“Our fatigue is often caused not by work, but by worry, frustration and resentment.”
When was the last time you got away from work?
Dr. Art Markman, in his Harvard Business Review article “How to Forget About Work When You’re Not Working” (August 25, 2017) challenges us to ask this question. When did we really get away – physically, mentally, and emotionally. Unfortunately, many of would respond – I cannot remember.
I recently returned from a three-week vacation and before leaving was struggling whether to bring my laptop. I put it in my backpack, paused, and took it out. My travel regimen, business and personal, has been my laptop is always in my backpack. This time I left it at home. Sure, I peeked a few times on my iPhone to keep an eye on a few things. However, I intentionally separated myself from work and fully realized the benefits of recharging.
There is a difference between unplugging and recharging. Unplugging is leaving work, while work remains in your head. Recharging is physically and mentally leaving work, moving to an activity that energizes you mentally and physically. Examples would be vacation, exercise, hobbies, and meditation. You step away from work, and you clear your mind of professional commitments. You focus on what you are going to do, instead of working.
You feed your soul.
Worry is a powerful emotion and dwelling on challenges, real or perceived, can destabilize us. Sometimes we worry about what we have done – wishing for a do over. Other times it is our current situation that worries us. Is this the work that fulfills me? Finally, the future always brings concerns. We hope for certainty, yet we wrestle with all the what ifs – my company, role, and benefits.
Anxiety is natural in life, and we are so aware of this following several years of the COVID pandemic. The marker is when a little natural anxiety turns to excessive worrying, where we dwell on difficulty or troubles.
Dwelling is the key word. When we dwell on our work troubles, we get ourselves into trouble. We surrender our time, and mind, to work issues which prevent us from being our best. Research has found some individuals ruminate or worry about their work up to 20 hours a week off the job – you could call this “worry overtime” for which we are not compensated. This overtime has a profound cost – on the people important to you.
Three keys to stop worrying about work off the job, as shared by Dr. Guy Winch author of Emotional First Aid:
When does work end for you? Set a ritual of how you move from work to home. Whatever you decide, it needs to signify you are no longer working. You benefit by setting a psychological boundary to redirect your attention somewhere else.
To sustain your attention on the job, you need to recharge off the job. If all you do is unplug, you can still sit around with work thoughts dominating your mind. “Fake work” is thinking about work without accomplishing anything. To fully recharge, you need to close work and open your personal life.
When you are up late at night surrounded by work thoughts, redirect your mind toward something else. Do something that requires focus – read, crossword puzzle, or play a memory game (name every teacher in your life you can remember). Distraction has been proven to break the worry cycle.
One of the strongest indicators of fatigue and burnout is when we excessively work about work. Try giving your work cell phone a new location after hours – not on your nightstand., Give work a hard stop so you can fully transition into something you want to do. The moral of the story is when we successfully recharge, we plug back in – to recovery.
Leading Your Team
Adam Grant is one of my favorite leadership authors. He introduces topics with excellent ideas on practical implementation. Here is a great article on email responsiveness.
Read to Lead
Leaders benefit from being active readers, long reads not just social media posts and news feeds. A deep read builds concentration, strengthens your intellectual capacity, and offers wisdom you can share. As you refresh or build your reading habit, diversify your experience – old, new, fiction, non-fiction, audio, hard cover, and e readers.
My July 2023 favorites:
Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl
I first read this book in college and was motivated to reread it following a trip to Germany. Victor Frankl was a psychiatrist from Austria who survived several Nazi concentration camps during World War II. He writes about his experiences as a prisoner, and his positive will to survive. One of my favorite quotes – “It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.” The power of positive thinking in the direst of circumstances.
The Right Call by Sally Jenkins
Sally Jenkins is a Washington Post writer and best-selling author, who I have admired for years. Her new book The Right Call reveals the seven principles of great decision making, based on interviews with elite athletes and coaches. Conditioning, Practice, Discipline, Candor, Culture Failure, and Intention represent qualities that push high achievers to a new level of performance. All leaders can benefit from this wisdom.