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Productivity Consulting and Leadership Coaching for business and nonprofits - get your most important work done. Collaborating with leaders and their teams to become more strategic, focused and productive. Leadership and Board Coaching, Strategic Planning Facilitation, Productivity Coaching and Consulting, Professional Speaker.
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Counteract Burnout

Excessive busyness is no longer looked upon as a badge of honor. More and more companies are moving towards eliminating the frenzied activity and psychologically unsafe conditions that cause burnout. What can be done?

From an Organizational Perspective:

  • Shift from the quarterly results mentality to sustained positive performance
  • Support work cultures that value members of the team
  • Dismiss managers who create and promote dysfunction.

From an Individual Perspective:

Knowing that your work culture may be contributing to your burnout is validating; however, it’s probably not enough to effect change. We, as individuals, need to learn how to protect ourselves from chronic stress and burnout.

The emotional component must also be considered. Finding balance between your passion for contributing to a project’s success and caring for yourself is much easier said than done. 

In monitoring your relationship with burnout, consider the following:

  • Selfvalue — Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Just because you can do it better than anyone else still doesn’t mean you should. 
  • Connectedness Do you feel connected to your work colleagues? Do you fit in?
  • Contribution Are you part of something bigger than yourself? Are you empowered to do the work you were hired to do? Does your work matter?
  • Work Fit Are you working to your strengths? If not, this in itself is exhausting.
  • Support If you have a problem, is there someone you can go to for direction or to help you sort things out?
  • Balance Can you slow down enough to relax or are you always seeking your next big rush?
  • Interests Do you have interests outside of work? What else matters?
  • Fun and Joy Do you know how to have fun? Do you know what gives you joy? 
  • Happiness Have you lost yourself? Are there things that make you happy that come from inside you and not from external validation? 

What does relax mean to you? Another exercise class? Reading more? Cooking more? If these activities help you decompress, then great. But for many, they are simply personal to-dos, done for outcome and not pleasure. What makes you happy? What helps you enjoy life? We are human BE-ings, not human DO-ings. Can you identify one act of “be-ing” that helps you relax? 

Take a few moments this week and self-coach yourself around some of these questions.  You could journal, take a contemplative walk, or simply sit and “be” with a question or two.  Setting intentions about how you wish to live and creating structures that support your personal self are positive actions you can take.


This is an excerpt from Chapter 5 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon. Worksheets and online templates are included via the time tools link discussed in the book.

Causes of Burnout

Burnout is trending. For many years, it didn’t seem to be a topic of much interest. It was almost like it was okay. IT IS NOT OKAY! 

Burnout can use up our physical and mental resources over time. Yes, USE UP, as in never be able to regain full capacity, full processing ability, full memory access. GONE! That is scary. 

Unfortunately, many employers see their employees as commodities. Commodities to use up and replace with other hard-working suckers who want to fast-track or prove themselves. The employees end up working endless hours, often suffering chronic stress and sometimes burnout.

If you are worried about chronic stress, I hope you find a place to work that values you and a way to live that fulfills you. In the event you can’t, it’s important to educate yourself about stress and burnout and how to take care of yourself. Don’t hold your breath waiting for someone to tell you to work less. This one is up to you.

What is Burnout?

Burnout doesn’t just happen. It is a process that occurs over time. The World Health Organization  defines burnout as chronic work–induced stress that has not been successfully managed. New science has also recognized burnout in non–work conditions such as parenting, caring for elderly parents, and unemployment. Whatever the source, all agree burnout results from long periods of ongoing stress.

When stress persists, it’s called chronic stress. When chronic stress impacts emotional health, physical health, and work efficacy it becomes burnout.

Causes of Burnout

Work Culture – Burnout is often driven by working conditions. In her seminal article, “Burnout from an Organizational Perspective”, Stanford Business School Professor Dr. Leah Weiss shares research showing that much burnout comes from toxic work cultures. 

Conditions that cause chronic stress include feelings of not belonging, being unappreciated, having little or no support, being micromanaged, and not knowing what is expected. These ongoing conditions move the brain into an always–on stress response.

Toxic Team Members – An organization’s tolerance for toxic team members contributes to burnout. It isn’t unusual for leadership to overlook abusive treatment of others when the harasser is a rainmaker or makes great promises about impacting profitability. 

Abusers are clever and they know who they can con. They also know who is smart enough to see through them. Their reaction is to smear and lie about those that can disclose their charade. Being a victim of that type of abuse is especially stressful. Continued work in this kind of situation is rarely sustainable without support.

Level of Job Stress – Certain jobs carry with them greater stress. Helping professionals, health care workers, and civil servants in harm’s way have stress baked in. The slightest negative change in working conditions can tip the scales toward compassion fatigue and eventual burnout.

Family of origin scripts – Mental scripts around work often reflect upbringing and family dynamics. These messages can contribute to chronic stress and burnout.

  • Was working extremely long hours modeled for you growing up?
  • Were you taught that anything less than 100% was not okay?
  • Do you worry about disappointing others if you don’t produce?

How you’re wired – Your own needs and values can also affect your relationship with work.

  • Does being busy make you feel good about yourself?
  • Is your identity tied to your work?
  • Are you addicted to the adrenaline rush of collaboration and results?

What doesn’t cause burnout Oversensitivity or “taking things too personally” are excuses used to blame workers for something someone else is doing wrong. One’s reaction does affect how the stress is processed; it is a symptom and not the cause. 


This is an excerpt from Chapter 5 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon. Worksheets and online templates are included via the time tools link discussed in the book.

The brain cannot do its best productive work when overstressed, anxious, or under threat. 

Productivity, Stress and Flow Brain Model

A lot is written today about stress and anxiety. We know exercise, meditation, and good sleep help reduce stress. However, little is discussed about the effects of stress and anxiety on our productivity. In a nutshell, the brain cannot do its best productive work when overstressed, anxious, or under threat. (Excerpts from Chapter 3 of Productivity for How You’re Wired.)

Here’s the neuroscience:

Neuroscientist Paul MacLean’s Triune Brain Model provides a straightforward model to understand the impact of fear and stress on the brain in conjunction with evolution and the hierarchy of brain functions. MacLean describes the brain in terms of three regions:

Brain Stem: From an evolutionary perspective, the brain stem is the oldest part of the brain. It controls bodily functions without thought or effort. This part of our brain operates on “autopilot.”

Limbic System: Next in evolutionary age is the limbic system. This is the emotional center of our brain. It is home to the amygdala, the part of the brain that houses the fight, flight, or freeze response. We have some control over our emotions, but under threat or too much stress, the amygdala automatically “hijacks” our thinking brain and takes over.

Prefrontal Cortex: Newest, and least on autopilot, is our Prefrontal Cortex (PFC), our thinking brain. It is here we plan, anticipate, think, and learn. The PFC is where innovation and creative thought occur. It houses our working memory and supports our ability to organize information and draw conclusions.

The PFC and the amygdala compete for control of the brain. When we are our most productive selves, we are functioning from the PFC. However, when there is too much stress, anxiety, or fear, the emotionally driven amygdala kicks in. We move from thinking and being productive to a fight, flight, or freeze state.

When under treat, anxious, or overstressed, our productivity tanks because we’ve moved from our thinking brain to our emotional brain.

Flow

Doing one’s most effective work occurs when a person is in flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the architect of positive psychology’s flow state, defines flow as “a powerful and rewarding psychological state that makes extra effort seem worthwhile.”

When in flow work feels like play, time flies (and stands still,) and productivity soars. To be our most productive selves, to be in flow, we need to function from our PFC, our thinking brain.Finding Productivity Flow

When under too much stress, anxiety can be paralyzing. You may relate to that feeling when you get a note from the boss saying “come see me,” or a long-time client calls and says “can we talk?” Just when we need to be at our best, we freeze up and our emotional brain takes charge.

Without enough stress, the brain struggles to move into action. Waiting until the 11th hour to begin a project causes enough stress to move the brain into productivity flow.

Strategies for Getting and Staying in Productivity Flow

The emotional limbic brain almost always wins unless we learn how to manage it. To be in productivity flow we need to employ strategies to help us manage the stress.From overstressed to productive

Knowledge is power! When you start to feel anxious or lose focus, it’s empowering to stop and think — I know what’s going on here. When you realize that what is happening in your brain is the normal physiologic stress response, you can take back control. Deep breathing, a walk, or other calming activity can help, but sometimes simply understanding what is happening is enough to pull you back into productivity flow.

What does success mean to you?

Don’t just say what you think you should say.  Stop.  Think.  Each and every one of us get to define success on our own terms.

  • For some success is defined monetarily
  • For others it’s more about lifestyle
  • And for others it’s about making a social impact
  • For you it may be a combination of these or something completely different.

What’s really cool is that you get to choose how your actions impact your definition. There are many things to consider as you create the life you envision or perhaps envision the life you wish to create!

This week’s exercise is a brainstorming about the life you wish to live. I don’t want you to write goals here (standard goal writing takes the form of   SMART Goals with the SMART meaning Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.)  Rather I’m asking you to consider SMART Intentions.  This is your opportunity to reflect about what success really means to you.

This exercise doesn’t have to take long.  My guess is that you know the answers already. And remember your brainstorming guidelines:

  • Don’t judge your thoughts – write down anything and everything that comes to mind
  • Wild ideas are helpful and encouraged – the more creative you get the clearer you’ll become

To organize this information, pick one place to keep your notes.  This can be a Word doc, a Google doc, an Evernote, a OneNote, or a simple notebook or file folder.

What does success mean to you?

  1. _____________________________________________________
  2. _____________________________________________________
  3. _____________________________________________________
  4. _____________________________________________________
  5. _____________________________________________________
  6. _____________________________________________________
  7. _____________________________________________________
  8. _____________________________________________________
  9. _____________________________________________________
  10. _____________________________________________________
  11. _____________________________________________________
  12. _____________________________________________________
  13. _____________________________________________________
  14. _____________________________________________________
  15. _____________________________________________________

Sit with this list.  Highlight or asterisk the top few that feel most important.

Creating Your Very Own Success Formula Blog Course Details – This is the 2nd in a multi-series of posts.  Check last weeks post for the big picture. Future posts can be delivered to your inbox by signing up for my blog. And please share this opportunity with your friends and colleagues.

When I begin working with productivity coaching clients, I ask them to share their goals for our work together. One of the most frequent responses is “how do I know what should be a priority?” Many variables impact the answer:

  • Do you work for yourself or do you have to consider the company/boss you work for?
  • Are we talking just about work, or do you want to understand this both professionally and personally?
  • What else and who else do you need to consider in this?

When we start coaching, I can help client’s triage by looking at their tasks and deadlines, however for long-term results it takes stepping back and deciding what’s important overall.  And this means setting intentions about the life they wish to live and setting goals to attain that life.

Until you are clear about what’s important, it’s next to impossible to know what to say yes to and what to say no to.

For the next few weeks I will walk you through (at no cost) my 7 steps to CREATING YOUR VERY OWN SUCCESS FORMULA program.  By the end you will have much more clarity about what’s important. Then setting priorities becomes easier.

And no worries, if you miss a week, it will all be posted on my blog. As well, each week’s exercise will be effective as its own learning experience

Here are the topics we’ll discuss over the next few weeks:

S – Success Defined of Your Terms

U – Unique Areas of Focus For Your Life

C – Characteristics of Your Focus Areas

C – Core Values

E – Essence of Your Yes

S – Space to Think

S – Success Formula to Guide Your Priorities

For a short-term fix, try prioritizing those items that if you didn’t do would:

  • Embarrass you if it didn’t get done
  • Let someone down you care about
  • Let yourself down
  • Cost you money if you didn’t do them
  • Cause you to miss a really good opportunity

For a long-term fix I hope you’ll follow my blog and gain some clarity about what is really important to you.  Those answers will underpin your actions moving forward.  Please share this opportunity with your friends and colleagues. By signing up for my blog they too will get the course delivered to their inbox in 7 manageable chunks.

When you know what’s truly important knowing what to say yes to and what to say no to becomes much easier.

We’ve all gotten pretty good at squeezing in an email, quick call, or text in a moments time, however when we have project work or multi-step tasks it a bit more complicated. Both productivity and performance improve when we are in flow.

Daniel Goleman, the Father of Emotional Intelligence, describes FLOW as a state in which people become utterly absorbed in what they are doing and their awareness is merged with their actions. He says “you know when you are in flow; work becomes easy, you lose track of time, you feel happy, and joyful, and productive.

It makes sense that we would want to create the flow state for when we finally get to doing our really important work. For the brain to engage, work has to be challenging enough to stimulate the brain. The challenge itself is energizing and motivating.

However, there is more we can do to propel ourselves into flow:

  1. Clearly define the goal and create an outline or plan. Being specific minimizes your getting off task.
  2. Create your optimum environment by eliminating distractions. This can mean no noise, white noise, music with words, or music without words. Wear headphones so people know not to interrupt you, close your office door (if you’re so lucky to have one), or find a secluded place to work.
  3. Clear the decks. While some people can jump in and “eat the frog”, others need to get the little nudgy annoying tasks off their plate so they can concentrate and be completely engaged.
  4. Block off enough time. Some people can work in micro blocks – 15-30 minutes, and the next day pick up right where they left off. Others need 2 or 3 or 4 hour chunks so they don’t have to waste time ramping up to get to where they were the day before.
  5. Build in accountability and feedback. Outside support often helps to stay on task.

 

When I dig into a task this is what works for me:

  1. I write out my goal and put it in front of me. Then I outline the steps to reach the goal, often on post-its, organizing the process. And, it helps me stay motivated when I can throw away a completed post-it.
  2. My optimum environment includes finding a quiet spot where no one can talk to me. I turn off my phone, ALL social media, and often the internet. I prefer to have either white noise or music without words playing in the background
  3. I clear the decks almost 100%. My desk surface only has the current project – nothing else.  My critical email are completed, my phone calls are made, and I try to have completed as many  little annoying tasks as possible.  This enables me to solely focus on the important work.
  4. I block out time in big chunks, preferably 4 hours. I waste too much time remembering where I was and getting back to that point if I work in lesser amounts.  If I am working on a presentation or something with lots of moving parts, I may block out the entire day.
  5. My accountability to myself is enough for me, so engaging others isn’t helpful, but many clients and colleagues do benefit from knowing they will be reporting in on their progress.

 

The one most important thing to know about flow is that it happens when we are working on things we love doing. What do you love doing?  How can you create your environment to get to do the work you love more?