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. 

8 tips for boosting your confidence with creativity

We often think that creativity is about whether or not you can draw. It’s not. Creative thinking can apply to anything. You can be a spreadsheet superstar, a Moodle maverick or a clever content creator.

If you reframe creativity as ‘problem-solving’ it will help you feel more comfortable and makes creativity feel like less of a dark art. Creativity is about solving strategic problems, spotting opportunities, making connections and making good ideas happen to deliver the best learning and development for your employees and volunteers.

All human beings are creative. Research shows that creativity is more about a state of mind. And when we are in a relaxed or playful state our subconscious keeps working away, making connections and solving problems. That’s why when I ask people where they have their best ideas it’s very unusual that people say, ‘sat at my desk.’They usually have their best ideas when they are not at work: in the shower, driving, walking the dog, asleep, talking with their children or even on the toilet.

It can be difficult to work in an environment when we are expected to deliver more for less, inspire audiences with different needs to want to learn and ensure that employees have opportunities for professional development.

Yet so many organisations put their employees under pressure to simply ‘be creative’ or offer up massively unhelpful phrases like ‘think outside the box’ but without providing any guidance about how to do that.

So here are some simple tips to develop your already excellent creative thinking skills:

Know yourself: You are already creative. Step away from your desk. Think about where you have your best ideas and make time to go there. If this means spending more time on the toilet then so be it!

Get more curious: According to Steven Johnson in his book Where Good Ideas Come From, creativity is making new connections by putting old ideas together in new ways. Therefore you need to expand your portfolio of knowledge so you have more old ideas that you can put together when needed. So get more curious about the world. Read more books, go on a course, listen to a webinar and attend that talk.

Break patterns: As we get older we repeat the same patterns. You’ll have experienced this when you feel like you’ve been on ‘autopilot’, for example, got to work and not really noticed how you got there. This inhibits our creativity because we simply repeat these ingrained patterns. To help break them, change your habits. Start with the things you do on autopilot. Change your route to work, listen to a different radio station, watch something different on TV, go to a different place for lunch. All these small changes will help to create new patterns, new neural pathways and help your brain to be more flexible at making new connections.

Ask why: When we’ve worked in an organisation for a while we accept the status quo, we accept ‘how things are done round here.’ Wear a different lens, pretend you’re new and start asking ‘why?’ When a new employee starts, ask them what they’d change.

Make it so: It’s actually much easier to say we can’t do something. That means that nothing changes. However, confident creative thinkers have a restlessness to solve problems and make things better. They are constantly seeking to ‘make it so’. The process of making the seemingly impossible possible also helps to flex your creative thinking muscles.

Ban idea killer phrases: You know them. Those phrases like ‘we tried that before and it didn’t work’ ‘we don’t do it like that here’ ‘we don’t have the budget’ ‘the board will never sign it off’. Stop using them. They may be true. However, the world changes fast and something that historically wasn’t the right solution might be now.

Say ‘yes and’: Encourage confidence in creativity by making a small change to your language. Rather than using an idea-killer phrase (even ‘yes but…’ is negative) change your language to ‘yes and’. ‘Yes and’ encourages people to keep thinking creatively, solve problems and keep making those new connections and creates an environment where creativity can flourish.

Practice: Like any skill the more you practice the better you get. The small changes you make every day will add up to powerful confidence in your own creativity.

If you liked these tips you might also like the Lucidity Network – a place for people pushing to make change happen, a place to learn, a place to share and a place to connect. Check it out and join us here.

A version of this blog originally appeared on the Charity Learning Consortium.

Why OOO aren’t just for when you’re “out of the office”

Why OOO aren’t just for when you’re “out of the office”

How many emails do you get a day? 10, 20, 50, more?

I wear many hats: journalist and editor; communications consultant; trainer; holiday home owner; creative writing retreat host; barn renovator. I’m in touch with many people and I have a lot of people wanting to get hold of me.

It would be easy to find myself in a state of overwhelm, drowning in emails, too many of which are from people demanding my time, energy and money. Instead I decided to reframe my relationship with my inbox.

I view every email contact I receive as an occasion to help people better understand me and my businesses. And just as importantly, as an opportunity to manage expectations. I control my inbox instead of it controlling me.

Let’s take this latter point first.

Most people use their OOO to let others know that they are indeed out-of-the-office and as such there will be a delay to their reply.

However, even when you are in the office, unless you are a slave to your inbox and have it open all the time – in which case I would seriously question your levels of concentration and productivity – you are not going to respond immediately.

Despite this though, many people expect an almost instantaneous reply. They have little regard for your actual priorities and think it should be all about “me, me, me”. (The person who sent me the press release at 10am and then sent a chasey email two hours later. Yes you. I’m talking to you here).

By setting an OOO each morning and providing details of the likely response time they’ll receive, it helps set expectations. It also indicates that if they’ve got something that is actually urgent to ask of me, they should find another way to get in touch. And always, if clients call or WhatsApp me, I’ll respond asap.

So that’s a helpful use of the automatic reply beyond your usual holiday scenario.

“This week I’m in the Dordogne hosting a relaxing retreat for busy women”
Much more fun though is using my OOO to let people know what exciting projects I’m working on. I’m very fortunate that I get to work with some brilliant minds on activities that really do change the world. My work is also varied, challenging, fun. Why wouldn’t I want to tell people all about this?

I like to set colourful and creative OOO’s that help spread good cheer, share key messages and strengthen understanding of the depth and breadth of what I am capable of.

Some of my recent favourites have included:

Thanks for your message. Today I’m working with the awesome Prisoners of Conscience, which supports people who have been persecuted for standing up for human rights. They rightly have my full attention and so I won’t pick up your message until tomorrow. I really appreciate your patience, thank you. And if you fancy learning more about the important role that Prisoners of Conscience plays, check them out here.

And…

Today I’m writing radio scripts, coaching clients to enhance their writing skills and working on the marketing for my creative writing retreat. I’m also finalising the details for the Lucidity Network’s business book club. If you’re not already a member of the Lucidity Network, you need to ask yourself one question – why not? Hope to see you there soon! (And I’ll get back to your email asap, thank you!)

And…

This afternoon I am helping a client taste test and photograph a collection of Italian meals. It’s a hard life, sometimes. I’ll get back to you tomorrow. With thanks for your patience, Becky 

Now, the astute marketeers among you will be wondering whether this is a GDPR-friendly approach or not. I’m happy to confirm that having checked with clever people who know about this kind of stuff that it is.

They told me that if there is no “sales pitch” included in the copy then it’s absolutely fine. And even then, it’s still ok as the OOO is in response to an email that I’ve been sent. A “conversation” is taking place. This is not me contacting someone out of the blue. The only risk would be if I sent a very salesy OOO to someone who had contacted me to say they wanted to opt out of email communication.

The responses I have received to my OOO’s have always been super positive. People often contact me to say how much they enjoy reading them, how inspiring they are and how they’re going to start doing the same. They’ve also been shared across social media multiple times and Richard Sved even wrote a blog about it! (Thanks Richard!)

In Richard’s blog he comments on how my OOO is “lovely, surprising and delightful” to receive, which leaves him with lots of positive messages about how I feel about my work. Which is precisely the intention. I want people to feel as excited about it as I am! So, I’m going to end this blog by paraphrasing Richard’s excellent blog title and ask you: When was the last time your OOO made someone go “ooo-h”?

Let’s start an OOO revolution. Let’s use it to engage the world in what we do, to share messages of positivity and success, or to simply bring a smile to someone’s face.

Will you join us? Let us know in the comments – and show us some examples of your shiny and sparkly OOO messages.

Becky Slack

 

Becky Slack is the managing director of the PR and comms agency, Slack Communications, and the co-host of L’atelier des écrivains – The Writers’ Workshop, France, a four-day creative writing retreat in southwest France and a member of the Lucidity Network.

5 ways reading will boost your communication skills

5 ways reading boosts your communication skills

1) It gives us something to say

In a world where information is the new currency, reading is one of the best sources of continuous learning, knowledge gathering and idea sharing. Books and articles give us the ability to roam throughout the world, travel back in time and look to the future, affording us with a deeper view of ideas, concepts, practices, emotions and events. Reading can open your mind to new choices that you may not have known about or considered before. This is all information which we can then share with others.

2) It helps us understand other people

The first rule of effective communication is to know your audience. Reading about other people can help you understand them better. The same neurological regions of the brain are stimulated when you read about something as when you experience it. Unlike watching the television or listening to the radio, reading gives the brain more time to stop, think, process and imagine the narrative form in front of us. Therefore, reading can help put you in someone else’s shoes, to get inside their heads and experience the things they have. The more you understand someone, the more you can tailor your communications to what they need.

3) It increases our vocabulary

The more we read, the more likely we are to come across new words. Business books, in particular, have words and phrases that are unique to their topic. If you need to communicate with particular sectors and industries, understanding the language being spoken is essential. Otherwise, how are you going to know your CTR from SEO?

4) Reading strengthens the brain

And a strong brain means more effective communication overall. Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. As we read, our brain decodes abstract symbols, makes connections, and conducts various visual and auditory processes. Indeed, multiple studies suggest that mentally challenging tasks, such as reading, help to maintain and build brain cells and connections between those cells, helping to preserve the memory and thinking skills.

5) Reading can give us the ability to make a point

The more we read, the more our brains are able to link cause and effect. The ability to communicate cause and effect is a central component of any argument, sales pitch, negotiation or story. As such, a well-written article or book will be structured in a way that helps us to think in sequence rather than jumping from point to point.

If you’re keen to read more, expand your mind and learn new stuff, why not join the Lucidity Network and participate in the business book club? Members have the opportunity to nominate their books of choice, and all discussion will take place virtually meaning you can take part no matter where in the world you are.

Membership of Lucidity Network is only open for a short time though so you need to get in quick. Join now so you don’t miss out.

If you’re already a member of the network and want to join the book club, drop Becky Slack a line to register your interest. She’s leading on the group and will be coordinating the reading list.

 

Becky Slack

 

Becky Slack is the managing director of the PR and comms agency, Slack Communications, and the co-host of L’atelier des écrivains – The Writers’ Workshop, France, a four-day creative writing retreat in southwest France and a member of the Lucidity Network.

Negativity, creativity and our online, collective Karma

Negativity, creativity and our online, collective Karma

Have you seen My Name Is Earl?
It was a TV comedy series that ran from 2005 to 2009.
Earl was a redneck bully, a thief, slob and cheat. One day he wins the lottery and after being hit by a pickup truck, decides to make amends for all his wrong deeds.
He writes a list of everything bad he’s ever done then sets about re-balancing his karma.
It was funny, touching and for me very meaningful.
Now, this isn’t the best platform for spiritual debate, so let’s just say, whether you like it or not, whatever you do in this life will eventually come back to bite you on the bum.
Everything.

The Internet doesn’t need any more negativity

The Internet is amazing. It’s also a bitter and twisted place.
Supposedly educated, creative people use the Internet (particularly social media) to spread great big, stinky bucket-loads of tittle-tattle and twit-twattery.
They think it’s witty to pick other peoples hard work to pieces.
Most critics seem to think they could do better. Maybe they could, maybe they couldn’t. Either way, how does a public flogging help anyone?

Mud sticks (even to the one who’s throwing it)

We all know that it’s easier to point out the faults of other’s than it is to correct our own.
It really isn’t clever, but even more than that, it’s actually damaging – even to the one slinging the mud.
Your posts and tweets, like sound waves, can go on forever. They’re re-posted and re-tweeted and wherever they filter through, they’ve got your dabs all over them.
And the more shade you throw, the darker the world gets.
Nobody wins.
There are thousands of armchair critics out there who are getting plenty of cheap laughs. And admittedly, they’re also getting re-tweets, comments and ‘likes’, but ultimately does anyone really like them, at least, the online versions of themselves?
What gives anyone the right to name and shame? Haven’t we all got something more important to get riled about?
As the old saying used to go (referring to print advertising), this is tomorrow’s chip wrapper we’re arguing about.

Start with the end goal

I received a priceless piece of advice a few years back that’s especially useful whenever I’m tempted to wade into something that could end in tears.
All you have to do is think to yourself, “what outcome am I hoping to achieve here, will my actions logically lead towards the result I’m looking for?”
I would suggest that if the end goal that’s driving you to shout into the ether about something you don’t like is to feel bigger, smarter or happier; then it’s probably better to keep it zipped.

Criticism is a good thing

For anything to get better, feedback is essential, but the only criticism we should be doling out to each other is constructive criticism.
To grow as creative individuals we need our weaknesses pointing out, but it has no benefit when it’s done by a snidey toe rag at a distance, hiding behind a keyboard.
If you’ve got a suggestion on how someone can improve, by all means pile in and tell them how they might go about it. But tweeting about it after the event is like planting dog turds, hoping that apple trees will grow.

When you see work online that you don’t like (it is only a subjective opinion after all) all you need do is take note and avoid the same mistakes in your own work.
Anyone can criticise someone else. But before you get keyboard happy, ask yourself, “Why do I do what I do? Is it to do good work or to humiliate others who are also trying to do their best?
Next time you feel like venting in a public arena, pause for a moment and imagine how you’d feel if you were on the receiving end.
And if that doesn’t work, rent all four seasons of My Name Is Earl and that should sort you out.

Rant over.

Jonathan Wilcock
Jonathan Wilcock

 

 

Jonathan Wilcock is a freelance Copywriter, Art Director and Creative Director.
You can read more here.
Or drop him line here jonathan@sowhatif.co.uk

 

 

Jonathan is a member of the Lucidity Facebook community – a safe place to rant, offer help and give or get advice. Come join us.