I’m settled into my airplane seat, deciding what action item I will tackle first while I have 3 hours of flight time, when the usual safety announcement comes on. When it gets to the… “In the event of a loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will automatically drop above your seat. If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, be sure to secure your mask first, and then assist the other person.”
I listen to that announcement and cannot imagine that I would NOT put my child’s mask on, or help a fragile elderly person next to me. I go last! And yet, the message is very clear.
You are no good to anyone, if you don’t take care of yourself first!
In an age where companies are squeezing more and more productivity out of their workforce, the workforce is responding with increased hours worked per week (47 on average, with 25% of full-time workers clocking in 60 hours a week), sleeping fewer hours per night, and even chewing faster! Thought leaders studying nutrition say that in the early 1900s, people would chew 250-500 bites per meal; but today, we chew only 45-80 bites all day! I am sure the introduction of smoothies and instant protein shakes contribute to that, but personally, I know I eat faster today than when I grew up, and no one has to count my chews to tell me that!
All of this is impacting not only our personal health, but it is having a negative effect on company productivity. A recent article headline touted that Aetna’s CEO would pay up to $500 to employees that can prove they sleep 7.5 hours per night, for 20 straight nights, because he knows it impacts productivity in a positive way, AND is healthier for his employees.
As leaders, taking care of ourselves is good leadership.
Without personal energy, we can’t think clearly and strategically, we can’t motivate our teams, we can’t have the presence needed for a great delivery of an important presentation, and our tank is empty by the time we get home.
I’ve struggled for several years with hamstring issues, and while talking with my physical therapist, he encouraged me to practice “self-care,” a term I was not familiar with. While intellectually I could define it as improving my emotional, physical, and even spiritual state, I looked it up on Wikipedia and found a definition of “self-care” that has stuck with me ever since.
“Self-care: How you treat yourself is how you invite the world to treat you.”
That means, if we indicate to our companies and our teams that we are checked-in 24/7, that we will answer emails all weekend, that we will always be available for global calls any time of the night, then they will assume that is ok with us. Without setting some boundaries, without ensuring that we put on our own oxygen masks first, we cannot be our best selves. And not being our best selves hurts everyone.
We just finished a leadership session for our Signature executives. The opening day comments from candidates didn’t vary by much when I asked them how they felt about leaving work and family behind for 2.5 days, and devoting the next 60 hours as a gift to themselves.
“This feels weird, and almost uncomfortable,” replied an SVP of Supply Chain of a global industrial manufacturing company. “I’ve never had this luxury and it is downright foreign.”
And over the next 2.5 days, we tackled strategies for creating energy, taking care of oneself, and demonstrating that planning for recovery times in small bits throughout the day can have a significant impact on one’s overall energy. To be clear, just unplugging, or taking a short walk can benefit overall energy, but it takes more than that to create and modulate your energy throughout the day. It takes some planning and creation of new habits.
Even new sleep habits!
I was recently gone for 21 straight nights, which involved eight different beds. That meant eight different mattresses and pillows. When I returned from that trip, I decided never again would I leave home without evoking the Ann Fandozzi rule for travel. Ann, CEO of ABRA Auto, ALWAYS travels with her full-size, down pillow, even when it must go into her carry-on bag. As she says, “It doesn’t matter what kind of day I have had, when my head hits my pillow, I know I will rest well.”
Check the box!
If you manage by calendar, and check the boxes to accomplish your daily goals, then start by building in small amounts of time on the calendar throughout the day. Look at your weekly calendar on Sunday evening. Where do you have important moments, such as delivering a presentation, or giving an employee a tough feedback session? These important moments should be buffered with at least 15 minutes, before and after. Getting your head focused around the activity beforehand channels your energy in the right direction. Making sure you have some reflection after the moment allows you to collect your thoughts and reflect. Be sure to collect the positives, not just the opportunities for improvement, and make a short list of what you accomplished and what went well.
When you review your calendar a week in advance, be sure to note (color-code, if needed) those meetings with people who are higher stress for you. We all have them. These require extra energy, and can often be energy suckers. Follow up these moments with an activity that will boost your attitude. Sometimes just calling a “friendly voice” or a “good listener” can be a great pick-me-up to recover from those tough meetings. Or plan 15 minutes of something you like to do, like sipping a caramel latte.
The non-goal for goal junkies.
I was recently on a recovery long weekend, walking the beach with a friend. I was excited that I had this extra time on my hands and could walk more. I then said, “I think I will set a goal of 15,000 steps a day on my Fitbit while I am on vacation!”
My friend replied, “Have you ever thought about saying, ‘I have NO goals this vacation,’ and setting that as your goal?”
Self-care… how you treat yourself is how you invite the world to treat you.
Share in the comments how you practice self-care within your busy schedule.