What a morning. I opened up my computer and found a pile of email that arrived overnight. No bonfires, luckily, but I know it’s going to take an hour just to look at them, never mind respond! My younger associate just stopped by to let me know she needs my attention. I know my family is mad because I yelled at the kids this morning (but if I’m going to drop them off they need to be ready on time!). There goes the phone. It’s a client in crisis. They need to talk NOW. Like I need client problems on top of all this!
If you are a leader, your job is to give. To give direction that creates alignment. To give energy to create engagement. To give facts and experience to clarify decisions. To give insight and rely on experience to avoid mistakes. A leader’s job is to give what they have so that others can succeed.
But what if you have nothing to give? What do you do when your bucket is empty?
Leading from a place of exhaustion—where you have nothing left—is dangerous for you and your team. I know I’m more likely to bark back without thinking. I’m less kind and more dictatorial—and it can get much worse than that. All of these things create strife and confusion in my office. People are afraid to approach me, so questions go unanswered, details get missed, and stuff comes back to me that’s not ready to go out the door. Now there’s more for me to do!
I don’t want to go there. And I know my employees don’t want me to go there. So I need to find a way to fill my bucket every day. Here’s four daily habits that have helped me to keep my bucket full.
I’m not an athlete. Working out has never made me feel “high”. I mostly hate the process of working out, the sweat, the soreness, going to the gym—none of it appeals to me. But when I’m engaging in some physical exercise daily it makes me a lot more sane. When I exercise I eat better (which makes me more sane). When I exercise, I’m choosing to do something that’s hard and that I don’t like to do because I know it has long-term benefits that I don’t see in the moment. I’m taking care of myself. Doing that makes whatever else happens in the day better.
I’m an extrovert, so alone time doesn’t come “naturally” to me. But there are some things that I can only figure out, some parts of me that I only connect to, when I take the time to be alone and quiet.
It takes quiet to hear the fears that are sapping my focus and energy. When I’m quiet I can see more clearly, and have a better sense of the direction that I need to be moving in. It’s easy to lose that sense when the phone’s ringing and I’m surrounded by people asking me to do things for them. Quiet helps me get my focus back; or helps me realize when I’ve been focusing on the wrong thing.
I need 20 minutes or so when I’m alone and quiet— no phones, computers, music or other distractions. It could be a walk in the park, it could be on a yoga mat—but it needs to be some place that’s quiet. You may need more or less time than that; but you will only know if you start to carve out some quiet time in your day.
Being alone helps me to be more “myself”, but it’s also important for me to connect with my family, friends, and other people who can care for me. That means finding a way to leave work at a reasonable time (and to leave work when I leave work). It means learning to be present with the person I’m with—not distracted by my phone, or my client’s issues, but to be there with them.
The ability to stop and be present means that I can find a way to be cared for. When we spend so much of the day being there for others (as we should; after all that is our job) we need a place and a time when we can be cared for too. That only happens when we are present and vulnerable to those around us.
Lastly, we need activities that give us joy. Work is not a hobby. Some days work is going to be great, and some days work is going to be terrible and on those terrible days I want to have some things that I can turn to that give me joy. The problem is, if I haven’t been doing them for months and months (because I’ve been busy working) then they aren’t there for me when I need them.
Also, my passion projects—the things that I do for the simple joy of doing them—can be confidence boosters when other things aren’t going well. I love to have something that I can apply myself to where I can see progress and learn new things. Having something like that in my life gives me the courage to try new things in other areas, too.
Burnout is real. When we don’t take care of ourselves, when we don’t keep our bucket full, our leadership suffers. When that happens, it’s not just our livelihoods, or our satisfaction that plummets; burnout affects the morale, productivity, and happiness of our whole team. It may seem like you will never have time to do things to keep your bucket full. But I’m going to guess that if you asked the people in your life, they’d tell you that you can’t afford not to.
What fills your bucket? If you don’t already know, take some time to think about it.