Before almost everyone else started working from home because of the pandemic, not having to go to the office to work seemed like a wonderful idea. Who wouldn’t want not to have to wake up early to beat the morning traffic? However, it’s not as ideal a work situation as it seems as many are realizing that it’s harder work than ever to have to juggle home and work duties and trying to say yes to everybody. On today’s show, Elizabeth Bachman sits down with Michael Levitt to talk about burnout and how you can set boundaries so you can stay sane while working from home. Michael is the Founder and Chief Burnout Officer of the Breakfast Leadership Network, a San Diego and Toronto-based burnout media firm.
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Preventing Burnout By Setting Boundaries With Michael Levitt
Staying Sane While Working From Home
I’m delighted to welcome you to the show where we talk about using presentation skills to move your readers to take action. Whether you’re speaking on a stage, you’re in a meeting with a prospective client, customer, maybe in a meeting to inspire your team or get upper management to authorize what you want them to do, even a one-on-one conversation, it’s all presentation skills designed to get a result. We also talk a lot about leadership visibility and how to be a leader in life for which presentation skills are a wonderful tool.
My guest is Michael Levitt of The Breakfast Leadership Network. He’s got a wonderful podcast. Make sure to listen to him. He’s the Founder and Chief Burnout Officer of The Breakfast Leadership Network, which is a San Diego and Toronto-based burnout media firm. Michael is an in-person and certified virtual speaker. A Certified NLP and CBT therapist, a Fortune 500 consultant, number one bestselling author, hosts the Breakfast Leadership Show, which is one of the top 200 podcasts on iTunes. He’s also a Top 20 Global Thought Leader on culture with Thinkers360 and a former healthcare executive overseeing $2 billion budgets. Michael, that’s impressive. Welcome to the show.
$2 billion wasn’t enough. The demand probably required more like $10 billion, but you do with what you do. I know billion sounds like a lot, and believe me it is, but it never goes far enough, especially when it comes to the needs of healthcare. That would be a completely different conversation.
Before we go into talking about burnout, which is something that’s coming up a lot, I’d like to ask you, who would be your dream interview? If you could share the stage with someone who is no longer with us, who would it be? What would you ask them and who should be listening?
I would love to interview Winston Churchill, specifically. That is for those who are familiar with his journey to being Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and being a pivotal component. He was pivotal and a crucial component in the end of World War II. If you look at his journey and how he obtained that role, it was more or less by a default situation. He was not chosen necessarily to be that role. He ended up in the role because of challenges and all of that stuff. His journey along the way in life and everything else was almost a miracle that he ended up being in that role. Plus, the work that he did and the strategy that they use to save thousands, if not millions of lives is inspiring.
The reason why I want to interview him is going through those challenges where he wasn’t chosen. He wasn’t the one that they wanted. I wanted to know how he persevered through that. Why did he continue? Why did he stick around? Much like any type of relationship, if the other party doesn’t want you around, typically that’s a cue for you to find somebody else, leave or go somewhere and he didn’t. I’d be curious as to why. The people that would need to listen to those would be business leaders and entrepreneurs, and those that are struggling with life and trying to figure out, “What do I need to do in life?” Listen to Churchill’s story of how he was able to persevere and end up being one of the most revered world leaders in the twentieth century.
He was on the side that ultimately won, which helps. It was because of what he did. Who should be listening?
Entrepreneurs, especially those that are early days of their business and they’re trying to get clients and no one’s answering the call and they’re not cracking the nut to figure out, “How am I going to grow this business?” His story can be used in such a way to persevere and navigate through the challenges of being a business owner and also in life in general. Take those lessons and apply them to where they would fit in your personal journey.
Michael, you’re an expert about burnout, which is why I wanted to bring you in here because I work with high-level women most often in the tech field who are now all working from home and finding themselves with home and work duties, and trying to say yes to everybody. It is working harder than ever. Talk about how you define burnout.You have to establish boundaries around your life and begin your own self-care. You need to set boundaries when you work and when you don't. Click To Tweet
Burnout is when you have a prolonged period of time of stress that you have not addressed, and it builds up over time to the point where you are physically and mentally and often cases, spiritually burned out. Life becomes numb. Everywhere you turn feels like you’re getting beaten up and it drains your energy and well-being. You lose motivation. You’re not eating and sleeping well. Every aspect of your life is impacted by burnout. It has such a huge ripple effect because it impacts everyone around you.
I keep thinking about burnout and boundaries, because if you’ve got a level of stress, you say, “I need to take care of myself, but I also need to get so much more done.” There are two pieces to this. If we feel like we’re feeling burned out, how can we address it before it becomes a crisis and before we wind up in the hospital with a heart attack? How can we also set the boundaries that are necessary in order to address burnout before it becomes a crisis in terms of convincing managers, bosses and people like, “I’m sorry, I have to stop working?”
The first part is you have to prioritize your self-care and that’s something that a lot of people have a difficult time doing for a few reasons. One, they think it’s selfish and they think, “If I’m taking care of me, that means I’m not taking care of anybody else,” which is a false belief. If you truly take care of yourself, then you are the best version of you. When you do help or serve others, they’re getting a much better version of you. You’re giving it with full energy and clarity, and you’ll be able to navigate through a lot of these things. With working from home situation, working from home burnout is skyrocketing. We’re seeing on average, Americans are working three more hours a day than before the pandemic started. My first thought on that is, “Somebody finally found that 27-hour clock. How do we get back that time?”
What they did is they traded their commute time to work. Instead of getting up, getting dressed, clean up, eating, dropping kids off to school, and going to work, they wake up and they go to work. They continue it into the night, on the weekends and that’s not sustainable. One of the biggest challenges too is many of us think that we can do everything. We can do it all. We can’t. It’s not possible for our own long-term well-being. You have to establish boundaries around how you work, when you work and when you don’t. These are interesting times because many of us, not only are we working from home, our loved ones are working with us. Many of us are full-time school teachers. You throw that all in and we have our own full-time job. You’re not going to be able to do it all. It’s not possible.
What you have to do is work with everybody involved and figure out how we can get what we truly need to get done in a way that doesn’t take a toll on us long-term. It’s having communications with your boss and your employer saying, “Here are the working hours that I can get my role done.” Work with them because employers should recognize that many of their employees are in this situation. As managers and leaders in all likelihood, they are too. We’re all in this weird situation where we have all these additional demands that are thrown on us. We have to figure out ways to make sure that the kids are getting the education that they may need to scale it back in.
I know educators may not like me to say this, but we need to scale back a little bit on the lessons to get them the basics because hopefully this is a short-term situation and the kids will eventually be able to go back to school. I’m not going to get into any type of political debate as to when they should go back. I leave that to scientists, safety and figuring all of that out when they should go back when it’s safe. Until that point comes and even when they do look at the curriculum and go, “Let’s scale things back. Let’s do the basics and then we’ll catch up or get the things that they needed.” We don’t have pandemics all the time. The same thing with work. Organizations should ask their clients, “What do you need from us right now?” We’re going to focus on that.
We scale things back a little bit so we’re not all working these crazy hours that are difficult to do when we’ve got all these other responsibilities that are thrown at us. It all boils down to having communication with everybody and getting an understanding of what the employer needs. What do the employees need? Harmonizing the two so it isn’t such a toll because the last thing you want to do as an employee or as an employer is to get sick. You don’t want that because if your immune system gets lowered, there’s a distinct possibility that you could contract this virus. Depending on your own situation with your health, it could be deadly. We know the stats we can argue, “I have a certain percentage is fine.” That’s not a risk that I’m willing to take and I don’t want anybody else to take that risk either.
There’s more to this.
You have to establish boundaries around your life, and begin for your self-care. You need to set boundaries when you work and when you don’t. You have to affirm start to your workday and affirm end to it. With technology, smartphones and laptops, we can work pretty much anywhere, and I know a lot of people do. I see pictures all the time on social media, “Here I am working and I’m on the beach. Here I am by the pool working.” I want to say that’s great that you can work in a pleasant environment. However, you’re taking away from the moment of that pleasant environment. When you’re at the pool, you should go swimming. You should sit by the pool, get tan, do whatever you’re doing. Don’t jump in the pool with your laptop. That’s not a good idea.
Don’t marry those two because what happens, and we’re seeing it with this working from home situation is we’ve merged two worlds that shouldn’t merge as far as stress levels and boundaries. We’ve merged them all together. There is no escape. We’ve all had bad days at work where we’re happy and when we get to go and leave. We get in our car and we drive home, end of the day. If you have a bad day in your home and we’re in a quarantine situation, there’s nowhere to go but home. You’re already there. I always advise people if you’re working from home or working remotely, designate a place, have a boundary of where you work, whether it’s a table. Ideally have something ergonomic so you don’t have to see a massage therapist after working home for six months.
I know a lot of people are going to need that because they’re not working in an ergonomic state. Establish a boundary where and when you work. Communicate with your family if your both parents are at home, negotiate when you’re going to educate your kids, how that looks. Work with the school and figuring out what needs to be done. It’s not the ideal time. We know this, but there are ways to do it. You don’t take a toll on yourself because the last thing you want to do is run yourself down to the point where you’re sick and then you go to the hospital. Even if you don’t have COVID-19, you’re still taking up a resource at the hospital where those hospital resources need to be prepared to deal with people that are dealing with this illness and not somebody that ran themselves to the ground.
I had a conversation with a client who was complaining about working all the time. I said, “Have you tried to build in breaks and build in times for you to go for a walk?” She said, “Yes. My admin puts them on my schedule and then somebody says they need me and I booked something.” I said, “You could ask your admin to check that and to get back to you to say, ‘Did you want to do this?’” That was her in terms of setting boundaries. The administrative assistant can feel important for taking care of her boss and the boss who tends to say yes and then complains. It’s like the double opt-in. Do you want to send this email? Do you have any tips for people who are then shamed for taking time off?
Some people will do that. The hustle mentality that you see in a lot of entrepreneur talk even those people take time away. You have to take time away to be your best self. You need to take breaks during your day because those breaks help you re-energize and it also gives you the opportunity for clarity. We’ve all heard, we get the greatest ideas in the shower. The reason being is not because of the steam and the water unless you’re a cold shower person, but the reason why we get those is because we’re in a moment where we don’t have all of these inputs going on. It’s relatively just you, the shower you’re getting cleaned up and you have some clarity on some things. That’s what thoughts come in because those thoughts want to come in a lot.
The key is to get yourself in a place where you can have those creative thoughts coming in, not the worry about, “I’ve got that tough call or this.” More of, “How can I grow the business? How can we serve our clients better? What can we do to improve morale at work? What can we do about all of these things?” When you take breaks, it gives yourself the opportunity to call it daydreaming but that’s what it is. Think about, “What can we do?” The leaders oftentimes are horrible about taking time off. They work these 12 to 16-hour days, and they’re not seeing any vision about where they can take their organization. They’re trying to work through it instead of taking a step back, doing what they should do direct, lead and look for opportunities for vision opportunities. Especially during a pandemic, there has never been a better time to have innovation as a top of mind. What do we do differently now that we’ve had this opportunity to be able to steer this organization in the direction that it needs to go to serve our clients and take care of our employees?
One of the things that I’m also hearing is because many of us were working from home, those of us in the knowledge business, or knowledge workers, we don’t have day-to-day visual contact with our team. There’s a lot of extra times spent in taking care of the team and keeping the connections going. All this network building, I think of it as weaving the spiderweb or strengthening the net, which takes time away from when you should and yet you’re still expected to churn out as much work as you did when you weren’t spending hours each day talking to your team. Do you have any suggestions for managing that?
That’s a huge problem because you see a lot of organizations that are Zooming the heck out of their employees and they’re having all these check-ins all the time. For many of those employees, it’s derailing them from the deep work that they should be doing. As a manager or a leader, you should have a series of guidelines and tasks that you want your teams to work on. Give them the best instructions on how to do it, then get out of their way and let them do it. Be available to them if they have questions, have check-ins scheduled, and all that. You can have a weekly check-in call where it’s optional. I see some organizations do this. It’s not mandatory attendance. It’s optional. If you’ve got something to bring up to the team or a question, you can do it. Otherwise, set times of when people can check in with you, then that way you’re letting people do the deep work.
One of the biggest problems we had prior to the pandemic was, how many times people get interrupted during the workday, especially in the work environment? The number of interruptions that people get is in the dozens a day. It takes our brains several minutes to get back to the task from the interruptions. These are phone calls, people stopping by your desk, emails, text messages, and pages over the system, all of these things. That’s why you see many people wearing headphones oftentimes where they’re working so they can do their best to try to focus in and get something done. If people were allowed to do the deep work and work on their things without interruptions, they would accomplish those things much faster. That does not give organizations permission to, “You did that in three hours, you’ve got another two hours that I can fill up with.”
Going back to what your employees have some time to be creative and have clarity and think about what they could do more efficiently when they finish things. That’s when you start finding efficiencies and finding new ways to do things, or maybe even new products or services that come up. We’ve all heard the stories about how things were invented oftentimes by accident. Those accidents were because people had the time to go, “I wonder if we could use it this way.” All of a sudden that is a product or service that we all use on a daily basis that would not have been created if that employee or that team didn’t have the opportunity to play and figure things out. Just because you have somebody “sequestered” for an eight-hour shift, it doesn’t mean you need to load up every single minute of it with, “Do this.” Let them figure out a way to do things more efficiently.Everybody can beat burnout and get past it. More importantly, everybody can learn the signs so they can prevent it from happening again. Click To Tweet
One of the common things that I say, and people laugh at me about this, is if you’ve got a new project or a task that needs to be done that hasn’t been done before. If you can assign it to the laziest person in your organization, do it because they will get it done in the least amount of steps as possible. It’s a roundabout lean methodology. Although I don’t remember calling it lazy people. It’s one of those things. Not all the time, but it’s a way for like, “I wonder how long it would take to do this?” As leaders, sometimes we overcomplicate things like, “I’ve got to do this and get the Gantt chart, this and that.” You have this 40-step thing that could have been done in three. It’s one of those things where allow your creative people that you’ve hired to be creative and get the job done in ways that you would probably be surprised that they finished, but they did and then you can take those opportunities to come up with new things.
The thought about new ideas and so forth, I always remember Isaac Asimov, I believe said, “Great scientific discoveries don’t come from, ‘Eureka, I found it.’ They come from, ‘That’s funny.’” There it goes, and then wondering about that is what leads you to the great discoveries. Michael, a little bit more about boundaries and burnout. It’s hard to prove a negative. How can we tell the people who don’t get how important this is? How can we show the value of keeping things running well? It’s human nature to only deal with something when it’s a problem, that’s the natural human thing. If we want to say, “I’m going to stop at 3:00 because that’s when I pick up my kids or it’s my turn to take care of the kids.” Everything is going to run fine. How can we prove that taking the self-care is making things run fine?
If somebody that’s burning out and they’re trying to get past that, likely they’re making mistakes. A sign of burnout is if you’re making mistakes, you’re irritable and a variety of other things. If you’re able to demonstrate to your employer, “I’m going to work on these tasks during these times.” You deliver and if you can deliver early, don’t beat yourself up over it. If you do have that uninterrupted time and you focus on the task at hand, in many cases, you will complete it sooner than you would have if you were doing it the way that you used to do when you went into the office and had all the interruptions. The key is it’s proving to the employer that yes, you can do it. A lot of it is buying and negotiations. You say, “I want to try this.” You give them permission as an employer to say, “It’s not working. We need you to go back to doing it this way.”
For them, it’s a win-win scenario. They win if you get it done more efficiently because you found efficiency, but they also win if you say, “We tried that, it didn’t work so I’ll go back to doing things this way.” They’re still getting the outcome that they wanted, which was the completed task, project, or whatever the case may be. You paint it in a way where it’s a win-win for them. It makes it difficult for them to say no, especially if you map it out. I remember the time where one of my children wanted to go into homeschooling. She was going to school and I have no problem sharing this because she gives me permission to and because she’s an adult now. She had some anxiety issues when she was younger, so she wanted to be homeschooled.
I said, “Come up with a plan and map it out but with the pros and the cons.” She was young. She went to the store, bought this poster board, bought some stickers and she had this huge flow of things. I’m like, “When did you start taking project management courses? Are you a PhD? What are you doing?” I remember seeing this poster and she started the presentation. She was a minute into it and I’ve already made my mind up, it’s like, “You’re good. Maybe we can try this.” She went through the effort to justify, “This is how it does and if it doesn’t work, then I promise I will go back to this.” She thrived at it. It was the right thing for her at that time.
She’s a grown-up and doing great things. It was one of those challenges that they presented to me a boss type of situation or in this case dad’s situation that she wanted to do this and it made sense. I knew that she would do the work and she did. I had no concerns about that because as an employer, you should know your employees. Even if it’s a large-scale organization, you’ve got management and levels, someone should know your employees and what makes them shine, and what their strengths are. Do everything you can as an employer to make sure that they operate in those strength areas as much as possible because they’ll be happier. They’ll have lower stress. They’ll be a productive employee and they’ll do great things for your company.
Michael Levitt, how can we find out more about you?
The best place to find me is to go to BreakfastLeadership.com. I’ve got my podcast show and everything else, but everything is on there. There are tools and techniques. My blog, I have a ton of business articles on that. On the show, I interview global thought leaders like yourself and others that are doing great things to educate the audience on the many different ways that they can approach their own success and inspire people to be able to do the things. Everybody can beat burnout. Everybody can get past it and more importantly, they can learn the signs so they can prevent it from happening again.
There are two parts of the name. The Leadership part is one. I’m a leadership junkie. I love leaders. I read leaders. I’ve studied them forever and stolen from the great ideas of things and ignored some others. Breakfast, there are two components to that. Number one, I find in working, especially C-Suite and most leaders, if you get them first thing in the morning, you have their attention. Once they get into work and they’re in the trenches, good luck getting them out of there. They’re deep into work mode and they’re not easy to get the attention because they’re focusing on all the things that are going on in life, and breakfast is my favorite meal. I thought, “If I’m going to own a company, I should probably name a name that I like.” That’s where I came up with the name.
I have my morning ritual and did a woe betide to anybody who interrupts me because this is my time for me before I have to do anything else.
You’re setting yourself up to be the best version of you throughout your day.
Michael Levitt, thank you so much. It’s truly an honor to have you on my show. I had a blast being on your podcast. It will be fun when we’re both out there. Before we go, I want to remind you that if you’re curious about how your presentation skills are going, you can take our four-minute assessment. It’s free at SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see where you are strong in your presentation skills, where maybe you might need a little bit of support.
Thank you very much. I’m glad to be here.
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About Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is the founder & Chief Burnout Officer of The Breakfast Leadership Network, a San Diego and Toronto-based burnout media firm.
He is an in-person and Certified Virtual Speaker, a Certified NLP and CBT Therapist, a Fortune 500 consultant, #1 bestselling author, and hosts the Breakfast Leadership Show, a top 200 podcast on iTunes.
Michael is a Top 20 Global Thought Leader on Culture with Thinkers360. and a former Healthcare executive, overseeing $ 2 Billion budgets.