A few days ago on my morning run with my dog, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts. The hosts were talking about their predictions for what the top four regrets leaders will have once this whole pandemic has passed.
When they got to their prediction for the #1 regret, I knew immediately they were right.
It is the same issue that I’ve worked on with every leader I’ve ever coached. And one I struggle with, too.
The #1 regret?
I should have taken more time off.
So simple, and yet so true.
Before the pandemic, chronic overwork and overwhelm were problems every leader I’ve ever coached struggled with. Finding time to rest, truly step away from work, making space for hobbies, and other restorative practices often feel impossible. And now, these challenges are hitting epic levels.
“Our organizational leaders, boards, and fellow workers reinforce the idea that everything about our work is important—everything is a level 10. And together, we create a culture of overwork and overwhelm…As a result, we push through our to-do lists at the expense of taking care of ourselves.” – Beth Kanter & Aliza Sherman
But here’s the thing, nothing grows stronger and more resilient under constant stress. Constant stress actually breaks things down. It’s the oscillation between stress and recovery that grows strength.
“Given an adequate period of recovery, the muscle will not only heal, it will grow stronger. But persist in stressing the muscle without rest and the result will be acute and chronic damage. Conversely, failure to stress the muscle results in weakness and atrophy. Just think of an arm in a cast for several weeks. In both cases, the enemy is not stress—it is the failure to oscillate between energy expenditure and recovery (that’s the problem).” – Making of a Corporate Athlete
Studies show that after about 50 hours of work during a week, productivity decreases. A study by Jon Percavel of Stanford University shows a drastic productivity dip occurring after 55 hours or more of work per week.
The worst offenders, the ones who I observe struggle the most with this? The people at the top.
And yet, it’s the people at the top that have the most dramatic impact on the culture at their organizations. Leaders need to not just talk about work life balance and work boundaries, they need to model them.
“New research increasingly shows that prioritising individual wellbeing has a positive ripple effect across organisations, improving innovation, collaboration and social impact capacity—that is, wellbeing inspires welldoing.” — The Wellbeing Project
So what’s taking time off and resting really look like?
- Embracing true rest: closing your eyes, lying down, and doing nothing. Going outside without using a device. Connecting to nature. Being fully present with a simple non-work activity.
- Reframing rest as resistance. If this is a new concept to you, check out Tricia Hersey and her inspiring and important organization called The Nap Ministry that’s all about seeing rest as a radical tool for community healing and that lack of rest as a racial and social justice issue.
- Participate in one of Windcall’s Friday afternoon calls designed to support leaders in creating more space for reflection, creative exploration, and meditation.
- Do one small restorative activity every day for a month with this handy calendar of daily suggestions for how to build more connection, reflection, nature, quiet, contemplation, health, and creativity into your life.
- And lastly, and this one might sound obvious, but the most important thing you can do is to actually take time off. Avoid the “productivity propaganda” rhetoric, and just work less. Set work boundaries, and honor them. Don’t answer (or check) emails or texts on the weekend or evenings. Use a vacation day. Power down (for real) and the end of every work day.
Making the world a better place shouldn’t require sacrificing your mental and physical health.
Amy Varga bio
For over 23 years, Amy Varga has worked with nonprofit organizations to strengthen leaders, fundraising and boards. Since founding The Varga Group in 2013, Amy and her team have guided over a hundred nonprofit clients to raise more than $95 million through their comprehensive consulting services in capital campaign counsel, major gift fundraising training, retreat facilitation, and leadership coaching. Amy holds a masters degree from Santa Clara University and a bachelor’s degree from Willamette University and is a proud working mom of two. The Varga Group is located in the Pacific Northwest with clients nationwide. www.thevargagroup.com