This winter I was lucky enough to enjoy a brilliant family skiing holiday.
Despite the hectic nature of the trip and the long drive to and from the Alps, I came home feeling energised, positive and strong.
As I remarked to my coach Remy on my return, it was a revelation to go away feeling great. And to be full of energy on my return.
It struck me that it was the first time in twenty years that I'd gone on holiday without being exhausted from work.
And what a difference it made!
Surrounded by family and friends, I spent the week sliding down the slopes, laughing, cooking, eating and hanging out. It was such a fulfilling experience, and I can't wait to do it again.
Full of energy and excitement, It was so different from other holidays I'd had whilst running my own business.
As a founder and CEO, my approach to work was all-in.
I was super focussed, highly stressed and constantly fatigued.
Living away from the city meant I worked very long hours and spent nights away from home most weeks.
When it came to booking family holidays, the rest of the gang wanted to go off and take on exciting new adventures.
However, exhausted dad was always suggesting quiet beach getaways in serene locations.
My holidays stopped being fun adventures and became recovery sessions, giving my mind, body and soul a chance to start mending itself.
In recent years I'd done a few things to reduce the hard deadline pressure of an upcoming vacation, but I invariably ended up collapsing over the finish line of the final Friday night before we headed off on holiday.
The next morning I'd be sitting in the airport, looking at my phone, wondering how many hours of sleep I could get on the plane.
And then my mind would take at least a week to come out of work mode and finally start to properly relax.
Often, I'd fall ill within the first few days of a break.
And then my family would have to work around me as they tried to enjoy their hard-earned time away without their bed-bound, poorly dad.
After a few failed attempts at city breaks, all I wanted for my long weekends was a bed or a sun lounger, and space and solitude to recover.
As I look back on it with the benefit of hindsight, it wasn't great for me, nor them. I tried my best and did as much to make the holidays fun for all, but there is only so much any of us can do when we're spent.
And it seems my experience is one shared by many others.
A 2013 ComPsych survey of more than 5,100 North American workers found that 62% felt high levels of stress, loss of control, and extreme fatigue.
On our family ski trip in 2019, I didn't even make it to the car - a nasty virus meant I stayed at home to look after the dog while my family headed off to the French Alps.
So I took a deep breath and decided to adapt my life to ensure I wasn't always on the edge of exhaustion.
Although evolving my routines was brilliant for me, it didn't stop difficult things from happening in life and at work.
But when tough moments happened, I had more reserves of positive energy to draw on, which meant my decision making was much more effective.
The good news is that there are lots of resources now to help people start to improve their work/life balance and reduce exhaustion.
These all come together into one big change that many leaders find tough, but must do to thrive:
Prioritise your self-care.
You can't help others without ensuring you're in good shape.
So I dug in, looked after number one first, and over a couple of years of adapting my schedule and mindset I made my career feel sustainable, more enjoyable and our company's performance increased too.
Here are the steps I took to help me manage exhaustion levels in my high-stress job. You should do them too:
- Good sleep. Research suggests that people who have slept better also experience less negative emotions and can recover faster from a stressful event. Getting regular sleep is the cornerstone of health and wellbeing, so you need to plan your life around it. Using apps like Timeshifter to help adapt to jet lag is a gamechanger. Speak to top sleep specialists like Dr Jim Brown who will help you figure things out.
- Work to your body's rhythm: One recent study found peak performance on cognitive tasks differed significantly between morning larks and night owls. If you're up with the lark, start work early, then close your laptop at 4. And if you are a night owl, start your workday at lunchtime. Schedule your most important task of the day for when you have the most energy. And devote device-free chunks of time through your day for recovery.
- Take all your vacation: Book chunks of time off through the year as soon as you can, months in advance. Simply planning a vacation boosts happiness up to 8 weeks before the trip. Try to plan your precious holiday time away from home, choosing somewhere you can recover and get reinvigorated. Think about inviting other people to the same destination (but maybe not the same building) so you can enjoy their company and discuss their lives, challenges, excitements and opinions, not just yours.
- Wind down into holidays: People often get sick following a period of high stress. So for the fortnight before you go away, make sure you've actively removed stressful activities from your schedule. Double down on good sleep, nutritious meals and meditation, ensuring you deliver work well ahead of Final Friday so you can enjoy your break in good shape.
- Eat well: Just as stress affects nutrition, good nutrition and dietary practices have also been found to improve the poor state of individuals suffering from stress. Avoiding alcohol, fatty foods, keeping away from too much sugar and eating loads of unprocessed foods has helped me feel a lot better over recent years. Speak to a top nutritionist like Phoebe Liebling who will help balance your food intake.
- Exercise: It can reduce your risk of major illnesses, and lower your risk of early death by up to 30%. And it doesn't have to involve high-intensity workouts. My routine is mostly Zone 2 activities, strength conditioning with the occasional jog or swim. And working with the brilliant Tom Cowan has reduced my desire to run a sub-10 second 100 metres, and increased my strength and stamina.
- Yoga: I have built a habit of regular yoga sessions in my house, courtesy of Yoga with Adriene. Ideally, I do this 3-5 times per week. It helps me focus on the physical, whilst deep breathing and achieving a calm mental state.
- Get outside: Even ten minutes of brisk walking has been proven to reduce stress and improve mood. I walk my dog each morning and most afternoons. This sounds basic, but just being active around trees and in nature seems to have a great effect on my wellbeing. It gets my heart moving and is a basic exercise backbone to my day.
- Give back: There is something special about leaving work behind to go and put your time into making someone else's life a little better. I have loved working with young people to support them through their evolution during their education. After mentoring sessions, I usually feel far more energised than I did an hour before. Some ideas are here.
- Socialise: Numerous studies show the huge benefits of seeing friends. Me and a group of friends go hiking across the hills. I watch my mum's joy when she goes to sing in her local choir. I love getting out to see a band or competing in my local quiz night. Visiting a new gallery, or watching a great movie can bring a burst of inspiration. You may feel exhausted, but a shared endeavour with no pressure is a wonderful thing to undertake.
- Celebrate your wins: Life can feel remarkably hard sometimes. But if you take the time to look back and analyse your achievements, you often realise you have had a lot of success along the way. It is so important to deliberately celebrate when you finish a great project, win new business or simply survive another trip around the sun! Throw a party, get people together or call/write to everyone to congratulate them. Life is short, so enjoy every second of the good bits!
As a father and a CEO, I have almost always been focused on making things easier and better for my family and my team. I didn't put myself first enough.
When bad stuff happened, my instinct was to try harder, work longer hours, worry more, to shout louder.
At one point of exhaustion, I felt that I was failing so badly that I wouldn't even buy myself new shoes as I didn't think I deserved them!
But I eventually realised that I had my best ideas and took my best decisions on the rare occasions that I felt well-rested and had high energy levels.
Everything can feel almost impossible when you're fatigued, but when you're energised, the world seems full of opportunity!
So I realised I needed to adapt my life to add more of what added positive energy to me.
Going to see live music, meeting up with family and friends, doing outdoor adventure activities, volunteering at my local school, mentoring industry colleagues, listening to wonderful audiobooks - all these things require physical and emotional effort, and seemed to expand my schedule even more.
But instead of becoming even more exhausted, I found myself with MORE energy after completing them, not less.
So, if you want to reduce your fatigue, perform better and enjoy the ride, look after yourself first by scheduling events that give you energy. You won't regret it!