that don't involve coffee...
Last year I had (and still do), enormous empathy for parents juggling home schooling and work; people living with strained relationships and those who had lost their jobs and/or homes.
The future was uncertain for everyone.
And yet… here we are again, with no clear end in sight. The Delta variant of COVID-19 has plunged us back into all too familiar territory - isolation and working from home.
Spare a thought for all Locked Down Leaders
As we here in Melbourne languish in Lockdown #6 and the vaccination race goes head to head with yet another spread of COVID-19, my thoughts are with anyone who is in a leadership role. I have spent the last year coaching leaders at all levels through the compounding challenges and uncertainties and know that leaders everywhere are tired.
On top of personal pressures, leaders are leading their people through high fluctuations in motivation; escalating mental health issues; inconsistent productivity and performance and absorbing the impact of their managers’ relentless pressures.
While there is no shortage of advice on how to ‘cope’, some advice is better than others. Believe me, I have tried many ‘Surviving Lockdown’ hacks over the last 17 months and many of them are either useless or actually make things worse!
Because prolonged Lockdown Leadership Fatigue is real, today I’m sharing ideas that just might help you. Many of my clients and I have road tested, adapted and adopted the following ‘Fatigue Fighters’ and I hope they bring relief to any leaders who are struggling.
Which of these Leadership Fatigue Fighters Could Help YOU?
1. Work WITH Your Natural Body Clock
Your body’s biorhythms are the 24 hour cycles over which your energy naturally fluctuates. You’ll likely know whether you are mostly a ‘morning person’ or ‘night owl’.
Where in the past, this has simply been something that’s good to know or to justify that extra shot of espresso, now is a great time to work with rather than against what your body needs.
Pre-COVID-19, I was definitely a morning person but now I’m noticing I have several energy peaks and troughs throughout the day and I’ve moved my work schedule to make the most of these.
Rather than working to a timetable dictated by your calendar, try intentionally moving tasks into time slots that match the energy required to complete them.
For example, I know I have a natural lull between 2 – 4pm and now allocate ‘admin’ tasks or my daily walk to this time slot. I’m still being productive but working with my body clock has reduced the energy drain caused making big decisions or focusing on high concentration activities. These I’ve now scheduled to the morning or post 4pm time slot when it's easier for me to get into flow.
2. Conserve and Boost Your Energy
The level of fatigue you’re experiencing is directly related to your energy levels. If your battery is low or empty, whatever you’re needing to do becomes so much harder.
Essential ‘feel good’ chemicals (serotonin, dopamine, adrenaline and oxytocin) are depleted which means we tire more easily.
Here are 2 things you can do to immediately to feed your feel-good chemicals:
1. CONSERVE the Energy You Have
Breaking tasks down into smaller steps with multiple short breaks (rather than working non-stop on something for many hours), will conserve energy.
In the past, I'd have written the first draft of this post in one sitting, maybe over 3 – 4 hours. I’ve now discovered that if I write in 40 – 50 minute blocks with 10 minute breaks in between, I’m far less drained and tired. It's all about disciplined, laser focus on ONE thing during dedicated time blocks.
Likewise, psychological studies have shown that when we 'context switch' (multi-task), we lose between 20 - 80% of productivity and energy. Simply switching between two tasks means each task only gets a maximum of 40% of your attention and energy and 20% is lost on the switching itself. Spreading your focus and energy on more than one thing at a time is a trap.
Turning off notifications on my phone and emails and only checking them at set times each day (rather than all day), has been a simple, yet highly effective, energy preserver. It's less distracting and has made me much more productive. Single, laser focus rather than context switching significantly slows energy drain.
2. Regularly BOOST Your Energy Levels
Within the same time it takes to fill your car with petrol, simple energy boosters will keep you topped up.
These include brisk walks in fresh air, sunshine or rain; taking a nap and getting enough sleep; eating healthy, energy boosting foods, singing out loud; meditating and playing with your children or pets.
My #1 Energy Booster: Schedule meetings based on the energy levels of the people you're meeting with!
There are some people (Energy Drainers) who when you’ve met with them for an hour, even about something non-controversial, you come away feeling flat and depleted.
Luckily there are also those you enjoy meeting with (Energy Boosters) because they bring naturally high energy. These folks give you an immediate energy lift.
Where possible, schedule meetings with Energy Drainers for when you know you can maintain your own energy and book meetings with Energy Boosters for when you know you'll need a 'pick-me-up'.
This is such a cool tip because it applies equally for Introverts and Extroverts. Introverts can boost their energy by deliberately scheduling 1:1 (rather than 1:Many) meetings with people who are calm and considered for times when they need an energy boost.
If you’re more of an Extrovert, scheduling meetings with people you can share a laugh with, will instantly release feel-good endorphins when you need an energy boost.
3. Balance Routine and Spontaneity
By now, you’ve probably got a well-established ‘lockdown’ routine around family life and work. While routine is good because it reduces decision-making induced fatigue, the repetition can fuel boredom which is tiring.
When every day feels like the one before, time tends to drag.
The predictability of the days doesn’t eliminate stress and the easiest way to counter this is to build in daily spontaneity.
For me this has been embracing the unpredictability of becoming a Puppy Mum again. Yes, I’m one of the many thousands of people who has bought a lockdown puppy! To be fair, I would have bought a new puppy anyway (my last beloved fur baby died a year ago).
But something I’m appreciating at a whole other level now with Sophie (my curious 12 week old Groodle), is the joy of spontaneity. I’m much more present with her than I had time to be with my previous fur babies and I’m enjoying being 'in the moment' as she discovers new things every day.
Sure, I have to wear her out with a run around the back garden before I jump onto a Zoom call, but for the most part, the unpredictable fun and extra exercise she creates is something I’m actively embracing rather than stifling.
4. Do Something You’ll Be Glad You Did
Increasing spontaneity includes building in any activity you otherwise wouldn’t have bothered with but when you’ve completed it, your fatigue is replaced with energy and a sense of achievement
This may be rediscovering the joy of something you haven’t done for years or trying out something new and creative. Have you ever wanted to learn a musical instrument but never had the time? Even 20 minutes a day dedicated to a challenging, pleasurable and rewarding activity, will dissolve fatigue.
Yesterday I treated myself to a warm relaxing bath while I listened to an audio book. This might not sound all that special but I hadn’t had a bath for many years. (Rest assured, I do shower every day )! Something so simple but do-able felt like a real treat and it’s something I’m so glad I did.
You might include calling or Face-timing friends you haven’t spoken to for a long time. Increasing connection with those we like and love is a powerful antidote to isolation and a great way to counter fatigue.
5. Be a Boundary Rider – for yourself and others
Lines become even more blurred during prolonged locked down periods and vague boundaries are insidious fatigue feeders. Where once you rarely took work calls after 6pm or routinely answered email whilst half-watching TV at night with your partner, the 8 hour work day has now virtually disappeared.
As we embrace more flexible, tech-enabled work hours (which are a good thing in these COVID-19 changed times), many leaders are falling victim to being ‘on’ and available 24/7.
The accumulated impact of this is increased tiredness, stress and compromised life balance. If you’ve noticed work increasingly and persistently encroaching on your home life and ‘me’ time, it’s time to become a 'Boundary Rider'.
Boundary Riders routinely ride out on their horse or motorbike to check for and repair any holes in fences. If there are certain colleagues or tasks that have broken through your fences, gently but firmly push them back and close the gap.
Chances are they won’t have realised they’ve wandered onto your side of the fence and that it does matter.
If your manager, peers or team members are consistently contacting you and expecting a reply out of work hours for things that aren’t genuinely life threatening, you can break them of the habit.
Simply tell them you are making changes to the way you work, including not answering calls or responding to emails after a certain time, whilst reassuring them you’ll respond quickly the following day. If you explain why you’re making this change and ask for their support, they are more likely to respect the boundary you’re putting in place.
As a leader, this also sends a positive message to your team. If you won’t be checking and sending emails late at night, you’re also telling them it’s OK to clock off and stand down at an agreed time and over the weekend.
Of course this will only work if you then stop Boundary Breaching – aka responding to emails, phone and text messages when you’ve told people you are off the clock!
6. Write Your Own Positive Newspaper Headlines
The fatigue and distress caused by the constant bombardment of bad news stories has never been higher . If the current barrage of daily headlines from around the world is leaving you emotionally drained, it's understandable and you’re not alone.
Whilst limiting how often you check your news feed or watch the nightly TV news will definitely help, there is something else you can do that’s actually fun!
Writing your own Positive Newspaper Headlines about good things that have happened, throughout the day or across the week, is a great way to regain perspective and lighten the heaviness of media fed world news.
This can be a fun activity around the nightly dinner table with your family where each family member, in turn, shares their ‘good news’ headline and tells the supporting story. My headlines this week have included:
- Superstar Sophie Wins GOLD for Sit and Stay
- New Pergola Fairy Lights Brighten the Night Sky
- The Client Breakthrough That Changed Everything
Positive Newspaper Headlines is also a fun team activity to kick off and inject energy into weekly team meetings.
Each team member creates a newspaper headline about something positive that has happened during the week and has a couple of minutes to tell their story. When everyone has had a turn, the team can vote on who created the best Positive Newspaper Headline.
7. Control What You Can – let go of the rest
While you’ve probably heard this one before, it helps to remember that investing energy in things that are outside of your control is guaranteed to fuel frustration and fatigue.
We all have a limited number of mind units (mental battery cells) and using them up on things you can't influence or change is like leaving the fridge door open.
I’ve found it really helps to Stocktake Today and Plan Tomorrow as my final task before I finish my work day. The Stocktake involves writing down what I’ve achieved and haven’t; what I’m glad and worried about. Then I decide which of these I CAN and want to control or influence.
I’ve learnt the only thing I have full control over is how I respond to the events and experiences of the day.
For things I cannot control or influence (or it wouldn’t be wise to do so), I write down everything I’m thinking and feeling about it. These include completely unfiltered letters or emails that I will never send!
Unfiltered writing enables you to release any energy sapping emotion you’ve attached to events and experiences. You simply keep writing until you’ve got it all out and there is no more.
Those things I can and want to control, influence and do are included in the Plan for Tomorrow. My time blocks are allocated to specific tasks so my sub-conscious can work on these without my attention.
Then, when I shut down my computer and close my home office door, I already feel like I’ve got a head start on what I’m tackling tomorrow and can easily flick my mental work switch to ‘Off’.
There are of course many variations on each of these Leadership Fatigue Fighters and some will resonate more with you than others.
Simply choose one and give it a go. Tweak it until you notice your fatigue slipping away and then add in others to help you sustain the energy you need to keep going.
BONUS TIP: Focus on making life easier for others
Redirecting your attention to making your workplace easier for others will pay immediate dividends for you and your team. This includes ensuring you've created and are strengthening Psychological Safety. When everyone in your team feels safe, no matter what's going on around them, you will all be much better equipped to adapt to whatever changes lie ahead.
I’d love to hear what tips and tricks you use to help you thrive as a leader through these challenging times.
Drop your ideas in the Comments below.
Finally, KUDOS TO ALL LEADERS who are hanging in there and demonstrating strong, compassionate leadership every day.
You are rock stars and we salute you!
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