One of the words I hear more and more these days as I work with leaders and business owners is “stress”. The challenges of leadership are always significant, but now many leaders are having to cope with leading remotely, struggling or dramatically changing business environments, and a team that is also increasingly stressed. As leaders, we tend to take on the challenges of our team as well, and that just compounds the feelings of things being a little out of control or overwhelming.
The only way we can lead effectively though, is to remain at our best. Despite all the professional and personal challenges that may be in our world, our job is to help others become more successful, and that means that we need to be performing at a higher level ourselves.
It means we need to be ahead of the challenges, focused on our team and how we support them, and thinking about the future. Those things take energy, engagement, and a consistent set of leadership habits. So staying at our best is even more critical in a leadership role than it might be if we were only responsible for our individual outcomes.
One of the ways that I see leaders staying at the top of their game is to use their time in ways that help them recharge and reinvigorate daily. But it’s important for us to separate recharging from escaping. And that’s because I also see people in leadership roles use their time to escape from the pressures of the job, rather than to recharge so they can be more effective at it.
Escaping can be necessary sometimes, but it can leave us even less equipped to deal with our challenges when we return from our escape. The problems are still there, we have no new ideas on how to deal with them, and they can even feel more surmountable when we come back to them.
A recharge however, means that we come back with new ideas, a fresh perspective, increased focus, and a willingness to re-engage and move things forward.
Escaping can be things like binging netflix or any kind of passive observation like that. It can also be surfing the net, scrolling through social media, or anything that simply distracts us from the work or the challenges associated with it. Make no mistake, sometimes we just need to get away and hide from the craziness for a little bit. It’s just important to understand when we are in fact hiding instead of recharging.
Recharging can be things like taking a walk, or any physical exercise, listening to productive podcasts, or reading productive articles or books. It is designed to create insights, bring us new ideas or fresh perspectives. It might be letting our bodies engage and our minds wander a bit and be creative. Or it might be simply game night with the family that helps fulfill us in different ways and revisit our relationships and priorities. It might be journaling or writing of some kind, or it could be calling an old friend. It might be learning to play an instrument or paint. It might be planning a vacation or even working in the yard.
What’s important to remember is that our impulse will be to escape. Only our planning and prior thinking will support us if we want to actually recharge when we find ourselves creeping toward burnout or feeling overwhelmed. Escaping will come natural, recharging will have to be planned.
That means we have to know the difference, and it also means that we have to write down the things that recharge us, and build them into our routines when we can. The interesting thing about recharging is that we can do it proactively. We can actually stay ahead of the stress by adding recharge activities to our world on a regular basis.
Escaping is about coping; recharging is about improving.
Our brains do not recharge when we turn them off, our brains recharge when we engage them in a different way. When we do that, we let ourselves build new mental maps, make new neural connections, create a bigger view of our world, and think and learn in ways that prepare us to return to our stressful work world, ready to tackle the challenges and feel good about the difference we make for others when we do.
Write down your escape activities. It’s okay to have some of those, and we should. Then write down your favorite recharge activities. Now find ways to incorporate more of your recharge activities into your day, even if it’s only for 5 minutes. Consistency is more important than duration.
And when you feel stressed or overwhelmed and like you need a break, take a look at your list and make a choice about what to do next. Try not to justify actions or listen to that inner voice that says, “I don’t feel like it.” Just do one recharging thing and if you need to tell yourself you will catch up on that show right after your walk, that’s a great way to get started on the walk.
Balancing the two kinds of activities is important. Escaping isn’t bad but if it’s all we do, we miss those essential opportunities to return to our team, our work, and our responsibilities with a new purpose, a new energy, and a level of engagement that makes us better leaders.
The future of our business, our team, and ourselves depends on finding ways to be at our best. Even when we just want to run away for a little while.