Embrace The Right Stress

An excellent article in a recent Wall Street Journal lays out a better way to deal with performance anxiety. Though most of us (91%) think of calming down as the proper response to stage jitters the proven better alternative is to welcome the anxiety as a performance enhancer.

In other words, it’s better to tell yourself, “I am excited,” than to give the aspirational lie, “I am calm.”

Not only does your audience rate you better, and your performance on objective criteria rises, but you will find the event less taxing.

According to the article this simple trick of stress-mindset may even be effective at avoiding burnout.

The article doesn’t mention this, but it seems wise to see that there is a difference between the stress that accompanies a moment of high-performance, and the chronic stress of worry.

I’m sure you should still find times in the day and week to unplug and seek a lower level of energy. But in the moment when performance is necessary it is clearly better to be truthful about your emotions, accept them, and have faith that they will elevate your performance.

Hug Your Kids and Smell Their Hair

This article on Burnout comes thanks to Grant Skousen (@gskousen) who sent it to me in reply to the article I linked to on Tuesday.

I’m pretty sure I was burning out some-time in 2013.  A lot of what the article says resonates with me.  The top two are

1 – “Make time for numero uno”

It’s kinda silly so I don’t like to tell a lot of people, but I often listen to fiction on my commute. Especially Epic Fantasy like The Wheel of Time or Words of Radiance.

I blush to add that I’m now branching into vampire novels. It’s not great writing, but that’s not the point: SOMETIMES MY BRAIN NEEDS A TWINKIE.

When I was a developer I always listened to 2 to 4 technical and management podcasts on my commute every day. (Thank goodness for 3x playback.) It made me feel so productive. I loved what I was learning.

The bloom started to wilt a few months after becoming a manager. I would get this rising level of anxiety that said, “These ideas are awesome! I have to do them all RIGHT NOW!

Since I’ve added fiction to my rotation I’ve found I get to work energized and come home ready to adore my kids.

I still listen to business and technical books and podcasts from time to time, but I keep a close watch on how they affect my state of mind.  Maybe it sounds silly, but it works for me.

2 – “Have a process”

This was something I didn’t need as much as a developer, but is CRITICAL as a manager.

I thought life was bad as a dev. In management it got worse.

I have way more “bosses” now than I ever had as a dev. I have far more conflicting “number one priorities.”

Having a process for ingesting, digesting, and executing on input has become more and more crucial for me.

A Bow Always Strung Loses Its Spring

It’s great to be driven. But if you aren’t careful you’ll loose it all.

Practice mindfulness. Smell those roses. If you have kids then smell their hair when you hug them (my favorite smell in the world).

You’ve got to respect all those clichés or they will gang up and get you, eventually.

Spot a Poorly Fitting Job

I recommend this quick read: 5 Signs it’s Time to Quit Your Job

Not a bad list. The quick version is to worry over

  1. a no-win environment
  2. no desire to think about work
  3. feeling unsafe to express yourself
  4. frequent Sunday night blues
  5. no more laughing at work

As Sallie Krawcheck mentions, your signs could be different. 

As a manager, you might want to keep these warning signs in mind when running one-on-ones with your employees.  You could ask questions to try and uncover burn-out or dissatisfaction early. For example, you might ask

  1. What is standing in the way of greater success for you?
  2. What are you passionate about? Does your passion find a voice at work?
  3. Do you feel safe taking risks and speaking out at work? We may not always agree, but I always want dialog to be open.
  4. What parts of your job do you look forward to?
  5. When was the last time work was particularly fun or rewarding for you?

As a manager, I hope I can talk about these things with my directs.

No worries. Just talk.  I want my directs to be happy. Life’s too short to hate your job.

Keeping Your Team from Burnout

An intern at Novell my first manager told me stories of his experiences with burn-out as an intern for IBM. He loved his work and put in extreme hours. Then one day couldn’t put his hands on a keyboard.

Allison Davis’ article How to Keep You and Your Team from Burning Out gives 6 actionable recommendations for protecting your team.

I’ve experienced burn out. Coworkers I respect have, too. Yet, I hesitate to write about it. It’s squishy. But it is real.

I’m not alone. At NGConf Igor Minar (Angular core team) spoke tentatively about his own struggles with burnout. His talk about mindfulness came just after my own exposure to it in a lecture series on the workings of the brain. Mindfulness is a great tool that studies have shown effective at managing stress and improving mental wellbeing.

Read Davis’ article.

My quick advice is:

Remove heroics from your list of options

Get it done in normal time with normal effort. Don’t do heroics. Don’t ask for it from your team.