Article

NextGen Know-How: 5 Self-Care Practices That Improve Leadership

woman meditating on rock outcropping at sunrise
Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CPCC, PHR Photo
Executive Coach/Consultant
Envision Excellence

6 minutes

Follow these tips to help yourself be the best leader—and human—you can be during the pandemic and beyond.

The past few months have been one of the most challenging times I’ve faced in my adult life. Back in March, when our school system announced that schools would be closed for two weeks due to the coronavirus, I remember panicking about what I would do with my kids for two weeks while I worked. Little did I know that almost four months later they would still be home!

Don’t get me wrong. I love my kids. I love spending time with them, but on my schedule. Suddenly becoming a full-time, stay-at-home mom and teacher in addition to working full time was a recipe for disaster. And that’s pretty much how it played out. My husband and I struggled to balance our three kids’ different Zoom calls and assignments with our businesses. There were no breaks. When I would take a short break from work to get some lunch or tea, I would have three kids hanging on me asking for snacks or complaining about their siblings.

We were exhausted. My well-planned, organized, compartmentalized life was suddenly turned upside down. Of course, I was grateful that we are all healthy and well during the pandemic. But the everyday reality of the struggles and challenges was really taking its toll. About three months in, I remember saying to my husband that if I didn’t have a break, I think I might have a breakdown.

You get the picture. And perhaps you can relate. It’s times like these that I remember why it is so important to take care of myself and give myself a break. But that has been hard during the pandemic when you can’t go anywhere or meet up with anyone. I was exhausted and struggling to be my best self.

As we slowly came out of the self-isolation, my husband gave me a gift on my birthday at the end of June—he took our kids to his parents’ beach house and I had a full day all to myself. It was glorious. I relaxed, read, exercised, practiced yoga, rejuvenated and felt like a completely different person by the end of the day. I felt more positive and resilient. I could handle the pressures and challenges of life in a healthier and more rational way.

How does this impact leadership? In all the big and small ways. Our energy is the one thing that we can control that impacts our everyday actions, behaviors and mindset. These past few months have highlighted for me how important my energy is to show up as my best self at home and at work. When I am depleted, tired and stressed, I lose the mental capacity to handle challenges in a productive and healthy way. I struggle to lead my life and my team effectively. Things feel hard and grueling.

When I am rested and refreshed, I have the energy to bring my best to work. I am focused, composed and present. I am more resilient and productive.

Our habits are impacted by the mental and physical reserves we have available to get through our day. While it may be challenging for some of us to practice good sleep, exercise and self-care habits while in quarantine, as we begin to transition to a new normal, there are several practices that can support self-care, maintain our energy and help us show up as our best selves, as leaders and humans:

Work Rituals

Creating a practice for the beginning and end of your workday can help you harness your energy and increase your productivity. A productive day begins the night before. This means taking 10 to 15 minutes to review your projects and tasks and prioritize the top two actions you will focus on the next day. Doing this the night prior allows you to jump into your most important task in the morning without procrastinating. Then, in the morning, set aside 10 minutes to review your plan for the day and prepare any materials (files, phone numbers, etc.) you need to successfully execute your projects.

Schedule Productivity Sprints

We each have a peak time of day when our energy is highest. For many of us, that is in the morning hours. During that time, schedule a block of time where you focus on one—and only one—task and block out all interruptions. I call these productivity sprints because you can get more done in this focused time than most people get done in a week. Instituting productivity sprints can transform your productivity and utilize your peak energy times. The ideal length of a productivity sprint is one to two hours.

Meditate

I never thought I would be a meditator. I’ve always been very action oriented and didn’t think it was possible to quiet my mind and sit in silence for any amount of time. Five years ago I took a transcendental meditation course that proved otherwise. When I stick to my meditation practice, I feel calmer and more resilient. It feels like my brain took a nap. The feeling is addictive—when you really fall into a deep meditative state (which doesn’t always happen, but gets easier with practice), you crave that silence. Even a few minutes of meditation can help calm your mind and help you to be less reactive.

Sleep

Most people don’t get the sleep they need to function properly. I know when I lose even an hour of sleep at night, I can feel the negative impact the next day. It feels harder to make decisions and stay focused. I recommend reading an article Keith Jones wrote for Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global website on “Why Sleep is so Important.

Schedule a Personal Work Retreat

I started this practice about three years ago, and it has been a game-changer for my productivity, energy and results. About three times a year, I schedule a personal off-site trip to a small bed and breakfast for two to three days. During this time, I focus on one major project (right now that is writing my book) and sequester myself to get into deep focus while also relaxing. I might also get a massage, take a walk and read to rejuvenate. This is a time to focus on a strategic goal in my business that is challenging to accomplish during a normal workday.

I believe all leaders would benefit from even a day each quarter to reflect, reset and plan. Whether it’s a solo retreat to review and adjust the goals for your team or a team retreat where you take your team members off site for a day to refocus and plan, a quarterly retreat can boost your productivity, energy and focus, while at the same time giving you the quiet and space you need to make your best decisions.

If I’ve learned anything during this pandemic, it’s that we all need time to ourselves to rest and rejuvenate. I’ve seen the negative effects when I don’t make this a priority, which is why I am committed to finding ways to preserve my energy and mindset, even in the most difficult of times.

Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CPCC, PHR, is a certified executive coach, leadership consultant and founder of CUES Supplier member Envision Excellence LLC in the Washington, D.C., area. Her mission is to create exceptional cultures by teaching leaders how to be exceptional. Maddalena facilitates management and executive training programs and team-building sessions and speaks at leadership events. Prior to starting her business, she was an HR executive at a $450 million credit union. Contact her at 240.605.7940 or lmaddalena@envisionexcellence.net.

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