Three tips to avoid burnout

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 overwhelmedand 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. 

Three tips to beat the curse of busy

When someone asks, ‘how are you?’ is your standard default ‘really busy’? Are you constantly responding to urgent and important requests on different devices with no time to think straight? Do you feel like you are on a hamster wheel running round and around with no time to stop and consider what you are doing? You are not alone. In the recent Lucidity Innovation Launchpad survey 82% of people told us they don’t have time to think because they are too busy fire-fighting everyday tasks and managing an ever increasing ‘to-do’ list with no time to do it because they are in constant meetings, juggling conflicting priorities and are stressed out at being pulled in all directions.

Based on our research and experience it would seem that we are in the midst of a busyness epidemic. Huffington Post described busyness as a sickness. And we would agree since excessive busyness can cause fatigue, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, heartburn, bowel disturbances, back pain, and weight gain.

We’re so busy responding to other people’s ‘urgent and important’ we don’t take stock of whether the activities are truly urgent or important. We don’t take time to consider, if what we are busy about, are the right activities that will get us the best results. The stress levels associated with this sort of constant busyness are bad for us. Our health suffers, concentration ebbs, decision making is impacted, we miss opportunities and we can lack focus and become inward looking.

“It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” Henry David Thoreau

That’s why over at the Lucidity Network we put some training material together on beating the curse of busy and making time to think. Here are our top three tips:

Tip 1. Work when you are at your best Humans are not programmed to work between the conventional office working hours of 9-5. Some people are best early morning, others are night owls, and some thrive at 3pm. Save time by working out how you can do the most difficult stuff that requires real thinking when you are at your Note your working patterns over the next week and notice when you do your best thinking. When are you in a slump? Start to plan your day to do the difficult tasks when you are at your best and take a nap (we’re serious) or do the tasks that take less concentration when you are in your slump.

Tip 2. Get rid of distractions If you are attempting to do meaningful work turn off all distractions. Switch off your email, put your phone out of reach where you can’t check Facebook or WhatsApp and turn off all notifications. If you work in an office put headphones on (even if you are not playing anything through them, they can signal ‘do not disturb’ or if your office environment is too distracting book a meeting room or work from home. Interruptions stop your flow and your brain’s thought process. Once you are distracted, the brain has to find where it was, re assess the situation, and then make the effort to get back to that stopping point. That can take 15 minutes per distraction which adds up to a massive amount of wasted time. Research also shows that people in a flow state are five times more productive than they otherwise would be. Turn off all your notifications, for example on email, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram to give yourself a chance of concentrating for more than 10 seconds.

Tip 3. Work in short bursts Humans work best in short bursts. The optimum short burst time i.e. the length of time worked vs when a break is needed will vary from person to person. Start by sitting down to focus on a piece of work for 45 minutes. Then give yourself a 15-minute break. Set an alarm to make sure you do it. Go for a walk around. Have a stretch. Breaking up your time prevents boredom and helps you to maintain a high quality of work. Lengthen and shorten your bursts to work out your optimum time.

And I’ll give you an extra one for free. Do one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is simply not effective. It’s true that we can do several tasks at once, but we don’t do any single one of them well. Researchers have shown it’s more efficient to do one task after another rather than several things at once.

The Lucidity Network offers more help on making time to think, including a webinar interview where Productivity Ninja Grace Marshall shares her best tips for productivity as well as training bundles on resilience, confidence and creativity. It’s a community of generous people who help each other get the important work done. Facilitated via a Facebook Community with group coaching, mastermind groups and online content to help you tackle the complexities of working life that didn’t come with the management handbook.

The Lucidity Network is closed for membership right now while we make some renovations over the summer. To be the first to know when we open the doors again to new members become part of the free Lucidity Facebook Community. Or if you are based in London, come along to our next Lucidity Network and Not9to5 event at the Crown Tavern in Farringdon. Come and be inspired by Catherine Raynor, founding director at Mile 91, an agency that specialises in story gathering and management for charities and change makers. Catherine will share her tips on how to make your organisation one that tells powerful stories. For more information and to sign up go here. Hurry though as places are limited.

Do you work in cycles?

Do you work in cycles?

At the last Lucidity Network event, Productivity Ninja Grace Marshall gave a thoughtful and fun talk on how to be less busy and more productive. She was great, and as always got me thinking. I’ve written before about not leaving your personality at the door when you arrive at work and about being your best self. Grace spoke about the human experience of work. How with technology, automation and remote working the work environment is changing. But we are still human beings doing jobs and whilst we can adapt to change (albeit slowly sometimes) we are still people and we have certain needs and limitations. And our customers are people with needs and limitations too. Sometimes an automated response simply isn’t adequate when we need to connect with another human.

I took three key things away from Grace’s talk.

1. Cycles – everything in nature has a cycle. In a year we have four distinct seasons, each with a different purpose. Do humans have cycles too? I certainly feel low energy at this time of year and much better when we’re fully into spring and even better in summer. I think I do have a yearly cycle. In a day we have cycles too. Everyone is different – some people do their best thinking in the morning, others in the afternoon. Taking regular breaks is important for productivity too. The art is noticing when you’re at your best and planning the difficult work that you really need to apply brainpower to then. And if you can, do this on a daily basis, and if you can a yearly one too.

2. Efficiency and effectiveness are different. You might be very efficient at say, stuffing envelopes, but if sending an email will get the same result in quicker time the most efficient envelope stuffer in the world is not working effectively. I suspect this happens a lot in organisations where things have always been done the same way, no one questions the status quo and there is little appetite for change.

3. Human capacity – this is how much we can take on. It’s not about having a full diary, it’s about knowing what your own capacity is. For example, just because you have a space in your diary, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have the capacity for another meeting. If you’re tired, it’s hard to concentrate and time without attention is useless. Linked to this, is your emotional capacity to do things. We only have a certain amount of emotional capacity and some days require more emotional capacity than others. We need to keep our emotional capacity at a healthy level. Become more aware of how you’re feeling emotionally, for example, do you feel like you’re on a knife edge or that you can cope with anything that the day throws at you? Notice the people who build your emotional capacity and those that drain it. Spend more time with people who build you than people who drain.

If you’d like the opportunity to listen to great speakers at exclusive events and get help and support to be less busy and more productive then check out the Lucidity Network. For a regular dose of food for thought and to stay in the loop with our upcoming events, sign up for insights. You might also like the free Lucidity Facebook community – a place to get help and support as well as access to expertise and advice. Join here.

My top tips to thrive in a culture of constant meetings

thrive in a culture of constant meetings

Do you sit in meetings feeling anxious about what you contribute or wondering if it’s the best use of your time? Have you ever sat waiting to get a word in and then the meeting is over before you’ve had a chance to speak? I think, for too many people, meetings get in the way of getting the important work done. After running a workshop on speaking up and making the most of meetings last week, I thought I’d put my top tips for better meetings down in a blog.

Say no to meetings

I know this might sound controversial but it’s perfectly acceptable to say no to a meeting request. Even if it’s from a very senior important person. Your time is important – you only have a certain number of hours in the day and you must use them wisely. Meetings can suck huge chunks out of your day. So before you say yes make sure that you are clear on the following:

  • What is the purpose of the meeting? What does success look like? For example, to discuss the blah project and decide on timelines, roles and responsibilities.
  • Understand your role in the meeting – why are you invited, what are you there for? If it’s just for information, I’d challenge if you need to be there. Could you get updated on the ‘information’ in a more time effective way like on an email or a quick briefing? Only when you are clear on the purpose of the meeting and your role can you make a decision on whether it’s a good use of your time to attend.
  • If you’re calling the meeting, clearly brief the meeting attendees on the purpose of the meeting and their role. Consider how long the meeting needs to be. Often we just keep talking until the hour is up. A quick-fire meeting could last 10 minutes and if you all stand up it can make it even quicker.
  • I’m a big fan of walk and talk meetings because they are quicker, it creates a
    better dynamic than staring at someone across a desk and walking is proven
    to help your thinking.

Do you ever lose your confidence? Be prepared.

Confidence is something that comes and goes and you have to be deliberate about keeping your confidence tank topped up otherwise it can run empty. When it comes to confidence for speaking up in meetings here are my top tips.

  • Prepare for the meeting – if you know why you’re going and what’s expected of you, you can do a bit of research. When you know your topic it helps you to feel more confident.
  • Give yourself time to breathe. Quite literally, take a few minutes to breathe properly before you go into a meeting. Breathe in and count to four and breathe out and count to four. Repeat.
  • Prepare – be early, bring water (for those nervous croaky throat moments) and go to the bathroom.
  • Turn up to work every day dressed appropriately for a surprise meeting with the most important person in the organisation, this way you are always prepared.
  • If you believe the research by Amy Cuddy, your body language can change your physiology and make you feel more confident. In your meeting pay attention to your body language. Sit up straight, shoulders . back, head upright. Don’t fidget and maintain eye contact.
  • Demonstrate you are actively listening by leaning in. Make eye contact. Use the phrase ‘yes and’ and words from part of the previous sentence when responding to show that you’re really listening.
  • Often we doubt ourselves, the critical voice in our head tells us we don’t know anything and we’re going to get found out. Form an answer in your head compared to what other people are saying in the meeting and when you start to realise that your answers are similar to other peoples it can help to build confidence.
  • Use a technique called anchoring. Remember a time when you felt confident, it could be a work or a personal situation. Remember how you felt in that moment. Practice reconstructing that moment in your mind to tap recreate those feelings of confidence. There’s more on anchoring here.

I always miss my opportunity to speak

It’s happened to the best of us, you hesitate, miss your moment, someone else speaks up, the moment passes and you don’t get to speak at all. You leave feeling a bit disappointed. When it comes to making sure you contribute I advise:

  • Give yourself permission to interrupt, remember you have been asked to the meeting for a purpose, It’s your job to contribute.
  • Lean into the meeting and raise your hand to indicate that you have something to contribute and make eye contact with the meeting chair.
  • Buddy up with an assertive person and work with them to introduce you, for example they might say something like ‘Dave had a good point about this topic’ providing you with a clear opportunity to speak.
  • Remember why you’re there – to share insight based on your unique set of skills and experience. It’s important for the outcomes of the meeting that you contribute.

I’m just too anxious to speak

For some, it can be incredibly daunting to speak up in a meeting and many people feel way out of their comfort zone doing it. If you ever feel like it’s just too scary to speak up, here are my tips:

  • Take small steps to get out of your comfort zone. For example, you might start by agreeing with someone else’s opinion as a way to find your voice rather than making a lengthy point yourself.
  • Ask more questions or ask for clarification. We can often feel anxious by asking what we feel might be a ‘stupid question’. In my experience, if you have a question you won’t be the only one and having the courage to ask it does everyone a favour.
  • Get networked – get to know people in the room, which can make speaking up less intimidating.
  • Tell someone else your thoughts ahead of time so they can introduce you.
  • Remind yourself that you are separate from the issue and you’re there to share your unique views to help move a situation or project along or come to the best conclusion on a problem.
  • Practice speaking up anywhere and everywhere, with friends, family and strangers. For example, when you order your coffee, at the supermarket or in the lunch queue. Say hello, start a conversation, talk about the weather it doesn’t really matter what you say. All these small steps add up to building your confidence for speaking up in meetings.

When I do speak I mess it up

Part of the fear around speaking up in the first place is that we’ll fail or get it
wrong. We perhaps fear that we’ll not represent ourselves well or ‘do ourselves
justice’ and this makes us feel bad. If this resonates with you then my tips are:

  • Speak in headlines – short direct sentences – this helps to stop rambling, which can easily happen when we’re nervous.
  • Listen in to your tone of voice and be careful not to end your sentences (that are not questions) with a questioning tone.
  • Don’t apologize, watch out for ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ and don’t use filler words or words that do yourself down including, ‘just’ and ‘I could be wrong’
  • Take notes and write down what you’re going to say.
  • Set yourself goals, think about the most important information you bring to the meeting and set yourself a goal to just say that one thing.
  • Leverage your expertise and refer back to it when you speak. For example quote research or a time you’ve experienced something similar with great results.

Let’s agree to ban pointless meetings that suck great chunks of the day and exchange them for enjoyable, effective places where you can thrive. Aim to get the desired results in the shortest time freeing you up to achieve your task list and go home on time. If you have more tips for making meetings great again please
do share them below. Let me know how you get on.

If you’d like some help with making time to think, upping your productivity and reclaiming your ‘me-time’ join the Lucidity Community Facebook group to get in the Lucidity groove for clearer thinking and better results.

Is it time to pay attention to your leaky bucket?

leaky bucket

When did the standard response of ‘fine thanks’ get replaced by ‘busy’ or ‘really busy’ or soooo busy’? If you don’t say that you’re busy do people think you’re lazy? Or boring? Or both?!

Everyone is busy. It’s like a rite of passage. But why? Hasn’t life got easier, more automated? What are we all so busy doing?

Are we busy photographing our lunch for social media? Or multi-tasking across multiple apps and web platforms to stay up to date with the latest news and trends? Or are we just expected to live at a faster pace – to achieve more?

Where are you on your ‘to-do’ list? Is it growing rather than shrinking? You are not alone. In the Lucidity Innovation Leadership Launchpad report, the top reasons that people didn’t do ‘innovation’, or any kind of strategic thinking was because they were too busy, too stressed and they just don’t have enough time.

Is stress catching?

If everyone you surround yourself with is in a state of stress it becomes a problem. It begins to self-perpetuate, we start to feel that we have to be busier or achieving more than our stressed-out friend’s family and colleagues.

Tim Ferris author of The 4-hour work week claims that, ‘you are the average of the 5 people you most associate with’. Think about who those 5 people are. If what Tim says is true, what does this mean for you stress levels?

The problem is, if we spend our time being too busy to look after ourselves our stress levels increase to such a level that we reach burn out. A physician called Hans Selye defined a three-stage reaction to stress called General Adaption Syndrome or GAS. In stage three he said:

The body’s resistance to the stress may gradually be reduced, or may collapse quickly. Generally, this means the immune system, and the body’s ability to resist disease, may be almost totally eliminated. Patients who experience long-term stress may succumb to heart attacks or severe infection due to their reduced immunity.’

This is serious stuff. To live healthy lives, we must learn to reduce our levels of stress. When we are striving to do our best, to deliver work for other people, to look after our family and to climb a career ladder we often forget that in order to do all these things we must be OK.

I heard a quote recently ‘You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm’

To get the results we want, it’s important to take a step back and recharge, otherwise we’re just like a leaky bucket, constantly on the go, our energy draining out through the holes. We need to do two things.

  1. Plug the holes – get the root cause of the stress
  2. Refill the bucket – replenish our energy

Tips to help you keep your bucket full

  • Reframe your thinking – stop telling people you’re busy as your default. When you tell people you’re busy, it often makes you feel more stressed.
  • Take time every day to prioritise. It might just be 10 minutes, for example, at the end of the day to plan your priorities for the following day.
  • Take time every day to list and then reflect on what you’ve achieved that day. Write them down.
  • Get a mentor or a coach; a trusted person to help you focus on what’s important and make progress and help you to manage the feelings of being really busy.
  • Start to notice what triggers your stress, is it a person, a situation? What physically happens to you when you are experiencing stress? Feeling hot or cold, like you can’t think straight, agitated? Start to notice your stress triggers and your response.
  • Next time you feel your stress triggered, try and manage it, for example, go for a walk or phone a friend.
  • Say ‘no’ more often. If you are really busy and taking on something else is too much, then say so. You could offer a different solution, e.g. is there someone else that could help, or negotiate deadlines, could it be done next month when you have more time rather than immediately?
  • Make time to do the things that you love, whether that’s spending time with friends and family, the movies, theatre, reading a book or going for a run. All these things are your fuel – they refill your bucket. Don’t wait until your bucket is empty before you do them. Do them regularly and keep your bucket full.

Let me know how you get on.

If you’d like some help with making time to think, upping your productivity and reclaiming your ‘me-time’ you might benefit from joining the Lucidity Network. It’s a pick and mix of online and offline learning and connection to a dynamic network of people that can help you. We’re open for new members a few times a year. Join the Lucidity Community Facebook group to get in the Lucidity groove for clearer thinking and better results and be the first to hear when the Lucidity Network is open for members.