Burnout-Reducing Practices to Introduce to Your Whole Team
To advance our Bid Boss mission to avoid burnout, I try to keep current on reading, podcasts, and training on sustainable work practices and productivity boosters. I will confess that at least half the time I end up skimming after the first paragraph because the recommended practices are just not things you could get away with doing on a business development team.
“Block off time for white space, learning, and long-term planning!” Sure, that will get scheduled over as soon as proposals are live.
“Set business hours every day during the time you are most productive and don’t allow people to schedule meetings outside of that!” How does that work when I manage bids across five time zones?
There are other recommendations that sound unfeasible at first. You would not be able to stick with these if you just decided to do it on your own. But what if you got your whole team to adopt a new practice? Not only would this have the benefit of creating a critical mass toward a shift in your organization’s culture, it could also create a perceptible shift in your whole team’s stress levels. Here are five practices for your team to put in place to create an environment more conducive to work-life balance. Try out one to start, or make next month your Team Zen Month and make a big change all at once:
Batch your email.
Research shows that devoting 30-to-60-minute chunks to processing your email (and ignoring it the rest of the time) helps you feel more productive and reduce feelings of stress and priority overload versus “grazing.” Batching your email also allows you to get a bigger picture view of what requests are being made of you right now in order to set your daily priorities strategically, whereas grazing can put you in response mode (i.e., you work on whatever task is at the top of your inbox rather than the one that’s most vital to what you want to achieve that day). You can batch other administrative tasks, too! Try setting aside some time once a week to put on a fun playlist and knock out a bunch of that mindless-but-necessary work like timesheets, expense coding, or cleaning out your inbox. Promoting this practice across your whole team can help build a culture where the norm is email responses in half a business day instead of, say, half an hour. Discussing communication norms is part of the bigger picture in the next recommendation.
Set communication norms.
Once you set the norm that colleagues should expect it may be four to six hours before you see their email, it can be helpful to identify communication channels for more urgent questions. It important here to discuss your standards as a team, because the ease of having multiple channels to contact colleagues can quickly turn into chaos of having your phone blow up across email, Slack, WhatsApp, and invitations to “quick check-in calls.” Bring these questions to a future team meeting so that everyone can mutually contribute to setting expectations:
What are the key channels for communication on our team (e.g., Teams/Skype, email, Slack, etc.)?
What is the expectation for each? For example, is WhatsApp/text outside of business hours only for true emergencies? What is the expectation for how quickly our team will respond to internal emails?
Especially as many teams continue to work remotely and we don’t have the ability to gather around the coffee maker to chat, is there a designated place for casual chats, like a Slack channel or Skype group? Consider making it something team members can mute when they are in focus mode.
Make a “Stop Doing” list.
If you’re ready to take the conversation on communication norms in #2 a little bit further, this can be a great opening into a conversation with your team on saying no and setting boundaries. It’s from Jocelyn Glei, author of the Hurry Slowly podcast and other great resources. She points out that even though our ability has never been higher to access one another 24/7 and barge into one another’s inboxes across a multitude of channels, you still have the same maximum capacity to fulfill any of these requests. Productivity, she argues, ought to be more of a measure of what we sift out than what we say yes to. As a break from making to-do lists, Glei suggests making a (team or individual) “stop doing” list. What are things you spend time on that drain your productivity and your ability to achieve your actual goals in your job? Does your team’s culture affirm some of these by normalizing them – like eating lunch at your desk or treating all emails as urgent? If you agree to some team “don’t do’s,” encourage everyone to write them down or print them out and post them somewhere you can see them daily. Even adults need daily visual reminders!
Reduce meeting burnout.
You know it’s a problem when there’s a whole category of memes about “this meeting could have been an email.” You’re likely already aware of the true cost of meetings, but what are some ways to reduce their drain on our productivity and general enjoyment of life? Personally, I don’t always get excited about turning my meetings into emails, because I already have enough emails, too (but if you are interested in planning better meetings, check out Whitney’s recent post). So instead, here are three strategies to consider thinking about meetings on your team just a little bit differently:
Consider implementing a “no-meetings Friday” across your team or organization for internal meetings. If that’s too big an initial step, consider setting aside Mondays as a “video-free meeting day.” (Our friends at the KonTerra Group, who are also experts in resilience and staff care, recommended this to us and have been practicing it on their own team!)
Explore creative tech options besides the tried-and-true Zoom meeting. For instance, we love Loom for recording short informational videos to walk a colleague through a new process or program. Plus, then they’re reusable the next time someone asks you how to, say, check for opportunity updates on grants.gov
Schedule walking meetings for meetings that don’t need to be in front of a screen, like your weekly check-in with your supervisor. This works when you’re in the same location or different ones, and it helps stimulate your thinking.
Make an out-of-office protocol.
Using your time off is only restful if you actually get to take the time off. This is an area where getting the whole team to agree to a protocol is crucial, because if you’re not all collectively on board with covering for the team member who is OOO, then we all feel pressured on our own time off to say things like “I’ll be out on Monday but I’ll still be checking email and I’ll still call into a few important meetings!” That’s not really recharging! The best BD team I was on in terms of getting to truly unplug for my time off had a great practice around OOO memos. We had a template to fill out anytime someone is going to be out (including work travel where you won’t be able to cover all your usual projects) with a simple chart to track:
Length of your OOO and what kind of availability you will have, if any
Details on any projects that might be active while you’re out
Links to relevant files and folders
Who is responsible for this project while you’re out
·A column for notes for colleagues to update you on projects to hand back over
This tool helps you alert colleagues to what kind of coverage you will need while you are out, and then once you have officially handed a project over, you can truly relax and feel like you don’t have to worry.
What other practices have worked for your team?
We're chatting about this over on Bid Boss's Clubhouse if you want to join the conversation!