When you feel burned out: 5 things to do to get re-energized

This can happen to most of us by the end of the year. We look forward to the holidays and time off but we crawl or limp into December with our brains overworked and our bodies tired. Even if we enjoy our work and our teams, we can feel plum exhausted.
This year has felt especially grueling balancing the stressors created by our current circumstances along with keeping a job let alone being fulfilled by it. I never would have thought that working from home full-time would be so tiring. Others have done this for years while most of us are easing into it for the first time.

I actually found commuting to work stressful and a huge time waster but replacing that commute time with work time was a quick path to burnout. That commute provided down time from thinking, meetings, emails and barking dogs. I do miss it on some level but I have moved away from replacing that commute time with work. Instead, I have replaced it with journaling, listening to podcasts (like I used to do on my commute) or, sometimes, meditation.

I do start my work day earlier than ever before but I have spent the last few months setting boundaries for myself. Boundaries are key to preventing burnout. Knowing when to start and stop something, knowing what you will blow off or fight for, just knowing….knowing yourself and your values and what is outside of those values. Setting boundaries helps combat stress and balance your day.

Think about what boundaries you need to set. Do you need a start and stop time for your work day? Do you need a physical boundary between home and work even if it is in the same living space? Do you need to block off the noon hour to walk the dog, do yoga or have lunch with your kids? Do you need to set a boundary that you will not look at or answer emails past 7 pm? This is my personal favorite. I know many of us, especially if we have global teams, are getting email notifications all the way up until bedtime and after. When there is no separation, no down time for the brain to re-charge, this leads to burn out. Unless there is an emergency, emails can wait until the next morning.

Think about where the lines are getting blurry and add some clarity to those sections of your life. Outside of setting boundaries, there are other actions you can take to turn burnout into new energy again.

  1. Take your vacation.
    How many of us are staring at weeks of vacation that we lose if we don’t take it by the end of the year? There should be many head nods and arms raised. Because we couldn’t travel, December will probably be the least productive December in most organizations this year. Everyone scrambling to take their vacation time all at once. Still, take your vacation. I took a few long weekends in the Summer but to have an entire week off has proven to be fabulous — a true break to re-charge, rest and spend time on other projects. I have a newfound energy to embrace work again. Vacation is critical. There should be no martyrs here. Everyone needs time off. The workplace will not fall apart without you. That shouldn’t make you nervous; it should make you feel good that the team in place can carry on without you for a week. It means, as a manager, you have done your job well.
  2. Engage in a side project or hobby.
    I have written about side hustles and hobbies before to help find your purpose. Efforts outside of work can also help calm nerves and engage your brain in a different way. I write. I also like true crime podcasts and documentaries. I watched one this week that I had DVR’ed months ago. I also have a side hustle that I am working on along with working on a book (slowly but still in progress). We are rarely just our jobs. Careers are certainly a huge part of our lives and who we are but we are more than our work. Find other things you love to do and do them. I hear knitting is a great tactical way to feel a sense of accomplishment without too much thinking. Exercise is an awesome way to build energy without too much thinking. Volunteering, singing, drawing, playing with your kids, attending virtual church, whatever your area of personal satisfaction, make time for it.
  3. Write down your accomplishments for the year.
    While this can be a bit of work, writing down your accomplishments for the year can be truly satisfying. This should include professional and personal. We often skip acknowledging personal achievements at work. I think celebrating both professional and personal accomplishments recognizes the whole person. After all, we usually bring our whole selves to work. When you document these, share them. Share them with your manager, your team; ask them to share theirs. Certainly performance conversations happen at the end of the year, but a great agenda for a team meeting is to share what people are most proud of and give them the choice of sharing professional or personal. Some of us may feel we don’t have a lot to be proud of this year. Maybe things went sideways or you lost a job. Focus on what did work. There is always something to be celebrated in our lives. Find those things, write them down and reflect.
  4. Set goals for next year early.
    It isn’t too early to set goals for 2021. December is near and coupled with reflection, which should make you feel good, we should be looking forward at the possibilities for next year. In addition to our day-to-day responsibilities, find a project or efforts that you love that no one else is working on. I get the most satisfaction if I lead something to fix a problem or help someone with their career or lead to a direct result. Find something related but not only in your set of responsibilities as a growth goal. Set only a few goals for next year. Oftentimes, we set too many goals. Achieving 10 goals is tough. Our attention is splintered and we burn out. Pick 3-5 goals and work action plans underneath each to help you get there.
  5. Use a purpose planner.
    A tool to help you look ahead into a new year is a planner. I am not talking about the planners of old where you record all of your daily appointments alongside your goals, tasks and activities. Today, there is a whole market of planners that help you reflect on the past year, think about the new year and really tie goals and actions to your purpose, your passion, your legacy you are trying to establish. I use a planner called Cultivate What Matters. This has revolutionized my day-to-day. I spend time every year and quarter thinking through my goals – Financial, Spiritual, Career, Community, Family, Relationships, Health, and hone in on what I want to achieve and how I will get there. These take work. A blank planner is a worthless planner. I highly recommend investing in a tool like this to help you think and take action on the things that are important to you. It holds you accountable if you review at the beginning and end of every month.

Finding energy in the midst of brain-fry can be difficult. It is important to recognize when we reach a point of fizzling out. Only when you recognize this, can you do something about it. If we are fried, do not continue forward. Don’t play the martyr; rest and re-charge. Turn your brain to something completely different to reset it. Take a break, take a walk; heck, take a vacation. We are not wired to go 24/7, 365. We need breaks and sleep to be productive.

There is always time for emails, work and career. Make time for other things in your life to find a balance that can be sustained. Be proactive in planning and recognize your accomplishments along the way. Both activities can be truly rewarding and help get us rebooted.

When you receive critical feedback: 5 things not to do

Giving feedback can be challenging but is a necessary part of being a manager to help your team grow and develop. But, what do you do when you are on the receiving end? Does it catch you off guard? Does it make you mad? Does it help you stop and reflect? Do you get down on yourself? Do you make course corrections and move on?

How we hear and take feedback can influence how we are seen by others and how we feel about our own abilities. Just as it may not be easy to deliver tough feedback, it may be equally difficult to receive it. No one wants to hear that they didn’t do something 100% right especially if they poured their heart and soul into a project or presentation.

However, no matter what level you are in an organization, you may receive feedback on how to do something differently. You may disagree with the feedback being given to you, or it may resonate with you and allow you to make adjustments.

As a kid, I would write for fun. Everything I wrote from essays in English class to articles for the school newspaper, I got very used to receiving my work back with red marks all over it. Granted, some papers looked hacked to pieces while some had an occasional mark but always in red.

In my early days, I would get disheartened but as I matured, I realized the red pen was meant to help me.  Nothing creates thicker skin than to see your art, your heart on the page ripped to shreds with red ink. The more red I saw, the more I improved my writing skills over time.

Feedback can be the same. The red pen may be intimidating or tough to see but it is meant to help us. Like with most skill development, we need to approach this with the right mindset. A fairly trite but true statement is that feedback is a gift. It can be hard to see it as a gift in the moment. When we see our papers bleeding with red ink or hear that our presentation could have been delivered better, it is tough to have a mindset where we are grateful to hear it could have been better. However, this is exactly the right mindset to have.

Here are five things to avoid when receiving critical feedback:

  1. Don’t put up your shields.
    I used to have a team member who would come to one-on-one conversations with folded arms and raised eyebrows….almost every time. I would ask for her input and feedback on how things were going. She would say: “Fine”. I would ask pointed questions about certain projects only to be met with silence. She put up her shields every time she came to see me because I gave her some constructive feedback once after I received several complaints about her. Unfortunately, she never was open to feedback that wasn’t 100% positive. In this case, she was overlooked for a promotion and was eventually let go during a down time while her colleagues were retained. This is an extreme example but being open to hearing feedback can matter a lot to how others view us as professionals.
  2. Don’t become defensive.
    I also had a team member who struggled to get her work done and meet deadlines. I would ask her if everything was okay first to see if there was something going on that contributed to her lack of performance. Instead, what I received were reasons why it was everyone else’s fault. When I probed into what she could have done differently, the answer was “nothing”. She always did everything right; everybody else was wrong. This level of defensiveness did not serve her well. Even if someone else did not help, there is always something we can take as feedback for ourselves.
  3. Don’t blow it off.
    A colleague of mine would tell me about a team member who would thank him for the feedback and then make no changes. His behavior never changed. He kept committing the same mistakes over and over again. Finally, he was asked if he heard the feedback and what he thought about it. He said he would listen but he was so busy that he didn’t think he needed to do anything about it. My colleague was giving constructive feedback and his team member only heard the “wah, wah, wah” like any adult on the Peanuts. He didn’t think it was important enough to heed and make changes. My colleague could have worked with him on an action plan instead of just saying the same thing over and over. This could have been a way to help him not dismiss the feedback so easily.
  4. Don’t beat yourself up.
    Some of us don’t get defensive or angry; some of us actually take it personally and decide to beat ourselves up over the fact that we could have done something differently. This is as unproductive as having your shields up or blaming others. Feedback does not mean you are a terrible employee. It does not mean you are inadequate or unskilled. It merely means you may have some adjustments to make to get to the next level. So, don’t blow it off, but don’t take it too hard either.
  5. Don’t skip reflection.
    Most important than not being too emotional about feedback is to not spend some time reflecting. What lesson could I learn here? What could I do differently next time? Is there something I should research or study more? Can I find someone to help coach or mentor me in a certain space? The team member who blew off the feedback did work on action plan with his manager, which yielded being paired with someone who was an expert in the area he needed to develop. This helped him grow and eventually get promoted.

Feedback can be tricky. Listening, processing it, and maybe taking small steps to action it are signs of a true professional. Even if someone else isn’t cooperating with you or you don’t like your manager, take the feedback for what it is — a tool to help you. Find some nugget in the feedback to reflect on and make a change, even if it is small.

When you need to give critical feedback: 7 tips to keep in mind

Despite our current situation, work moves forward. We need to understand needs, produce solutions, manage processes, provide customer service or make the next sale. Throughout our work lives, we will give and receive praise. We also may receive feedback that indicates we could have done something better. This happens at all levels regardless of where you sit in the organization.

When we receive feedback that is not 100% sunshine and puppy dogs, we might feel bad about it. We may even beat ourselves up about it. In order for us to grow and develop as adults, we need feedback. As the person delivering the feedback, it may be extremely uncomfortable. As the person hearing the feedback, it can be equally challenging.

Once, I inherited a team member who only received glowing praise and high-percentage salary increases. When he came to me, he was taking on a higher level role that required him to stretch. I started to see areas where he could do better, areas where he simply needed to receive some coaching. When I asked his former manager if he saw any of these opportunities, the answer was: “Yes. He really isn’t too good at enrolling people in his ideas. He tends to pout when things don’t go his way.” Ugh! I asked if at any time he gave the employee that feedback. “Oh no. I didn’t want to discourage him or make him feel bad.”

So, let me share this with all of the managers out there. As uncomfortable as it is, you have a responsibility to help a team member improve, grow and develop. If you work in an organization where people have opportunities to move around (which is wonderful!), you owe it to not only the employee but the next manager to help that person be successful.

I was very disheartened to hear that this person had displayed these areas to grow for years but his manager was too afraid to give the feedback needed to help him do it.

Even after a fair number of years in the workplace, I still receive feedback. I take it for what it is….well intentioned assistance to help me become better.  In fact, I would say, even as a learning and development professional, that feedback is one of the best ways to learn. It is personal coming from someone who wants us to succeed.

As managers, we shouldn’t shy away from delivering feedback. It is our obligation to do so. In my example above, this employee really struggled when I actually did deliver constructive feedback. He was so upset because he had never been told anything but how awesome he was. The truth is, he was awesome, but he had some areas to recognize and some habits to unlearn. This does not make someone “bad”. It makes him human. I actually did feel badly about the feedback as he was truly shaken. If only he had heard the feedback years ago when it would have meant something. Instead, the other manager’s fear did not set him up for success.

Delivering critical feedback can be hard. I don’t want to dismiss this. When I was a new manager, I think I actually was shaking when I had to put my first employee on a performance improvement plan because she was being flat out insubordinate in very explicit ways. This is not easy but here are some things to keep in mind when you need to help someone.

  1. Have a mindset of helpfulness. When I was shaking during my first performance improvement plan (PIP), it was because I was thinking about that as a punishment. I wasn’t comfortable being a disciplinarian; I just wanted to do good and have a team who performed well without any hiccups. If I would have had a mindset that feedback, even a PIP, is a means to help the employee, I don’t think I would have been as unnerved. A PIP is not a short exit ramp out of the company; it is truly meant to help the employee get back on track. We need to have the same approach to feedback. You want to help the person be successful. Feedback is one of the best ways to do that.
  2. Be specific. When giving feedback, it is best to have examples. You may have learned this in any manager training class. While it is one of the biggest tips shared with managers, I still see that many managers don’t do it. No doubt it takes effort to document or note examples. It is easier to just give sweeping statements. But, to truly learn and apply the feedback, you have to give context and context comes from specific examples.
  3. Be direct. Sometimes when we have to deliver feedback, we can squirm or dance all around the issue. Try and resist this. Being direct and succinct is the best way. If you are a “pull the bandaid slowly” person, resist that. Be direct and pull off the bandaid. It may sting a little bit but for a much shorter timeframe. The best way to do this (and I have done this!) is to write down what you want to say. I often have bullet points in front of me. I share that I have bullet points and why I write them down — to be clear so the team member knows what I am saying.
  4. Be confident. Confidence will also help with being specific and direct. Practicing can build confidence. Have the right mindset, write it down and say it out loud. If you waiver on what you are saying, that will send a mixed message and create uncertainty for your team member.
  5. Be kind. While you are being specific and direct, you can be kind. Acknowledge that this might be tough to hear. Acknowledge that you are trying to help them. Being direct doesn’t not mean being void of empathy.
  6. Ask for their input. A great way to deliver feedback is to actually have a conversation instead of delivering one-way statements. Ask your team member how he felt about the situation or his skills. Oftentimes, your team member knows he can be better and may even have ideas on how to improve. It is always better if he comes to this realization on his own. You can lead him there with examples and questions.
  7. Don’t serve Oreos. Oreos were invented in 1912 — so was the “Oreo cookie” approach to delivering feedback. Don’t deliver a “sandwich” of a positive, a negative and a positive. This takes away from the feedback that the employee needs to hear. Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t be kind or can’t end on a positive note. But, slipping in the critical feedback amongst glowing feedback can be missed and send mixed messages. Be clear and separate feedback you are delivering so the message is understood.

It can be uncomfortable delivering feedback. I know. I have felt that way. By having feedback be a conversation with a clear point and clear examples can only help your team member be successful in his current role and in future roles within the organization. We can’t be afraid of feedback. We need to embrace it and consider it one of our main strategies for helping people grow and develop.

When you have to admit you made a mistake: 7 actions to take

We are in unprecedented times. We are juggling more than ever and in new ways we haven’t had to do before. There are times where I can focus intently and times where I cannot. Whether it be tuning out the landscaper down the street, my barking dog who alerts us every times someone gets a package delivered, endless meeting requests that pack my calendar or news from a friend or family member when something terrible happens. From the ordinary to the extraordinary, interruptions and stress can come from any direction.

Mistakes can happen when you are not focusing or they can happen because we make a wrong decision. When we have lost our focus, try these things to get back on track:

  • Stop what you are doing. If you are multi-tasking, definitely stop. I question those who say they can multi-task effectively. With the millions of little things pinging our attention at one time, just stop and re-collect your thoughts. Make time to think.
  • Make lists. I know some may be list-makers and some prefer to just wing it because they have an incredible memory. I have a terrible memory. The more post-its, Outlook task lists and notepads I have around, the better. Items with due dates that I review on a regular basis helps me keep my focus.
  • Focus on your physical well-being. Sleep, exercise and water can help you keep your focus. While I am not a health expert, I believe that all three are essential. I know this because when I skip one or more of this triangle, my energy, mood, and sharpness fade.

Sometimes, we make an error not due to lack of focus but because we made a bad decision. First, no one is perfect. Please accept this. Even if your colleague has the company’s longest wining streak, just know that person made a mistake somewhere along the way. We just haven’t seen it.

Sometimes, we don’t have all the information we need to make a good decision. Sometimes, we have to make a decision before we are ready. Whatever the cause, it is okay. Now, some mistakes have steeper results than others. Some mistakes mean we don’t release a product or service on time; others could result in lost money.

While we need to be present as much as possible in our jobs, things happen. Managers and leaders alike need to cut people some slack. Now, repeated mistakes, absent-mindedness, etc. is a different story. This needs to be addressed head on to prevent further mistakes but even the highest performers can let something slip or let something go they should not.

Here are some things you can do and not do when you find yourself audibly gasping after making a mistake.

1. Face it.
Don’t hide it. I have known colleagues in the past who tried to cover it up or distract the leader. Like every mystery or true crime show you have ever watched, they will find out! Admit it; own up to it. This actually displays awareness and integrity, which should matter to your leadership as well.

2. Don’t beat yourself up.
If you suffer from a bit of perfectionism, this could eat you up. Don’t let it. If you made the best decision at the time with the information you had and it turned out to be wrong, it is okay. Don’t second guess yourself. Accept it and move on. Beating yourself up will not make you look like a better employee. It will only hurt you and steal energy away from you and direct it toward bad feelings, which is extremely unproductive.

3. Document root cause.
If you flub something, take time to figure out what happened. We skip this all the time – be it a success or a stumbling. We rarely sit down and document what we did, what proved to be good or not so good. When you make a mistake, think about the circumstance, who was involved (or not involved), what was going on in your personal life, what other pressure s or deadlines were looming, what situations were in flux, what information did you have or not have. All of this can help you get to root cause…the crux as to why it was not the right way to go. If the root cause ends up being that I had five deadlines, a sick spouse and dogs whining at me, that’s okay. Remember: During these times people need compassion more than ever.

4. Involve others.
If appropriate, ask others their take on what happened and why it happened. Ask for advice on how they would handle the situation differently. Or, would they handle it differently? Sometimes you may get some validation on how you handled a situation even if it turned out to be a mistake. If you don’t haves a mentor, this is a good time to find one. having someone as your coach and go-to person when mistakes happen can be very productive. This person could help you work through what happened, why and how to either correct it or move on.

5. Try to correct it.
Some mistakes can actually be corrected. If this is the situation, correction could be a high priority. First, determine if you can correct the mistake. Second, determine how important it is to correct it. Some mistakes are minor. They may not feel minor to us because we had the responsibility to act and we made the mistake. But, sometimes spending the time to correct a mistake may not be worth it. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. Try and identify if we can correct and then will it make a material difference if I correct it.

6. Learn a lesson.
Determine how the mistake could be prevented. Document what you will do differently next time. Even if the mistake was due to being overwhelmed or too many items coming at you at home, where we work, figure out how to minimize distractions and how you could do this differently. We have all made mistakes in our day. I certainly have. The important thing is we need to figure out how not to make the same mistake again. This is the foundation of learning and growing. Sometimes the best, most impactful learning comes from making a mistake.

7. Pass on your wisdom.
If appropriate, share your story. Help others. If you learned a valuable lesson on what not to do, share it others. It may help them. You would be surprised how many people are in the same boat. If you share your lessons, then the mistake become a learning opportunity for more than just you.

When we make a mistake, it can be devastating especially if it is a mistake that could have been easily prevented. This happens to the best of us. Find the root cause, make a note, share your story and shrug it off. You can always do better tomorrow.