Our days are full of decisions. From whether or not to hit the snooze button…
If you’re a high-performing executive, you’re already familiar with the immense pressures that come with leadership.
And the term ‘burnout’ is likely not unfamiliar to you. Burnout is defined by the American Psychological Association as “a state of physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance, and negative attitudes toward oneself and others.”1
The impact of burnout can be significant, ranging from reduced productivity and effectiveness to serious health concerns. When it shows up at work, it’s often referred to as executive burnout—and it can become an unwelcome (and sometimes frequent) guest on your professional journey.
Even if you recognize the dangers of burnout, it can be difficult to avoid. After all, the stresses of the job aren’t going anywhere, right?
That’s where sustainable high-performance habits come into play.
Understanding Executive Burnout
An executive’s role sits at the intersection of countless pressures and expectations, with constant demands on your time, energy, and focus. Balancing stakeholders’ needs, strategizing for growth, and maintaining team morale (all while keeping an eye on the bottom line!) can create a unique recipe for stress.
If left unchecked, this stress can morph into burnout pretty quickly. You may find yourself perpetually exhausted, lacking motivation, or feeling emotionally depleted… All telltale signs you’re running on empty.
And these aren’t just personal challenges—executive burnout can seep into your professional performance, dampening your creativity, decision-making abilities, and overall leadership effectiveness.2
There is some good news: just as a warning light in a car indicates potential trouble, your body and mind give off signals when they’re under excessive stress. So if you can learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of burnout in high performers, you can take measures to effectively course-correct.
But even if you can successfully pull yourself out of a nosedive, what’s to stop you from landing in the same place, all over again?
Sustainable Habits for High Performing Executives
As a high performer, there’s no end to the demands on your time or energy. So to bounce back from executive burnout and avoid it in the future, it’s crucial to develop sustainable habits that will serve you for the rest of your life.
Prioritizing work-life harmony is central to developing these habits. It’s about more than just leaving the office at a reasonable hour—it means ensuring that when you’re off-duty, you’re actually off-duty. This can be difficult for high performers, but it’s non-negotiable; you need time off!
Regular exercise, mindful eating, adequate sleep, and dedicated downtime can refresh your mind and body, keeping you at your peak professionally, too. Sustainable habits will help you maintain productivity, and they’ll enhance your leadership and decision-making capacities by ensuring you’re at your best.
When you’re well-rested and balanced, you’ll be a better leader, a better friend, partner, or parent. Prioritizing your wellbeing is a strategic move towards sustainable success.
Here are seven areas to focus on for creating sustainable habits and avoiding executive burnout.
Mindful Time Management
Time management isn’t just about getting things done—it’s about making sure the most important things get done in a timely fashion. (Spoiler alert: that includes rest and rejuvenation!)
Time management benefits from doing all things with presence and intention. Not all tasks are created equal. It’s valuable to learn to differentiate between what’s urgent and what’s important. They don’t always overlap! As an executive, your time is best spent on the activities that align with your goals and move you forward.
While it’s tempting to fill every available slot in your calendar, down time is a chance for your mind and body to reset, reducing stress and boosting your productivity in the long run. If you need to put it on your calendar to make sure it happens, go for it! Visually blocking out time for self-care can be a great strategy.
In the end, effective time management and prioritization create a buffer against stress, ensuring you are focusing your energy effectively and efficiently, rather than spreading yourself too thin.
Work smarter, not harder—right?
Boundaries and Disconnection
In the age of smartphones and constant connectivity, disconnecting can seem almost impossible—especially for a high performing person. But this inability to get offline has serious consequences,3 and making sure you have clear boundaries between work and personal life is the best way to prevent burnout.
Disconnecting from work during off-hours allows your mind and body to rest and recharge, preparing you for the challenges of the upcoming day. Make it a point to switch off work emails and notifications after a certain hour. If you’re working from home, create a physical boundary by designating a specific area as your workspace.
It’s equally essential to foster healthier relationships outside of work. Spending quality time with family and friends, enjoying hobbies, or simply taking time for yourself can help maintain a sense of balance. These experiences provide a sense of perspective and offer a refreshing break from the intensity of executive roles.
Breaks and Vacation Time
Taking short breaks during the day isn’t just good for your wellbeing; it can also boost your productivity and creativity. Think of these breaks as mini-recharges, offering you the chance to clear your mind, stretch your legs, and return to your tasks with a fresh perspective.
Vacations, on the other hand, provide a more significant break from the daily grind. Use this time to unwind, explore, and enjoy life outside the confines of work. Whether it’s a beach holiday, a city break, or simply a staycation, the key is to truly disconnect from work-related tasks and concerns.
If all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, then it also makes him a prime candidate for burnout. Taking regular breaks throughout your workday and using your vacation time throughout the year are fundamental parts of keeping your stress levels low and your work time harmonious with your personal time.
Mindfulness and Stress Reduction
In the pursuit of high-performance habits, mindfulness is the MVP. Mindfulness is about being present in the moment, intentionally and non-judgmentally. Rather than becoming mired in thoughts about the past or future, it encourages you to fully engage with the here and now.
For executives facing high stress and constant demands, mindfulness can be a game-changer. It can help manage stress levels, improve focus and clarity, and enhance emotional intelligence. Simple techniques like mindful breathing, meditation, or even mindful eating can serve as starting points.
Mindfulness also fosters resilience, helping you better navigate challenges and readjust after setbacks. It equips you to cope with stressors more effectively, reducing the risk of burnout.
Delegation and Teamwork
As an executive, your role carries a great deal of responsibility. However, that doesn’t mean you need to shoulder the entire company! Delegation and collaboration are vital strategies for effective leadership and burnout prevention.
Delegating tasks can lighten your workload and free up time for high-level strategic tasks that require your unique expertise. It’s also an opportunity to empower your team members, giving them a chance to learn, grow, and contribute more meaningfully. Remember, delegation isn’t a sign of weakness or lack of capability; it’s a testament to your ability to lead and manage effectively.
So, embrace the power of “we.” Distribute responsibilities, solicit input from your team, and work together towards common goals. It’s a healthier, more balanced approach to leadership, and it can make your journey from burnout to balance smoother and more sustainable.
Hobbies and Outside Interests
One of the best ways to foster work-life harmony is to cultivate hobbies and outside interests.4 These activities can act as a counterbalance to the intensity of executive roles, providing a refreshing change of pace and perspective.
Whether it’s playing a musical instrument, painting, hiking, reading, gardening, or any other activity that brings you joy, hobbies can offer an outlet for stress and a source of personal fulfillment. They give your mind a break from the work-oriented thinking and stimulate different parts of your brain, contributing to your overall cognitive health.
Professional Support for Executive Burnout
In our journey from burnout to balance, we must remember that it’s perfectly okay to seek professional help. Therapists, coaches, or counselors can provide valuable support and guidance, helping you navigate challenges, stressors, and personal goals.
Engaging in honest discussions with clinical psychologists and executive coaches can lead to insights about your stress triggers, coping mechanisms, and even your leadership style. They can offer strategies and tools tailored to your specific needs and circumstances, aiding your personal growth and stress management efforts.
Prioritizing mental and emotional wellbeing is just as important as looking after your physical health. Just as you’d consult a doctor for physical ailments, don’t hesitate to seek professional support when you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or burnt out.
Excellence for the Long Haul
Executive burnout prevention is essential for your overall success and wellbeing. It goes beyond maintaining productivity levels—it’s about fostering work-life harmony that promotes personal fulfillment and professional excellence for the long haul!