There is a common area I see leaders struggle today - the ability to manage a highly demanding job without costing their wellbeing. Many talented executives start their professional lives with drive and zest but struggle to cope as they reach their peak. One of the leading causes is burnout.
According to a 2013 Harvard Medical School study of senior managers and C-suite executives, about half believed the CEO of their organisation was burned out while 75% said their senior managers suffered burnout. 69% of those studied said they were functioning at their maximum capacity.
Work overload is not going anywhere given the rapid rate of technological connectivity and the interconnected global economy. And it's having serious consequences.
A 2017 study conducted by the Australian National University found that people who worked more than 39 hours a week put their health at risk. They commonly experienced symptoms of distress, such as feeling nervous, anxious or down. Given many leaders work more than 40 hours a week, working more is not the answer. We need to work smarter.
Healthy working habits are skills to be learned
Feeling energised, motivated, and performing at a high level consistently is a skill to be learned. The reality is the majority of us have never been taught how to work in a healthier way or how to perform at an optimal level. Most of us have only ever been taught how to work harder.
In other words, many are high achievers but not high performers. At the heart of this is a long-held misunderstanding of productivity.
Research on productivity shows that working more hours doesn't necessarily equate to better performance. Professor John Pencavel from Stanford University found that employee output falls sharply after a 50-hour working week and falls even further after 55 hours. The fall is so great that someone who works 70 hours a week produces nothing more with those extra 15 hours.
Understanding human performance
There is a limit to how much and how hard we can work. Like a fuel tank, our energy needs to be topped up, or they will run out.
The faster we know how to renew ourselves, the faster and more consistently we reach the optimal performance. Elite sports people have mastered this approach.
Over the past 10 years, sleep has become the secret weapon of more and more Olympic competitors. Dr Mark Rosekind, who has helped gold medalists optimise their sleep, explains in an interview with the Huffington Post that science has shown our performance will suffer if we don't have enough rest.
Healthier habits create better performance. Here are some of my favourite daily habits. I have found them simple yet makes a huge difference to our wellbeing and performance.
Four daily habits that would make you happier and perform better
- Focus on your strengths
How are you spending your time at work? Research has shown we are at our best and most energised when we use our strengths. On the other hand, focusing too much on our weaknesses slows us down and over time will derail our confidence. Have a look how you spend your day and see how you can optimise your own natural ability.
- Learn to rest
Have you ever felt that two hours of good work is better than 20 hours of poor work? It's likely that you were rested and energised to do the work. If you feel less motivated to do something, it might be an indication that your energy is running low. Instead of blaming yourself for lacking perseverance, take a break.
- Be in nature
Research shows that being in nature refreshes us and increases our cognitive performance. It can be as simple as including a daily walk in your routine. Have meetings outside the office, whether in an open café or turn a sitting meeting into a walking meeting.
- Stop reacting
Many people jump into the reacting mode from the moment they get up. If most of our hours are spent reacting, we are likely to feel exhausted and out of control. Begin your day with the things you want to achieve first, instead of simply reacting.
We all want to succeed. But we don't have to sacrifice our happiness and wellbeing in the process. Once people learn to work and live in a more optimal way, not only they become happier, but also they sustain success for much longer.