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. 

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.

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.