What to do when your job is keeping you up at night
You’re the boss of your company, but your company is not the boss of you.
People think the company boss has it made. And they’re right—well, sort of. As the boss, you enjoy pretty great pay, added benefits and the personal satisfaction of achieving career goals you’ve spent years working toward. But there’s a tradeoff.
Climbing the ladder comes with added responsibilities, a packed schedule and the pressure of needing to set the tone for your entire organization.
Not sleeping well? No kidding. Suddenly, the office intern looks like she’s the one who has it made.
Follow these practical tips to help you manage your sleep and sanity, when you’re also responsible for managing others.
Take control of your schedule
Being the boss means you’re in demand, almost all the time, from almost everybody you work with. But this doesn’t mean exhaustion is unavoidable.
“The people that are really effective leaders are very good at planning out their time in advance,” says Scott Stossel, editor of The Atlantic and author of My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind.
Part of that planning should include establishing—and sticking to—a routine in your week, says Art Pammenter, a San Diego-based executive coach and psychologist. Block out time to accomplish regular tasks—returning phone calls, signing paperwork, clearing your inbox—while also leaving room for flexibility to respond to urgent matters.
Once you’ve established your main priorities for the day or week, communicate them to your team members, especially your assistant. Hold yourself accountable to maintaining this routine. Do what you said when you said you’d do it, and then stop when you said you’d stop. Then move on to the next thing. Believe it or not, this is actually possible—but only if you’re willing to work at it.
Similarly, it might seem like you can’t escape email in the evenings, but turning off your phone during set hours each evening can go a long way toward reducing your stress. Set aside a block of non-work time—for example, that you won’t respond to email between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m.—and tell your team not to expect an immediate response from you then, Stossel says.
Similarly, go ahead and carve out time to go to the gym, get a massage or decompress during the workweek. Tell your assistant to leave those times open and to only contact you during them if a true crisis arises.
The more you can control how you spend your time, the less stressed you are likely to feel.
Maintain healthy relationships
“There’s a certain amount of social isolation that occurs as you rise through an organization,” says James Campbell Quick, a professor of leadership at the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of Manchester in England. “You’re not buddies with the people working for you. You might have good relationships with them, but you’re responsible for them in a different way.”
Just as you’re a source of support for your team, you need your own strong support system, both personally and professionally, outside of the office.
“When it comes to complex situations and difficult decisions, getting insight and perspectives from others can help reduce your cognitive load and help you make better decisions,” says David Ballard, assistant executive director for organizational excellence at the American Psychological Association.
Build strong professional-peer relationships outside of your organization by joining groups that bring together executives and high-performance leaders, Quick adds. But remember to nurture your non-work persona, as well. Hanging out and catching up with friends can help you feel, for lack of a better word, like a normal human being—and not just a human extension of your company. You have a life outside of your job—live it!
Call in the pros
Sometimes, not being able to shake the demands of a high-power position requires more than just an organized schedule and dinner with pals on the weekend. “If you’re struggling with the pressures that come with a senior position, there’s no shame in asking for professional help,” says Ballard.
Traditional therapy or counseling should be considered if the chronic stress is affecting your health, relationships and job performance, he says. Psychotherapy can help you cope with life problems; develop healthier, more effective habits; and change your thought and behavior patterns that are interfering with your ability to function day-to-day, both on the job and at home.
If your problems are mainly confined to work, a skilled executive coach can also help you get a better handle on things. An experienced executive coach understands the pressures of being the boss and can give you unbiased, confidential advice on how to manage those stressors effectively and improve your job performance.
All this being said, if you make these attempts to restore the calm, but you still find yourself overworked and overwhelmed, maybe you’re not the problem. It could be that you need to find a new employer who wants to see you excel as a boss—and also as a well-adjusted human being.