Where is the off switch? We work late, go to bed with a little stress, wake a little stressed and have probably replied to a few emails in between. Workplaces refer to employees as ‘office athletes’. Pushing the limit, high performing, working “training” longer, harder and faster. But where is the recovery?
But the analogy misses one key point. 6 time SuperBowl champion Tom Brady has long displayed the importance of recovery training after pushing hard, for top-notch physical and mental performance. The push-recover approach helps to build speed, strength and endurance for professional athletes to expand the limits of human performance and endurance, while avoiding injury.
In contrast, office athletes generally follow the push till you break approach. And the evidence shows that “always on” is extremely costly in terms of burnout, stress, depression, chronic pain, injury, pharmaceutical usage and related healthcare costs. That’s a lot of red flags.
Personally, I spent most of my career being always on. Following up with patients after hours, studying in my spare time, getting into work 2 hours early to prepare my notes. I didn’t know what impact it could have on my physical and emotional well-being. I pushed hard with 12-hour work days for years. Without understanding the importance of recovery periods. I definitely hit a wall one day and just excused myself from work, with the explanation of “I have compassion fatigue and need the rest of the day off”.
In the spirit of helping other Office athletes, here are five recovery strategies to help you push hard and recover better.
1. Work like an athlete? Train like one.
Build in little ‘micro breaks’ for recovery. Try a few short mindfulness meditations throughout the day, especially after stressful situations. A good tip for those glued to the computer, is to take a moment and look ideally out the window on an object such as a tree or the water and focus on that, calming the nervous system, relaxing the face and resetting your eyes. You can also find a quiet spot, sit and take a one to five minute break to re-centre and clear your mind for what you need to take care of next.
2. Manage mindful meetings with efficiency and effectiveness.
Too many meetings start late, end late and don’t accomplish goals and to be honest, could have been an email. That creates unnecessary stress. Start and end on time. Take one minute to center the room and ask everyone to drop whatever they’re bringing to the meeting extraneously. Take a page from Oprah Winfrey‘s playbook. Brendon Burchard, the author of High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way, says Oprah starts every meeting the same way: She says:
“What is our intention for this meeting? What’s important? What matters?”
Why does she start a meeting that way?
High performers constantly seek clarity. They work hard to sift out distractions so they can not just focus, but continually re-focus, on what is important
3. Let the team recover too.
Tempted to draft emails on the weekend or at 10pm at night? Don’t hit send until Monday. It may feel good to get things off of your chest in the moment, but weekend emails are simply a way for you to pass the stress baton. Avoid the temptation. It’s not the E.R.
4. Protect and value recovery time.
Turn your phone off (or at least put it on do not disturb) at the same time each evening. You may be in a globally connected business, but your state of mind and emotional health play a big role in the healthy functioning of your family and your business. What happens with your family in the short time you spend together is more important than emails from 8-11 p.m., as is your sleep.
5. Show the team you care by the way you listen.
When speaking with colleagues, let them speak for two to three minutes without interrupting. Ask the same of them. This creates a recovery period where you’re listening, not thinking and outdoing your teammate — it’s ok, we are all guilty of it (especially me being a non-stop talker). Small changes in how you communicate will strengthen connections and reduce stress in your relationships.
You don’t have to run in that beast mode. These simple habits applied consistently could create long-lasting, impactful benefits, while avoiding injury and burnout for you and your fellow office athletes.