May is mental health month, and in this blog post, I wanted to write about the importance of establishing boundaries and self-care practices as part of your leadership mindset.
And at first glance, it's hard to question the belief that progressing in your career means having less work-life balance. It does seem like this is true. What this pandemic has exacerbated thanks to technology, is the "on-demand 24/7" culture. What's more, many workplaces reeling from last year's layoffs have not replaced positions, instead, redistributing the work, adding to the pile of those still in the workplace.
Already experiencing various internal and external pressures, such as performance bias and limiting paradigms, women or BIPOC professionals are more likely to be negatively impacted by this trend for the following reasons:
Our eagerness to prove ourselves and our impossible standards cause us to agree to take on more.
There is that fear of being seen as problematic or not a team player. So in our attempt to serve others and to demonstrate that we have what it takes, we let our energy be drain—the result, a toxic combination that leads to burnout, depression, and downright exhaustion.
But there is another way.
Borrowing from sports (especially endurance sports), being a leader is about knowing how to play for the long game and when and how to push back. As leaders (in life and at work), we cannot allow ourselves to run on empty and become "injured" because we are rushing or, worse, not allowing for recovery time. Keep in mind, "How effective as a leader can you be if you can't have the mental sharpness to provide the solutions for the business and team?"
Any serious endurance sports runner will tell you, allowing for recovery time and fostering healthy recovery habits are key to their success. This is equally true with your career, it's so important that you are allowing yourself to set the guardrails that will prevent you from going over the edge.
Guardrail 1: Take an Inventory of your habits
To make room for recovery, it is essential to take a close look at where your time and energy are going. Keep in mind, there is only a finite amount of hours available. Your time is your most valuable resource, and you must protect it. Take a realistic assessment of what you say yes to that you could potentially say no or delegate, either at work or at home.
Here are a couple of common examples:
Meetings by far are the biggest time suck by far. Why are so many workplaces in the US so meeting-obsessed? There is a prevalent idea that the number of meetings we are involved leads to more influence and power. This causes a
fear of missing out (FOMO) and forces individuals to be always available.
This is a myth. I would like to encourage you to take an honest look by asking yourself the following questions:
Is it indispensable that you MUST be there -aka client-facing?
Is it possible to record the meeting and send it to you?
Can you delegate to your right hand or second in command to bring you a report of what was discussed?
Consolidate and stack. See if there is a way to consolidate and avoid duplication of efforts. This approach works particularly well when looking at activities outside of work. Can you volunteer and network in one event? We all want to give back and be in the know. However, if you are not careful, these activities that are supposed to feel good become energy drainers, and that's when we need to say no.
Guardrail 2: Get comfortable with saying NO.
The word "no" is one of those words that carry a lot of psychological baggage. In simple terms, saying no just feels "yucky" for a lot of us, and of course, it does because many of us have were raised to accommodate, and we've witnessed what happens when someone says no, (hint it was not pleasant.) As a result, we tend to say yes way too often and give away our most powerful resource: time.
Here is what I like to remind others: You can say no without saying no. It's all in the delivery.
"I so appreciate you considering me for this project; however, at this particular time, I'm running low in bandwidth."
"Im happy to collaborate. However, at this particular time, I have other deadlines coming up and can't commit to helping in the capacity you need me to, but happy to help in a (smaller) way."
If it's your boss or someone with more authority over you, ask them to prioritize things for you.
"I love to help. However, I'm currently working on XYZ , unless I should be prioritizing differently?"
As long as you are candid about your constraints and demonstrate that you are willing to provide a smaller solution, perhaps in a smaller capacity, people will understand.
Guardrail 3: Built-in Power Breaks in your Calendar
Going back to recovery time, we live in an age where we have technology at our fingertips. Yet, we underutilize it when it comes to prioritizing our mental health. If you want to be productive and at your best, you need to be intentional and religious about making time in your calendar to replenish your brainpower. These breaks do not have to be extensive. Instead, you can set aside small chunks of time during the day that will allow your mind and body to rejuvenate.
I often joke that I live and breathe by my calendar because I intentionally block time for work-related tasks and my workouts, meditation, commute, focus time, or "getting -things done" time, etc. I learned this tip from a veteran startup executive back when I was in that space. Here is how it works:
Book mental power breaks (5-10 min) in your calendar as you would any other event.
Commit to those breaks.
Go for a short walk or do a quick mindfulness exercise during those times.
Do not allow others to book on top of them unless it is exceptionally urgent
Do not use this time to check your phone, news, or emails
I know that we live in a world where every day more is demanded of us. At times it might seem like an impossible task to start creating healthy boundaries and small rituals of replenishment. However, I like to invite you to start today and not wait until you are burned out and injured. As anyone that has gone through something like that, the recovery can take longer and cost you much more than if you take the proper measures to prevent it in the first place.
If you are ready to discover other career and leadership practices that will help you optimized your performance in life and as a leader, book your free consultation with me here.