I had the great pleasure of speaking at the MASS-ALA conference last week and it was really special. Chris Foley and her team made it seem effortless, but went beyond that and made the conference welcoming and upbeat. I spoke on “Stop Burnout: Five Steps to Re-Energize Your Work for Your Best Year Ever” and we had a blast. Not only was it interactive, but the whole group was up on their feet dancing when we got to the slide: “Sitting is the new smoking.” It may seem silly, but a 15-30 second break where you move your body, enjoy music and refresh, is really a smart burnout buster. And for sure that will make you “Assisted Living Strong.”
Okay, I’m an author and I love books, but I was thinking it would be fun to share thoughts on a book that has made a difference to us, whether now or in the past. It could be related to stopping burnout, or tips on how to find your next job. Or, it could be fiction–a story that grabbed you and stayed with you. So here’s mine:
“Singletasking: Get More Done One Thing at a Time” by Devora Zack. First of all, it’s a riot. Here’s how it starts:
To my dearest reader:
You are hereby released from the temptation to overachieve. Your friend, Devora Zack
P.S. You’re welcome.
That gives you a sense of her tone, but her witty and light hearted approach is backed up by impressive research. She quotes major business leaders as well as neuroscientists–all to support the radical idea that we can only do one cognitive skill at time. (Yes, you can fold laundry and talk on the phone at the same time since the folding is not a cognitive skill.)
So if you want to do yourself a huge favor, read this book. Keep it on the front passenger seat of your car. Reread a paragraph before rushing into work. It could just change your life, and will help you stop burnout and have the best year ever.
(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
Took a wonderful hike along the beach at Watch Hill (RI) Saturday, and although it was warm, it was clearly the end of summer. A few brave swimmers were in the water, but my husband and I kept our shoes on and admired it from the safety of the beach. After a long, hot summer, it felt like a gift. Because it’s well past Labor Day, dogs were allowed on the beach and it was fun to watch them playing in the water and chasing each other.
This got me thinking about change and how, although I resist it, it almost always opens a door. There is a phase with change that always causes me trouble, and that’s when it’s clear the old is going away or not working, and the new hasn’t shown up yet. As I used to tell my clients when I worked as a career coach, knowing what you don’t want is a really good beginning. That can be a good time to stop, observe, not feel pressured to jump into the next thing. (Advice I’m very good at giving to others, and not so good at following myself.) Why is that so difficult? Is it because we define ourselves by our work?
For me, having a project, whether it’s writing a book or preparing to speak about stopping burnout, gives me purpose, direction, and focus. I feel useful. I’m excited. But the in between times, the not knowing, makes me anxious and sometimes even crabby. And I think this is because I have to let go and trust. I have accept that a transition is exactly that–it’s leaving one thing for another. And to be ready for the new thing, the next phase, requires pulling back, waiting, listening. To use a gardening analogy, it’s preparing the soil.
The waves were crashing, the sunlight sparkling off the water and my husband and I decided it was the perfect moment for a “selfie.” We wanted the ocean in the background, so we stood just beyond where the waves were breaking and snapped a few shots. But before we were finished, a big wave swept in and filled out shoes with sand and water. We laughed and made our soggy way back to the parking lot
. Okay, I get it. The summer is over.
I recently had a good discussion with a former client of mine–one of those wonderful people you can reconnect with instantly. He had been my client both times he had lost his job, and we discovered that we enjoyed working together. As I was telling him about my work speaking to help organizations stop burnout, he asked me: “Won’t you look weak? Isn’t it just whining? Shouldn’t you just do your work and be a trustworthy team player?”
Wow–tough questions. My quick answer: “No, no, yes and no.” So, are you weak if you admit to burnout? No, you’re smart. Burnout is real, it’s physical as well as emotional, and will disrupt your work if you ignore it. If we look at the classic definition from Christina Maslach, it’s “lost energy, lost enthusiasm and lost confidence.” But we all know, it’s smart to pick the right person to talk to about burnout. Some will get it, others won’t. Find an advocate who will help you turn it around. (This may not be your boss.)
Is this whining? No, it’s recognizing that we aren’t machines and that inner and outer pressures can wear us down. The major difference between whining and admitting to burnout is that whining makes you a victim. It’s always the fault of someone else. Not so in owning up to burnout. And people who whine often really enjoy it and stay stuck. Again, not the case in recognizing burnout and taking steps to make your life better.
And the last question: Shouldn’t you just do your work be a trustworthy team player? Of course, but to be a creative and productive team player you have to take care of yourself. Your resources are finite–you can’t be all things to all people. (Trust me on this one–I tried!) To really contribute to your organization, you’ve got to be energized, enthusiastic and confident, and it’s your job to make that happen.
Maybe it’s a paradox. You have to admit to something that can feel like a weakness in order to be strong. You have to set limits to be able to grow and exceed what you’ve done before. You earn the respect of others by being willing to disappoint them. Tell me what you think.
(Image courtesy of Getty photos)
Okay, this isn’t a huge harvest, and as my father liked to say–it’s good thing we’re not living off our garden–but this is one of the real joys of summer. I’ve got my first tomato, a bunch of pole beans, and three very crisp cucumbers.
Here’s a poem by Probir Gupta about this wonderful vegetable with a summer lesson for all of us about growth. It’s not easy:
The Cucumber Leaves
The merciless sun The cucumber leaves all scorched Still you need the torch
I love this photo. Look how relaxed and happy this man is, the beautiful ocean waters spread out before him–whether it’s a sunset or sunrise–and he’s taking it easy, sitting on his paddle board, just taking it all in. How many moments in your day even come close to this? Whether you’re working full time, and/or have young children at home or are taking care of aging parents, you are probably running full speed ahead just to not fall behind. And the thought of uninterrupted time, the concept of floating, is like a dream from another universe.
What can we do? The first thing is to recognize that we’re often our own worst enemy. If it were me on this paddle board, I’d be worrying about sharks or wondering if I’d gone too far out. Others might suddenly remember that they didn’t go grocery shopping, so there’s nothing for dinner. And many others would be thinking about that huge report that’s due in a few days and then would feel guilty for taking time off.
Secondly, we buy into the concept that we’re indispensable and limitless. In other words, we believe that we must be the ones to do everything, and that we can do everything no matter how full our plates are. And guess where that leads us? To exhaustion and burnout.
Third of all, we don’t recognize that we need to rest. To stop. To re-charge. So, okay, you might not make it out to such a beautiful place on a paddle board, but look for the things you can do. What’s in reach today? Can you get to work ten minutes early and take the time to organize your desk and get a cup of coffee before the madness starts? Or could you take a break mid-morning and get outside your office building for a ten-minute walk? Time Magazine (July 25, 2016)*just ran an article about the importance of being outside, and how trees, nature, not only make us feel better, but also lower our blood pressure and can provide “relief for health issues like heart disease, depression, cancer, anxiety and attention disorders.”
What helps me is remembering that everything is a choice. If I choose to stay late at work, or choose to take on a complicated project, then I need to be especially mindful to take care of myself. My energy has limits, my family gets cranky if I’m away too much, and the most helpful word in the English language is “no”. Sorry I can’t do that right now.
Lastly, give yourself something to look forward to. Small or big, lunch with a friend or a trip you’ve always dreamed of, get it on your calendar. Make it happen. And make sure your summer has time for doing nothing. Daydreaming, a little nap, are excellent ways to re-charge.
*The Healing Power of Nature”, Alexandra Sifferlin
I was at a meeting of my chapter of the National Speakers Association, watching a presentation by a new member who is board certified hypnotist. My mind wandered for a minute, remembering how my friends and I used to pretend to hypnotize each other when we were kids. It never worked! But somehow, we knew, even then, that the mind is powerful and full of untapped resources.
I’m listening to the speaker’s statistics, I’m impressed by the examples she shares, but then she comes to a slide that really hits me. It’s a photo of a shirt-less man, taken from the back, showing off his muscles. Her point was–do you muscle your way from one project to another, or do you tap into your subconscious and make decisions from a deeper, more intuitive place? I knew instantly that I was and am the muscle type. In fact I have a name for it–I call it my bulldozer. I get an idea and I charge ahead, no matter what the obstacles are, or how exhausted I become. In other words, I ignore myself.
As a speaker who works extensively to help groups stop burnout, I didn’t miss the irony of this revelation. Since I believe that small steps can lead to big changes, today, my therapy dog and I are having lunch with friends on a dock with incredible water views, and then we’re going to the rehab facility where we volunteer every Wednesday. We’re now into our fourth year there and love seeing the comfort and joy that our dogs bring to the residents.
My bulldozer is waiting for me, it likes the crash and burn excitement of charging ahead, but today, I’m not getting on it. I’m having an anti-burnout, slower day, and am thankful for this unexpected gift from a hypnotist.
Yes, this is me holding a beautiful, two-year old dolphin, Fin, on our recent trip to the Bahamas. It was a few hours after giving my talk on how to stop burnout for the Caribbean Insurance Conference, and I had to laugh, as holding a dolphin is a fantastic way to stop burnout!
When I thought about it, doing something you’ve never done before, adding a bit of adventure to life, is a great burnout buster. The conference got off to a bang with introductory remarks followed by wild dancing and music from the Saxons and a reception. My talk, “Stop Burnout: Five Steps to Re-Energize Your Work for Your Best Year Ever” was the plenary session the next day and fit the conference theme: “Industry Evolution: Operating in the New Normal.”
We discussed many of the major stress points that make up the new normal, and then looked at strategies for ensuring that burnout doesn’t wear you down and compromise your work. What I’ve found in speaking to diverse industries is that often small adjustments make a big difference. For example, taking mini-breaks (and we all stood up and stretched during my talk), and giving yourself uninterrupted time for important tasks, leads to higher energy and a sense of satisfaction. It’s not easy to make yourself stop and remember the cost of burnout, but if you do, you’ll find you’re doing your best work, and will feel almost as wonderful as I did holding this beautiful dolphin.
P.S. A big thanks to all who worked so hard to make this conference a success.
My best friend, Nancy, is into Japanese flower arranging. It’s a kind of meditation. Look at one of her recent creations. Isn’t it amazing? What a great way to be present and enjoy color, design, texture. I imagine making these is just as wonderful as looking at them. I’m going to add these to my list of burnout busters!