Explainers

Real Resilience: Navigating Boundaries and Burnout in a Crisis

COVID has a lot of people feeling on edge—take steps to maximize your time and make sure you’re managing yourself as a leader

We’re all living with new and different realities, and coping as best we can. Under normal circumstances, working from home would be a welcome respite—after all, you’ve eliminated the daily commute, and are surrounded by creature comforts. But as the saying goes, “We’re not working from home during a crisis. We’re at home during a crisis trying to work” and as a result, it feels like burnout is happening faster than ever. Given these circumstances, it’s no surprise that people are experiencing:

  • Emotional and physical exhaustion: Feeling wiped and depleted by the end of each day
  • Lack of focus: Compounding exhaustion saps our motivation and attention
  • Guilt: Struggling to adjust, while also feeling grateful for health and work
  • Loss of competence: Feeling leagues from your usual A-game as you grapple with constantly evolving conditions

Let’s be honest: this sucks. And there isn’t a silver bullet. The work day is not—cannot—be the same. In our studies of the best practices of high-performing teams, the following behaviors can help people adapt to the “new normal.”

Maximize Your Time

  • Ruthlessly prioritize. Scrutinize how you spend your time. Where is your energy highest? What are the various roles you play throughout the day? Use that as a guide to schedule and block your highest priorities—having lunch with your kids, deep work time, physical activity, and so on. As Rachel Kaplowitz, CEO of Honey, noted during the Change@Work conference, “If you can play with your kids at 2:00 PM when you would normally be working, it’s okay. I think leaders communicating that to their team, sharing this very visibly, too, making sure that they know that they can step away from their computer, has been really helpful.”
  • Evaluate meeting participation. If you’re drained by Zoom calls, you’re not alone. Be ruthless in determining which meetings require video, and which require your presence in the first place. If you’re not an essential contributor or decision-maker, do you need to attend? If you’re the meeting leader, could the objectives be accomplished over email? It’s up to you to set intentions and boundaries around your space and time, so test what works for you, and really ask yourself: what does this meeting require?
  • Set boundaries and try bold experiments with your schedule. Try experimenting with set chunks of time for your responsibilities throughout the day, and commit to 25 or 50 minute meetings so you don’t run over. Make your calendar visible to your team, and share your scheduling experiment with your team and encourage them to do the same.
  • Avoid distractions. Leverage the tools at your disposal to minimize disruption and keep yourself on task. Mute Slack notifications and update your status, set specific times for checking email throughout the day, and communicate that out to your team.
  • Leave loudly. Create a shared lexicon or ritual around ending your day.

Manage Yourself

  • Lose the cape for a few hours. One of the hardest things during this time is adjusting your expectations, but recognizing your limitations is a superpower you can develop and grow. Let go of past expectations to make space for new ones—even if they feel lower than before. Adjusting your expectations to fit the current circumstances is natural and normal but by no means easy.
  • Practice compassion. Show yourself the same compassion you would show someone else. How would you advise or guide someone else in a similar situation? Give grace to yourself as you would a friend—check out Erin Raab’s article on cultivating self-compassion for more ideas.
  • Start a daily gratitude practice. Whether it’s a bulleted list, a bit of journaling, or writing a letter each day, jot down specific things, moments, acts, and rituals that you are grateful for, and observe the tape of your personal narrative over time.
  • Practice attention management. This is important not just for our productivity, but for our peace of mind. Notice what sucks up your attention and generate a few personal skateboards to distract-proof your mind.
  • Find ways to self-validate. Look for ways to boost your self-confidence and resilience. Re-examine what personal success looks like, within our context (remember, we’re trying to work from home during a crisis).

If you need to kickstart your personal or organization’s resilience, drop us a line to learn more about our 1:1 coaching or resilient leadership programs.

Published May 4, 2020