Preventing leadership burnout

Have you snapped at someone when you’d normally be patient? Felt irritable with everyone and disinterested in what you normally value? Reacted to situations disproportionately?

These could be warning signs that you are suffering from burnout or close to it.

In a recent article on Digital Freelancer, James Sower outlined how to differentiate stress from burnout and it resonated for me; it made sense. Essentially, he explains the characteristics of stress versus burnout this way:

Stress

  • Feel emotions more strongly
  • Feel less energy
  • Leads to being anxious or worried about a situation
  • Manifests as physical consequences, such as feeling tired or nauseated or having headaches
Burnout

  • Feel emotionless or disinterested
  • Feel less motivated, optimistic, or hopeful
  • Leads to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or depression
  • Manifests as emotional consequences, such as experiencing anger, mood swings, or depression

When you feel the stress list building up and maybe you’re starting to worry about reaching burnout, or maybe you’re already there, try these strategies:

Let go of perfectionism

I think those of us who are overachievers are arguably more prone to burnout than others. If you have perfectionist tendencies, you may be pushing yourself toward burnout by exceeding expectations unnecessarily.

It’s important to understand when your personal expectations are higher than what’s expected. Overproducing can generate a lot of extra pressure as you try to juggle all your deliverables and priorities.

It’s time to step back, take stock, and delegate

When you feel like you’re close to hitting a wall, that should be your trigger — let that feeling catch your attention — and stop. Take a moment to look at what you’re doing and what needs to be done. Are you working to meet goals, or trying to maintain total control? It can be gratifying to have the reputation as a leader who does it all, but perhaps it’s time to delegate effectively to save time and your sanity!

Some folks find it difficult to trust that staff or peers can complete tasks to their own exacting standards, but there are benefits to educating others and giving them opportunities to learn and grow. Notably, giving yourself a manageable workload and the time to add value where it is most needed.

Control your schedule

One of the biggest challenges for the leaders we work with is finding balance, and one of fastest paths to burnout is to lose control of your schedule. While you want to be available to your team, your clients, and your boss or board, you still need to have time for your own work and a life outside of work (that includes weekends!).

It is possible for you to draw pretty clear and firm boundaries about your time and availability. Read our tips on how to set boundaries at work and then implement strategies to help you set limits and say no without losing respect.

Limit tech time

Never being unplugged exacerbates feelings of burnout. It’s an easy fix in theory, because we’re supposed to control our technological devices, but many of us are addicted to the quick fix of “quickly” checking emails and texts and getting sucked into work till late at night or in the early morning hours.

Decide what your boundaries for tech will be and treat it like a ritual. Some people find it helps them to turn off cell phones and shut down iPads and laptops at a certain time each evening, while others will set weekends as their tech-free time or have set hours for connectivity outside the office. Did you know most phones and devices these days allow you to set quiet hours? If you’re curious, Google it for your device.

If you feel you’re not ready to be untethered from electronics, start small. Try not checking your phone as soon as you wake up and wait until you’re ready and have had breakfast. Unplug at night at least an hour before you go to sleep because studies show our brains won’t rest immediately after screen time — and rest helps us avoid burnout. A big step here for a lot of us is to keep the phone out of the bedroom — charge it overnight, in the kitchen, or in the hall by the door where you exit and enter the house.

Accept help on the home front

When things are particularly hectic at work, try to find help at home. This might mean hiring a house cleaning service, ordering ready-to-cook healthy meals, or working out how to divide household tasks with your partner and children.

If you are a parent, carve out some adult time by hiring a babysitter to watch the kids for a few hours. It might be in the morning so you can go to the gym, or for the evening so you can go grab a bite or catch a new movie.

Be creative to find balance and make time to nurture your own interests (and stave off feelings of burnout!).

I get it — it may feel frivolous or it may seem like these little steps aren’t going to make a difference, but take a look again at those two lists at the top — what looks like stress and what looks like burnout. If you’re reaching burnout, every little thing is going to help.  

Cultivate gratitude

It’s pretty hard to feel grateful if all you do is work, work, work and try to eat and sleep as you can around the work. But, finding reasons to be grateful during your day, even tiny little reasons, and taking time to acknowledge them, counteracts the feelings of negativity and hopelessness caused by burnout. This will help you find ways to get (and stay!) motivated about work.

Acknowledge team members who work hard and find ways to make arduous tasks a little less painful by bringing in a snack for the team because joy is contagious. A positive attitude sounds cheesy, but it shifts perspective and elevates the mood. Feeling appreciated and having a shared purpose are not to be underrated!

What is new and exciting at work? Find opportunities for workshops, courses, or conferences that will help you professionally, but also give you something to look forward to. If that’s out of the question, what about setting up a lunch or a breakfast with your team to simply discuss the latest trends, or to talk about a relevant book? Burnout is less likely to surface if you and your team are not only sharing the load, but enjoying the work.

Practice mindfulness throughout the day

We hear admonishments to walk and move periodically so that our physical well-being isn’t adversely affected by sitting at a desk for hours each day, but it’s just as important to give our minds a break.

Whether you prefer to think of mindfulness as self-awareness or detaching, it’s important to relax and recharge intellectually every day (not just on a holiday or day off!). Starting with just a few moments a day, at your desk, can help. In fact, a lot of us who have started exploring mindfulness have found it’s a little addictive — it’s so effective, you naturally bring it into your day over and over. Check out our tips for how to be mindful when your mind is full for other ways you can bring greater mindfulness to your day.

Seek professional advice

Athletes have trainers and dancers, musicians, and artists seek instruction and mentorship. Similarly, business leaders can benefit from hiring one-to-one executive coaches.

At Padraig, our goal is to help our clients be better leaders and more successful than they are now.  Take our online quiz to see if coaching might be right for you right now.

 

Coach’s Questions:

Do you recognize any characteristics of stress in your life? What about burnout? Which strategies do you think could help you prevent leadership burnout? What can you try today?

How to delegate effectively to save time and your sanity

It’s no secret: An important best practice in leadership circles is to spend your time on tasks and projects that are the best use of your time and delegate the rest.

Why then, as managers and leaders, don’t we delegate more often and more effectively?

The most common excuse I hear from my clients who resist delegating more is, “it’s just easier to do it myself.”

The trouble with that thinking is that it’s very short-term, and it’s not good for you, your company, or your team.

That way of thinking focuses on the challenge of delegating right now rather than the bigger wins overall that you could make long-term by delegating – or the costs you’re going to face long-term by not delegating.

There are so many drawbacks associated with not fully embracing the magic of delegation:

Opportunity costs

What are you not working on, moving forward with, or making space for (both for you personally and the organization) because your time is being spent on something that you personally don’t need to be doing?

Employee morale

If your team doesn’t feel like you can trust them with taking things off your plate and owning the task themselves, job satisfaction, initiative, and employee retention all start to slip. They’re here to do a job, yes, but they also WANT to learn new things, advance their careers, and feel useful.

Revenue

It costs MORE for you to do that task over time than the time it would take for you to train and delegate said task. Yes, the first few times that you delegate there is an investment of your time, but the return on the investment can be tenfold, or more!

Consider the ROI of the time you spend showing an employee how to do something. Even tasks that appear to be a one-off situation often aren’t. The skills learned can often be transferable.

So, what can you do about it?

There are three steps to effective delegation: knowing what to delegate, knowing how to delegate, and reviewing how the process of delegation worked.

Step 1: Knowing what to delegate

When you have that familiar feeling of: “Oh, it’s easier if I just do it myself,” or when you’re starting to feel overwhelmed by diminishing time and increasing deadlines, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Would this assignment give someone the chance to grow in their role and develop new skills?
  • Is there any chance this activity might occur again? Would teaching it now to someone else provide lasting benefits?
  • Could the assignment be divided up and given to multiple team members, focusing on each of their individual skills? This is an opportunity to encourage teamwork and make use of each team member’s strengths, all while freeing up your time and attention.
  • And quite simply — Is this something that you know should be delegated?

If it’s strategic or highly tactical, this might be something you need to do yourself or with some support from the team. However, if it doesn’t require your direct management and you’re pressed for time on issues that are more strategic, now is the time to practice delegating.

Do I delegate enough?

Start by keeping track of your time for a few days, or even a week and try your best to keep a record of how much time you spend on each task throughout the day. It can feel onerous, but our clients who try this often find incredible opportunities for enormous wins through delegation.

Awareness around how we’re spending our time allows us to identify what’s eating up time. Knowing what to delegate can help your team grow and give you the time to focus on other priorities.

Step 2: Knowing how to delegate

Once you’ve identified something to be delegated, it’s time to hand it over.

To choose the best person to own the task or project ask yourself:

  • Is it best to be split amongst team members or given to one person?
  • Is there someone on the team who has the background, skills, knowledge, or just a keen interest to tackle this assignment? If not, is there someone who would likely learn it quickly? Is there someone who loves new challenges, or thrives on deadlines who could run with this?

To hand it over, you’re going to want to communicate the basics:

  • What needs to be done
  • When it needs to be finished
  • What sort of updates or progress reports you want
  • How big of a priority it is within the rest of their workload
  • What resources they can access to help them
  • Any extenuating circumstances
  • Context – for example, if there are additional stakeholders to consult or advise

How you communicate that list is just as important as what you communicate.  

We’ve created a downloadable DELEGATING CHEAT SHEET for you that summarizes what you need to share and how to share it for different types of employees.

 

Step 3: Evaluate and revise

Improving business process involves constant review, evaluation, and tweaking. It doesn’t have to be onerous, but if you focus a bit of attention on it, things get better quickly.

  • Have a quick debrief meeting with the delegate and ask them if they had all the information they needed to do a good job, if they had any challenges, and what they liked about the project.
  • Look at how much time it took you to delegate and if the outcome was what you wanted or expected.
  • What went well?
  • What could you do better next time?

You know…I get it, delegating is not as simple as sending an email and sometimes that feels harder than doing it yourself, but making a habit of strategically focusing your efforts and your team’s efforts can create huge wins for productivity, employee engagement, and business growth. And who doesn’t want to be a leader racking up huge wins?!?

Frankly, leaders who delegate well are leaders who advance.

Coach’s Questions

What is hovering over you, right now, that could be (should be?) delegated to someone on your team?  What’s stopping you?