I recently posted this picture on various social media sites:
While many people “liked”, commented or shared this picture there was a similar amount of people who shared with me (privately) that they struggled with this sentiment because it insinuates that we must always do more (often with less) and were feeling burnt out.
The central theme of the picture is that working hard rewards you with more work. This excites some folks and horrifies others. Most people are probably some where in the middle.
I recently asked a colleague why there was a lack of buy-in on a particular project that some folks in our university are working on. He told me that “People are just tired. Maybe they can’t add one more thing to their plates?”
My jaw dropped in stunned silence. We are university administrators, not brain surgeons. Many of us have flexibility in our schedules, generous vacation and sick time and much more job security than corporate America.
We are lucky enough to work in a field where we see students transform before our eyes. Many of us have a handful of emails and cards from students, staff and parents thanking us for the work we do.
Our work can be difficult. We work with survivors of sexual assault, discrimination and students who may struggle with mental health concerns. There are days that are challenging–no one would ever dispute that.
But do you know who should be “tired”? Teachers in Newtown. NYC police officers. Social workers. These are people who have to deal with incredible difficulties that we cannot even imagine.
Soon after, Kari Talik posted this fantastic status update on Facebook:
“Been pondering this thought a lot lately…How do professionals who are motivated and driven to succeed in their work and profession continue to keep energized on a daily basis and not lose their mental and physical energy?”
Both the picture I posted and Kari’s sentiments are things I have heard before from supervisors, mentors, and colleagues. This question about how to balance all of the roles in our personal life while remaining a dedicated employee focused on adding value each day can be a challenge.
In my doctoral research and other work with women in leadership I have had the opportunity to connect and hear stories from university administrators at the top levels of our university. The lessons I have learned from them have shaped my own ideas about what it means to work hard, stay motivated and not get burned out.
Some of the common themes that I have gleamed from their professional journeys include:
1) Make wellness a priority: Stamina is key. Our days are long and can be emotionally draining. Working out, eating healthy and getting plenty of sleep is necessary to fend of illness and to maintain the high level of energy needed to do our work. Obesity is a problem in our field and in our country. How can we role-model wellness to students if we do not take care of ourselves? It isn’t about being an Olympian or a size O–it’s about having enough energy to do our work each day.
2) Become a morning person: Although I agree that people should work at the times that are most productive for them, getting an early start maximizes your entire day. It allows you to have “me” time first thing in the morning, commit to a regular wellness routine and and get a jump start on the day. Do you ever feel like you are rushing to get through the day? An hour of morning prep time can eliminate that in most cases.
3) Make administrative tasks a top priority: Deadlines matter. While student crises situations, unexpected parent phone calls and a last minute project from your supervisor can all potentially derail a perfectly planned out day, being ahead of your administrative tasks makes these things much less stressful. Do you have a proposal due in two weeks? Make sure it is completed in one week so if/when those items arise you can fully give your best self to completing them without worrying about the administrative pieces.
Failure to complete these administrative tasks in a timely manner often has a ripple effect on your other colleagues. Be mindful of this and create a reputation built on a history of being reliable.
4) Check your 80/20 balance: Are you feeling professionally fulfilled by your job at least 80% of the time? If not, it may be time to move on. There is a stigma in our field about when the “appropriate” time is to move on–especially for live-in/entry-level staff but the reality is if you are no longer giving your best effort then you need to move on. Even if it is before the four years that you had previously planned to be there. Know your expiration date and make a plan to leave your department on a high note before moving on to the next opportunity.
5) Live a blended life: Stop measuring how many hours you are in your office and start measuring your progress, wins and contributions. Salaried employees know that it isn’t about the 9:00-5:00, it’s about the time that it takes to get the job done. Saturday mornings are my “catch-up” time for the week–find a time that works for you.
I don’t mind leaving at 4:00 to go for a run or getting a manicure on a Friday morning–because I know that the work will get done at other times throughout the week. I tell my staff the same thing, too. Determine when/how you will accomplish your tasks even if can’t be finished during the traditional work day. No one ever got ahead by doing the bare minimum.
6) Measure your progress each year in “progressively responsible duties:” When you are hired you are given a position description which outlines your job tasks. Each year you should be able to add the new things you are doing. You are building a professional portfolio. The initial tasks should take much less time because you know how to do them. Figure out what opportunities you want each year and resolve to ask your supervisor how you can gain experiences in those areas. I want to hire folks who are professionally hungry and want to add value every day. How are you continuing to gain new experiences every year?
There is no magic formula for figuring out how to balance having more added to your plate AND to avoid being burned out. But what you can do is make wellness a priority, maximize each day, ensure that administrative tasks are taken care of in a timely manner, ensure that you are feeling fulfilled most of the time at work (or make a conscious decision to job search), live a life that allows for less rigidity between your personal and work life and to continue to seek for new ways to stay engaged.
What tips do you have for maintaining energy and enthusiasm for the work we do?
Follow me on Twitter: @annmarieklotz