Raise your hand if you sometimes feel like a fraud. Everybody? Okay, good. I’m not alone. And neither are you.
In my early 30s, I was promoted to president of a small company. It came with the expected internal politics, a few lesser-expected employee transitions, and a 10-month adjustment period. These changes coincided with a season of upheavals at home. My spouse and I added a baby to our household in addition to parenting a middle-schooler, building ourselves a new home, and recovering from a major surgery.
Faced with an extreme learning curve (and simultaneous large-scale changes), I found myself struggling with work-life balance. A rewarding career with a corner office, 2.5 healthy kids, and a white picket fence felt laughably out of reach, no matter how diligently I stretched. Life, as they say, gets in the way.
I know I’m not alone in feeling like this. A recent LinkedIn survey shows that half of today’s workers reported feeling stressed in their jobs, and 70% attributed the cause to a lack of work-life balance. Stress can be crippling for anyone, but it’s also an inevitable part life. But how can you keep it at bay? Here’s how I’ve learned to do so.
1. I allow myself to be flexible
Imagine your perfect day: a calm morning routine, a productive workday, a peaceful evening with family or friends, and a brief but effective “second shift” once the kids are in bed. Sounds nice, right? Don’t get me wrong, there are many benefits to visualizing your ideal day, but chances are, most days won’t happen precisely the way you want them to, so you have to enter each day with flexibility and humility.
The simple act of owning your newness provides you with the grace to enter each day and the flexibility to face down the unknowns. When I entered my new role, I didn’t expect to know all the right moves immediately (just as I didn’t expect my infant to take off running.) I allowed myself some ramp-up time with the understanding that it would be a little messy. This “roll with the punches” attitude helped me deal with unexpected circumstances and focus on learning a little bit more each day.
2. I emphasize a me-first mentality
When you’re juggling a heavy workload, you have no choice but to be methodical with your time. I put on my own oxygen mask first by instituting “me time” for 90 minutes at the start of each day. I silence my phone, go work out, set my day’s priorities, and self-calibrate.
Beyond my morning routine, I use my long commutes to listen to books or podcasts that advance my self-development. If you don’t continue with your self-care routine, it’s easy to feel like you’re losing your identity as your roles shift.
Most importantly, I maintained my identity and balance by learning to say “no.” When I first started at my company, I had a boss who kept stacking our lists with task after task and assumed that we’d raise a flag if it got too much. So I had to learn to speak up when a job wasn’t within my skill set, when I didn’t have enough knowledge to contribute, or when I had too much on my plate. Since then, I have coached my teammates to quiet the reflexive “yes” and consider whether agreeing to a new project would obstruct their other (and more important) goals.
3. I put the “relate” in relationships
When you move from an individual contributor into a leadership role, your team will perceive you differently, even if you don’t see yourself that way. So if you’re a manager, you need to build relationships with your teammates–to create allies and champions who will support your vision and leadership strategies.
As with any relationship, everything boils down to one-on-one discussions and fostering trust. In my case, I needed to help some team members see that my role was not to take over their jobs; my job was to hold them accountable for theirs and work through problems together. If our production team isn’t hitting its billables, for instance, we have an open discussion to figure out the cause. Is the team involved in too many unproductive meetings? If so, that’s a valuable insight.
I learned that the best way for me to be a manager was to be an open book. That means talking about finances and showing team members how their performance and goals affect the bottom line. I found that this changed the dynamic of my relationships with my team. Not only did they have a greater understanding and appreciation of the impact of their work, but by digging into what was happening sooner, we were able to get ahead of problems before they spiraled out of control.
Just remember: You’re only one person, and there’s only so much you can do in a day. If you can improve a situation 1 percent at a time, it’s much better than correcting a 50 percent error later. It’s this kind of ongoing maintenance that will stop you from becoming overwhelmed and prevent burnout from controlling your life.
Michael Manning is president at Rocksauce Studios, a people-driven innovation agency from Austin that uses technology for corporate digital transformation and popular mobile apps.