Q I'm feeling mentally and physically drained. What are some ways I can find more work-life effectiveness during these unprecedented times?
The most important thing for you to hear is that you aren't alone. We're all feeling some level of emotional and physical fatigue. Work-life balance is a myth, so I prefer to talk about work life-effectiveness. No one really achieves a true balance and chasing that concept can be a source of stress in and of itself. In contrast, you're the one who can own and define what an effective work-life relationship looks like.
Some people find that spending more time on work is fulfilling and meaningful, whereas others derive a source of renewal and joy by focusing more on time outside of work. Either way, when you find what works for you, stick with it! Achieving meaningful work-life effectiveness is always easier said than done. Here are a few ways that you can more quickly achieve this in your life.
First, establish boundaries to help create mental capacity and the ability to keep work things organized in one part of your brain and non-work things in the other. Boundaries should be considered for thoughts, people, events, and activities of daily work and home life. For example, we're all connected through mobile devices to our home and work lives. Sometimes, it's difficult for us to turn that off. One boundary I've established is that I don't check work email or messages after hours unless there's an emergency or I'm on call.
Especially in this time when many of us are working from home, the lines between work and home can quickly become blurred. It's important to set boundaries and clearly communicate them. The higher you go in the leadership chain, the more important boundary setting becomes. As you become a more senior leader, your direct reports feel obligated to respond to you even if you're emailing them after hours or on weekends to “catch up” for yourself.
Second, be sure that you're always looking for ways to ground yourself. Over the years, I've shared with you many aspects of practicing mindfulness. During times of high stress and uncertainty, self-care and self-compassion become even more critical to ensure that there's always something in your resilience tank. Having higher levels of resilience reduces burnout, improves performance, and increases overall job satisfaction. Practicing mindfulness, especially during moments of anxiety, will change your body's chemical response to stress. Simple forms of in-the-moment mindfulness include deep breathing, visualization, and practicing gratitude.
Next, ensure that you spend time reflecting on your self-worth and actively engaging in self-affirmation. Many leaders I've spoken with during this pandemic have expressed feelings of loneliness and isolation from coworkers, family, and friends. Many have questioned their own leadership abilities and effectiveness as we all lead our teams through uncharted waters. As a coworker of mine shared with his team during a recent staff meeting: “We're all in this boat together, but I'm the captain of the ship and my most important job is helping you get through the storm safely.” This simple statement was an affirmation that although you may feel lonely leading your team, you're never alone. It's important to learn the difference.
Finally, it's important to understand your own behavior patterns and their impact on how you add to or take away from your overall work-life effectiveness. There's no neutral in this process; you're either adding to or taking away from your effectiveness through your behavior patterns. Understanding how your choices affect your work and home life is critical. Learn what behaviors add to your joy and engagement and spend time learning about your detractors. Once you understand these factors, you can better control not only where you spend your limited energy during your day, but also how to engage and recharge.
Giving yourself permission to stop chasing the mythical balance and focusing on effectiveness can change your perception of leadership, relationships, and priorities, as well as increase your sense of commitment and accomplishment. Never forget that no matter how much more challenging managing teams through this pandemic may become, you can never be making a wrong choice when the choice is to care for yourself first so you may better take care of others.