all the answers.
It’s more important to ask the right questions and have a network of people to go to who will have some of the answers. Build your troupe of people who you can ask for help.
These are not the people who tell you you’re amazing no matter what, these are critical friends who have your best interests at heart and will be candid and kind. Go for breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and connect with people regularly to build your networks before you need them.
Do these things regularly. Make them a habit.
This is not you being selfish, this is you preventing burnout. This is you putting on your oxygen mask first so that you can better lead and help others.
If you’d like some help to better lead and help others check out the Lucidity Facebook community. A place to ask for help, share ideas and practical ways to be happier at work.
A version of this blog was first published at About Leaders.