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5 Ways to Avoid Work Burnout

Sharpen the Saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have –– you.

Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People


As summer comes to an end here in the U.S., many of us will enter the fall reinvigorated and ready to strongly finish the year.
 
But if you’re like many of my clients, your summer wasn’t as peaceful as it could’ve been and the rest of the year poses continuing challenges for your emotional and physical well-being.

You may be feeling burned out, and you’re not alone. Research shows that significant numbers of workers suffer from severe stress related to their jobs, with almost 80 percent reporting that they “regularly experience physical or psychological symptoms caused by stress.”
 
Even as the job market in the U.S. continues to thrive, giving workers options to move to better jobs, workplace stress is continuing to take its toll.
 
Stress has increased, as workdays have become 24/7 with global responsibilities and unlimited communication access through email, calls, and texts. The harmful effects of constant work in overdrive are visible everywhere, at every level of organizations.
 
Elon Musk burnout
The recent burnout of genius innovator Elon Musk serves as a tale of warning. In case you’re not aware of him, Musk is the CEO simultaneously of two major companies – electric carmaker Tesla and rocket company Space X. His vision is to colonize Mars to give the human race options to survive if Earth becomes uninhabitable.

I love Musk and view him as a modern-day Thomas Edison. Musk’s vision and energy have seemed boundless since he started Tesla in 2003.
 
But his recent public behavior has proven he is all too human. Working self-professed 120-hour weeks to achieve auto production goals he set for the public company Tesla, Musk began acting erratically, particularly on Twitter: he accused a diver, who helped save Thai boys from a cave, of being a pedophile; personally attacked short sellers of Tesla’s stock; and, most harmful, Tweeted while driving to the airport that he had secured funding to take Tesla private.
 
Musk’s statement drove up the company’s stock, but apparently was news to Tesla’s board. His claims triggered a federal investigation as a possible violation of securities law as well as private lawsuits.
 
This led to the seemingly indestructible Musk’s tearful interview with the New York Times last week, in which he shared the physical and emotional effects of business stress on his life.
 
Musk’s travails should serve as a warning to leaders and other high achievers who often position themselves as superheroes able to thrive under massive stress with only a few hours of sleep.
 
The truth is that we are all human and sooner or later, unabated stress may result in mental errors, emotional breakdownsand depression, or severe health problems, among others.
 
The phrase, “Sharpen the Saw” in Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People refers to a carpenter who uses a saw continuously so that the saw becomes dull and doesn’t cut properly. As the saw must be sharpened regularly to be effective, so must we take care of ourselves to be “sharp.”
 
Here are five tips for keeping yourself sharp and avoiding job burnout:
 
1) Take a personal audit: It all starts with awareness. You really can’t deal with a problem until you acknowledge it and understand its depths. How are you doing? Are you stressed out all of the time? Are you unable to relax or focus? Sometimes we have blind spots and need to ask others whether they see the warning signs of stress and potential burnout.
 
2) Balance your diet and exercise: I’m not going to go into detail because there’s no lack of information available on these practices; rather, there’s a lack of mindset and execution. The evidence is clear that whole foods are necessary to fuel for our body’s health and well-being; it’s also clear that exercise provides energy, stress relief, and mental and emotional clarity.
 
3) Set priorities: Too many organizations set long lists of “priorities” that must be accomplished – but when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Steve Jobs had been fired from Apple and when he made his return in 1997 to revive the failing company, he found that the company was producing a huge, confusing range of products, including twelve versions of the Macintosh computer.
 
Jobs reduced the entire product line by 70 percent, including a focus on just four versions of the Mac. This kind of focus has resulted in Apple becoming the most valuable company in the world.
 
Of course, this applies to us as individuals as well. Have you ever gone home after a long day of meetings and emails and realized you made no headway on what was important? I know I have. Every day, we face a choice of limited time and energy to accomplish our goals. Dedicated focus on real priorities is the key to real results.
 
4) Rest, relaxation, and sleep: The benefits of sleep have been well documented. The problem is that many of us don’t take the necessary steps to protect and promote effective sleep. Also, it’s critical to take breaks regularly and learn to relax. Many people find meditation and journaling in the morning to be helpful in starting their days.
 
5) Take a technology break: We are all distracted and, for many of us, compulsively addicted to our phones and other screens. This constant pinging in our subconscious, this yearning for drops of dopamine in our brains, doesn’t allow our stress levels to subside. We need to learn to control our smartphone addiction.
 
How about you?
 
How do you monitor and control your work stress?
 
Have you asked people you trust if they see signs of burnout in you?
 
Too many of us respond to work’s demands, like Pavlov’s dogs, without thinking. We need to step back, reflect and act in ways that will preserve our physical and emotional health while improving our results.
 
Give it a try. It might be the most important step you take this year.
 
I'd love to hear your thoughts. Just visit my contact page to share with me.

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How to Control Your Smartphone Addiction

Ah, vacation…finally.
 
You’ve spent all year looking forward to your beach getaway to spend quality time with your family and disconnect from the rest of the world. You recorded your vacation voice mail; you let your team know you’re really letting go of the office this time; and you set your “out of office” reminder on your email.
 
Here you are, sitting in your lounge chair with your feet in the sand and sun on your face, and the sound of ocean waves in the distance. But instead of reading the book you brought, you find yourself reading an office email about a problem that bothers you, and you’re annoyed.
 
How did this happen? You had good intentions. You weren’t going to check your email; you promised your family you wouldn’t be tethered to your work phone, for once.
 
You’re not alone. Like millions of Americans, you’ve fallen victim to the addictive device.

A recent study by Asurion found that Americans, on average, check their phone once every 12 minutes, or five times an hour, while on vacation. Some Americans check their phone nearly 300 times a day.
 
Taking a vacation from email
While much of this phone focus might be on social media, news, or game apps, many employees check their email while on vacation, for fear of missing out (FOMO) or returning to a flood of emails.
 
Some have real fear of losing status in companies that create 24/7 online cultures. Sure, the company rhetoric talks about “work-life balance” but in reality your boss still expects a reply in the middle of the night, or on vacation. “I know you’re on vacation, but…”
 
In some countries, companies are starting to establish policies in order to help their employees actually enjoy the benefits of work-life balance relating to email.
 
German automaker Daimler instituted the “Mail on Holiday” email policy, allowing employees to auto-delete any emails they receive while they’re away. The auto response gives three options to those who send you emails: it notifies them that their emails will be deleted; if it’s truly important, they can email a colleague you’ve identified; or they can email you again, after you have returned from vacation. The email policy allows employees to actually have time away from the office and unplug from the digital world worry free.

But checking work email during vacation is only a symptom of the larger problem: whether on vacation or not, we have become addicted to our devices, especially our phones.
 
And this is understandable because the content on your phone is scientifically designed to be addictive.
 
You’ve probably heard of dopamine. It’s the powerful neurochemical that gives you that positive rush when it pings into the pleasure center of your brain. It happens every time you do that thing that is most pleasurable to you, from eating chocolate to achieving a goal to, well, whatever you find so pleasurable.
 
Dopamine is at the heart of any addiction of human beings, including drugs, alcohol, and gambling. So it’s understandable that social media companies including Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat have hired teams of scientists to develop the most highly addictive programs possible.
 
Phone addiction
This was confirmed by media-buying firm RadiumOne’s study of Australian consumers and found that dopamine is also released when we use social media. The study concluded that, “Every time we post, share, ‘like,’ comment, or send an invitation online, we are creating an expectation. We feel a sense of belonging and advance our concept of self through sharing.”
 
The retweets, likes, and shares also provide a positive reinforcement and reward. Sometimes you don’t even have to physically touch your phone in order to receive positive feelings.
 
Mauricio Delgado, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University, shares:
 
Often, if you have the earliest predictor of a reward—a sign of a social media alert, like your phone buzzing—you get a rush of dopamine from that condition stimulus. That might trigger you to go check out the outcome, to see what it is.
 
Responsibility of companies
Even the social media platforms themselves have been forced to admit their time-wasting impact. In a Facebook post earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg said a big goal for 2018 was “making sure the time we all spend on Facebook is time well spent.”
 
And Apple says tools in its new iPhone operating system will “help customers understand and take control of the time they spend interacting with their iOS devices.”
 
There will be new ways to manage how notifications are delivered and Do Not Disturb will have new modes. The most promising feature is Screen Time, which will provide a detailed report of the total amount of time spent in each application and show how often devices are picked up.
 
These are much-needed changes as the research finds the average American checks the phone 80 times a day.
 
Solutions to Unplug
 
Here are a few other tips for you to consider in getting your phone-use habits under control during vacation or throughout your life:
 
Be aware
Besides monitoring your usage with apps, it’s important to be mindful of how and why you’re using social media. It’s important to be intentional with your time and energy. Choose platforms that connect you with others and foster positivity in your life; this can look different from person to person.
 
Set limits
While completely refraining from social media during vacation is a great goal, it may not be for everyone. Some might set aside a certain amount of time each day to engage on social media, while others may want to limit themselves to just one or two platforms.
 
There’s an app for that
While it may seem counterintuitive, you can use an app to help you stop looking at other apps. The Forest app helps you stay focused by showing a seed being planted in a forest, gradually growing into a tree. The longer you leave your phone untouched, the longer the tree will keep growing. But if you leave the app, your tree will die. The growing tree is your reward for staying away from your phone.
 
The app Mute keeps track of how often you check your phone and your daily screen time. You can set goals in the app to help you use your phone less often. It’s a great way to keep yourself accountable.
 
Turn it off
Many people struggle with using social media in moderation and should consider truly unplugging from it. This can range from turning your notifications off to deleting the social media apps from your phone entirely for a given period of time.
 
Digital detox
In order to maintain a healthy relationship with social media, many advocate regular breaks from it. A new trend is to practice media-free weekends, using the time to rest and recharge offline.
 
Kick your phone out of the bedroom
Whether they’re on vacation or not, many Americans have difficulty falling asleep – and staying asleep. In my speeches, I’ll ask for a show of hands on whether people look at their phone last thing at night, first thing in the morning, and in the middle of the night. The vast majority of the audience cops to the first two and a lot of hands go up for the third.
 
Did you know that the blue light and the stimulation of the content can prevent a restful night’s sleep?.
 
In fact, a study of young adults in the United States by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that the strongest indicator of disturbed sleep is social media use during the 30 minutes right before bed. (By the way, another study by NIH found a clear link with social media and increased depression among young adults.)
 
Try charging your phone in another room so that you’re not tempted to look at it. Consider replacing social media with another activity like reading or journaling, in order to unwind before bed.
 
This year the Iphone, which started the smartphone revolution, turned 11. While the phone’s use brings tremendous benefits, it’s up to each of us to understand its toll and take control.
 
Please contact me to let me know any stories you have about the effects of smartphones on you or other people.

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John

How to Coach People as a Leader

The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.

— John Buchan

 
Lots of leaders like to be critics.
 
Some have learned to be critical from their parents.
 
Some are deeply insecure. Criticizing makes them feel powerful.
 
Some simply may be emotionally unaware. They don’t realize the damage they are doing.
 
And some are just lazy.
 
Let’s face it; being a critic is easy. We can all find fault in people and blurt those things out. Often, we are projecting our own insecurities onto others in the form of “advice.”
 
Being a coach, though, takes work. It requires thought, finesse, self-awareness.
 
While we all need to be coachable, the best leaders are coaches, not critics.
 
Broken people
In my work with leaders across the country, I find that the approach of constant criticism leaves a trail of broken people, often bitter and lacking confidence.
 
Examples are everywhere:

-- The young woman who told me before a workshop that her trouble giving presentations stems from her first boss criticizing practically everything she did in a presentation

-- The sales leader whose boss felt compelled to give long sessions of criticism under the rubric of “coaching” without a word of positivity. This leader would constantly feel attacked and said he wondered at the time if he ever did anything right.

-- The many clients who say they receive the “but” form of “coaching” constantly. You did this little thing all right, BUT you stink at all these other things.

I’m not saying you should never give your people on your team direct feedback, but you should think strategically about your approach and whether it’s creating the results you are seeking.

To focus on your positioning, your tone, and your attitude, here are a few models for your consideration:
 
Be a coach
A coach is there to unlock the potential of a person, to help that person achieve what they couldn’t or wouldn’t achieve on their own. With the right feedback at the right time, you can build your team member’s confidence and produce better outcomes.
 
Be a servant leader
Your positioning matters. If you’re standing beside me to support me, or show me the way, it’s a lot different than standing in front of me to critique me.
 
It’s much easier to be receptive to feedback when you know it’s meant to make you stronger, not beat you down.
 
Be a trusted advisor
My clients in many industries, from financial services to consulting, are working to position their representatives as trusted advisors. As a leader of people, there is no better positioning for your guidance.
 
If I trust you and you give me great advice, I will grow and get better results because of your leadership.

Be a good listener
In a trusted relationship, we are much more willing to share. Asking the right questions and listening carefully can guide people to their own conclusions about their thinking and behavior. I’ve found this is much more effective than directives in producing lasting change and growth for people.
 
Be open to feedback
I have a client who talks about a super-angry boss from early in his career. The boss was always yelling so people were afraid to bring him bad news or open problems. He was ultimately undone because hidden issues eventually took their toll on the organization.
 
Be a role model
As a leader people are always watching you. So much of learning is observing role models. Some of the most powerful coaching you can do is through your own thinking and actions.
 
Lots of leaders participate in the “do as I say, not as I do” hypocrisy of leadership. I like to tell clients that when your behavior is out of sync with what you’re preaching, your body language is so loud people won’t hear a word you are saying.
 
How about you?
Are you a coach, or a critic?
 
How would your team describe your style? Are you a servant leader, a trusted advisor, a good listener?
 
As a leader, you can have a powerful effect on the people around you. It only takes being clear about your positioning, your tone, and your attitude, yet it can make all the difference in your team’s morale, confidence, and results.
 
Please. Be a coach, not a critic.

Coaching, Football and Love?

A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment. 
-- Coach John Wooden


Recent feedback from a long-time Sunday Coffee reader:
 
I read this week’s newsletter, ‘Are You Coachable?’, with disappointment because it took the approach that coaching was needed because something was broken. Something needed to be improved.
 
You see, for several years I worked for a manager who perceived himself as a ‘coach.’ 1-2 times per week he would give me ‘a little coaching.’ What proceeded was an exhausting, humiliating, condescending, mind-numbing exercise that left me feeling like ‘he must think I just fell off of the turnip truck.’
 
Coaching and feedback became negative notions to me. To this day, I use neither. Not once did coaching include a positive. I finally got to the point where I had to say, ‘am I doing anything right?’ Obviously, I was. I’ve earned more recognition and promotions than most. I’ve also learned how NOT to lead. 
 
Shouldn’t coaching also celebrate the wins, large and small? Shouldn’t coaching recognize and encourage the positive as well as provide thoughts on areas of opportunity? Shouldn’t a coach provide balance? 

The answer to these questions is an absolute “yes,” from my point of view as a coach. Coaching should focus on a person’s strengths and challenges.
 
(To clarify, the coaching article in question was simply focused on those who had specific challenges but weren’t necessarily open to receiving coaching. It did assume there was an issue to address.)
 
But as this reader, who requested anonymity, points out, many people in business, sports and life believe that “coaching” should focus on the negative – fixing your screwups. Come down hard and fast in the moment for maximum impact!
 
Sports Coaching

Nowhere is this approach more visible than in sports.
 
The first exposure to “coaching” for many people is in sports. It might be as a child on a soccer team or as a teenager in a high school sport.
 
In these settings, coaching can take on a wide variety of forms, mostly determined by the coach’s personality, experience and upbringing.
 
This coaching runs the spectrum from gentle and positive to brutally negative. It’s the stereotypical hardcore, screaming, spitting coaches that seem to etch in people’s memories.
 
You’re thinking about a coach right now, aren’t you? I’d love to hear your experiences in those settings. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
 
College Football Coaching
 
This stereotype really comes to life in college football.
 
Football is a tough sport. Bodies crash violently at full speed. A game can be won or lost in an instant. A simple mistake can go down in team history.
 
That’s why, to be successful, football coaches also must be tough. They must stoke the fires of anger, drill their players to go to war against the other teams.
 
You see this while watching college football on TV. Lots of coaches lose their minds. They grab jerseys. They yell and curse at players a few inches from their faces.
 
But that’s okay, people might think. Coaches need to stoke the fires of anger and hatred to motivate their teams to victory! It’s the only way to get through to them!
 
Or is it?
 
Coaching with ‘Love’
 
As we enter the first week of college football season, it’s worth noting that Dabo Swinney, the coach of the reining college football champs from last year, said his Clemson Tigers won because of “love.”
 
In his first interview after winning the national championship last year, an emotional Swinney said, “And to see my guys fight, just believe. I told them tonight, I told them that the difference in the game was going to be love. It’s been my word. My word all year’s been love. And I said, ‘Tonight we’re going to win it because we love each other…”
 
Do you agree with this approach? Is there room in sports, or business, for “love”?
 
After all, sports are a metaphor for business and life. Maybe that’s why lots of business leaders try to emulate the tough, negative approach. I believe this will get some short-term results but in the long run, will have diminishing returns.
 
In my experience, you’ll achieve better long-term results with a balanced approach using positive reinforcement to make incremental changes in very specific behaviors. Modifying habits changes behavior and results.
 
That’s my approach. What’s yours? What are your experiences with coaching or being coached?
 
In the comments below, please share your experiences and approaches with coaching in sports, business and life.