There comes a point in a leader’s life where you look around and realize that you’re going to lose your mind. It’s not something that you think will happen. You can wait for it, you can circle it on a calendar, you can bet your kid’s college savings account on it, because it’s coming. As sure as Thanksgiving falls a Thursday the day you will surely lose your sanity is coming. Am I alone here? Am I the only one who locked themselves in the restroom trying to figure out who sucked the air out of the room? I can’t be. But, if you’re lucky enough to not have felt the feeling of impending doom, I’ll just say keep leading (and read this blog post as preventative medicine). For the rest of us, who have felt that unnerving feeling that surely they would not survive another day, this post is for you.
So, like I said, I’ve been on the verge of losing it. How did I get there? Well, it all happened a few months ago. A few months ago, I decided that it was a good idea to move into a new house, write and launch a new course, and train to run a marathon (yep, a 26.2 mile race) all at the same time. Oh and did I mention that I have a full time day job, managing human resources and business development for my family’s business? Yeah so it was a lot, and in the midst of all of that there came a time, a few days actually, when I felt that I was going to fail at it all. Many times where I felt paralyzed by the sheer amount of work I had to accomplish, the demands on my time, the lack of rest and my natural desire to not let anyone down and just deliver epic results. There was no question about it, I was going to lose it.
That feeling made me just want to not do anything and even more it just added to the weight and exhaustion of having way too much to do. But like a true type A personality, I pushed on through and got everything done. However, if I’m honest, I was miserable. For an entire two months I was grumpy, exhausted and I didn’t have a passion or desire to do any of the million things that I had to do. I was just doing it so I could be done with it, because I had too. There was no choice. I was surviving, barely. That’s no way to live and that’s surely no way to lead.
Through that process I learned a few things about how to keep my sanity as a leader. As a matter of fact, I learned five really valuable lessons during that absolutely bananas time in my life that will hopefully help you not get to that point and keep me from returning (Because friends, it’s not a fun place to be. Trust me.) So let’s go ahead and get into these lessons.
Lesson #1 Learn Your Limits, Then Stay Within Them
This was a news flash….I am not invincible. (Say what?!) Neither are you. We all have limits. There is a maximum workload that we can handle. Yes, friend you have a capacity and when you take on more than your maximum capacity, then bad things happen. Your performance will suffer. Your desire to do any of it will disappear. You will not be a happy person and neither will the people who have to interact with you, like your employees, friends and family. In my situation, I lost the desire the run,( even though I love running), I dreaded running. And when I did run, those runs sucked because I was tired. I couldn’t be present in the moment because I was consumed with thinking about the lessons I had to write for the course. At work, I was too tired to focus and sorry to the soul who to ask m e for anything more than once. I wasn’t a pleasure to be around. I was operating way over my capacity and could do nothing about the stuff that was just spilling over and making a mess in my life. This isn’t winning. The lesson learned here is that I had to learn my limits. And by learn I mean, clearly know how much I can take on and prioritize opportunities and projects accordingly. Once you know your limits and your priorities you can start saying no to the things that don’t line up with your priorities or your availability . Saying “no” is your key to staying within in your limits and not overwhelming yourself. Just in case you need it, it’s perfectly ok to say no. Practice saying it in a mirror if you have to. Because as a leader if you constantly load stuff on your plate, you’re going to max out. So, know your limits and stick with it.
Lesson #2 Balance Periods of Intense Work with Periods Intense Rest
So the reality is this, you’re going to have a lot to do. There may be times that even if you’re operating at your capacity that you’ll have long hours, intense demands and and times that are just stressful. In the life of an entrepreneur, manager or leader this can be expected. And we just dig in and get through those times because we just have too. But, when you get through those intense periods of work, you have to balance those times with equally intense periods of rest and relaxation. What I learned through this period of madness is that if I have to work harder than normal, like longer hours that throw the balance of of my work life and non-work life off, then I need to take some time where I rest intensively. This can be a simple as taking a few days off to chill on the couch and binge watch Law and Order or starting your days after later (that’s after 10am for me) so you can sleep in a few days. Whatever you do, when you get through to the other side of this demanding time, you need to rest, recuperate, refresh and recharge.
Lesson #3 Have a Morning Ritual
How you start your day, really does set the tone for how your day will go. If you start the day frazzled and rushed and just a mess, then that’s what you can expect all day. Set a morning ritual and be consistent. Your thing may be meditating, prayer, a leisurely cup of coffee or exercising. Find whatever sets a good tone for your day and leaves you focused and with a positive outlook. Another aspect of this is to decide how you want to start your day at the office. If your office and employees are anything like mine then you might be bombarded as soon you hit the door. Is that how you want to start your day? I reinforced with my team that unless it is an emergency, not to overwhelm me with demands, tasks, questions and messages as soon as I walk in the door. Instead, I like to decide how to get my work day going. I chose to do that over a cup of hot tea, glancing through my email and reviewing my calendar. you can choose whatever routine you like, just do something that puts you in control of over your workflow.
Lesson #4 Have an End to Your Work Day
Hey thank you technology and the “cloud” (wherever that is) for making it super easy and therefore expected that I work twenty-fours a day, seven days a week. And a gigantic thank you to these smart phones and tablet that have made it pretty unacceptable for me not to respond to text messages, emails, tweets and Facebook posts immediately. Technology is amazing. All of these things are amazing, especially when I want to work from home. Not so much when I’m trying to sleep or need to just not have a screen in front of my face, but work won’t let me do either. It is possible to have a work day that doesn’t end even if you manage to sneak out of the office at a decent hour. But just because you can work all day everyday, doesn’t mean that you should. There should be an end to your work day so that you can rest, sleep and well, not neglect all the other parts of your life. It’s not healthy. But, unless you set the boundary work will take up your entire life like weeds will take over an unattended rose garden. So decide what time your work day will end and then put the phone away.Turn it off if you have too. Go off the grid. Fade to black. Don’t respond to emails. Don’t get on the laptop. I’ve decided that this cut off time is 7pm for me. After this time, I’m simply not available. It can wait.
Lesson #5 Make Time for “Me” Time
I call this “wanna play?”. If you’ve read The Year of Yes, by Shonda Rhimes you are probably giggling right now. I highly recommend reading or listening to this book if you haven’t picked it up. I listened to it on Audible during those 16, 17, 18 and 20 mile long runs. And as I was pounding away the miles it became glaringly obvious to me that I wasn’t playing much, I wasn’t having much fun and I had absolutely no down time. My brain and spirit never had a rest. This was despite the fact that all the things I was juggling were things I had wanted to do. I was excited about them all at one point. But as they collided on my life at the same time, those good things turned into a perfect storm of just being way too much.
As I tried to balance everything through obsessively managing my schedule, one thing was missing off of my calendar. That was time for myself. Time when I’m not doing anything but nurturing myself. Shonda calls that “Wanna Play”. Yes, I wanna play! By play I mean going to get a manicure, sitting in a hot bath sipping some wine, reading a book before bed, playing alien trucks invade the earth with my nephew, whatever makes me smile. Yes, I want to do that. You need to do that. I learned that I have to guard this time. I’ve even given it a color on my calendar so I can schedule it. I can give myself 20 or 30 minutes even on the busiest day to dedicate to my own perseverance and joy. So can you.
So there you have it my leader friends, these are the five lessons I learned between December and January when I decided to take on every major project I could think of all at once. I hope these lessons help you keep your sanity as a leader so you can lead from a place of health and rest. Because leading from exhaustion is the pits, (take my word for it). How do you maintain your sanity as a leader? Tell me about your tips in the comments.
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