For years, terms like “self-care” and “work-life” balance often felt like lip service.
But as this pandemic rolls into its third year, it's brought heightened scrutiny on the culture of work, especially in the US.
In this post, we’ll revisit six lessons from three episodes of our newest podcast, The Community Experience, that explore how to avoid burnout and reject hustle culture in the midst of the huge structural shift toward remote working.
These conversations have given us a taste of how the world of work is hopefully evolving toward one that’s kinder and more attuned to our needs and desires.
Here are those three episodes:
- The CX 005: Pandemic Remote, Real Remote, and Rejecting Hustle Culture with Marissa Goldberg
- The CX 012: Burnout Management for Community Leaders: a Roundtable Chat
- The CX 025: (Don't) Do the Hustle: From Hospitalized to Sustainable Community with Tom Ross
All of the principles we'll explore in this post are guiding the way we work as a team here at SPI—and what we’re trying to cultivate in our membership community, SPI Pro.
Let’s dive in and see what we can learn from them!
#1: Take advantage of the benefits of remote work
One of the biggest ways the pandemic has shifted our work culture is by pushing a lot of workforces remote—and many aren’t going back into the office.
A lot of entrepreneurs have been working remotely for years, of course.
But regardless, in the past couple years, lots of people have learned how remote work can be a plus for mental and physical health.
Remote work often comes with automatic benefits, like not having to commute (or get out of pajamas, if that’s your thing!). It affords the opportunity to take a walk, hop in the shower, or ride your bike in the middle of the day.
And it can provide the flexibility to work when you’re most productive—not when you’re supposed to be in the office.
“I fell in love with the autonomy. I fell in love with how I could control everything about my work environment, and then that optimized my work. It was just lovely.”Marissa Goldberg, CX 005
For Marissa, this meant being able to rest as she worked, since she has a chronic condition that sometimes leaves her bedridden.
Before working from home, she was often seen as “less professional” because she couldn't come into the office.
But since going remote, her career trajectory has shot upward. She’s been promoted more often because she’s able to focus on getting her work done rather than showing up at the office.
“It's about my output. It's about what I put out there and what I create.”
Many entrepreneurs are already accustomed to the benefits of a location-independent work style. And if you’re already enjoying some of those benefits, great.
But see if there’s an opportunity to lean into them even more.
Take a step beyond the built-in benefits of remote work and explore how you can intentionally design your work schedule and environment.
I love Marissa’s advice to set up your home work environment in a way that fits your needs, rather than automatically replicating the way you used to work in an office.
#2: Set boundaries in little (and not so little) ways
In CX 012, members of Team SPI got together to discuss small and large ways community leaders can manage burnout. Their conversation turned up self-care and energy-management insights that apply both in and outside the community space.
Some of the conversation centered on tactics to take the edge off workday stress and gain more focus, like going outside (without your phone), or turning off Slack notifications.
But a lot of the episode centered on bigger dilemmas.
In Jay’s case, he often worries about not being available to moderate his community all the time. He’s even given this worry a name: a “refrigerator hum of anxiety.”
It’s a hum that’s so present that Jay has to go to great lengths to tune it out.
“The only times that I can recharge and move the needle away from burnout is if I make a very explicit contract and agreement with myself that I have no expectations for myself to do this thing today, which may be mediating, moderating, checking in.”Jay Clouse, CX 012
The refrigerator hum is a big distraction, one that requires big boundary setting to head off burnout.
Matt’s found a similar dynamic at play in his work life lately—that he needs to think big about how he manages his stressors.
“For me, tinkering around the edges from a bottoms-up standpoint, hasn't been effective lately… And I'm finding myself more gravitating toward top-down decisions and choices to manage that burnout more. One could think of these as just more like macro filters than more micro filters.”Matt Gartland, CX 012
To illustrate macro vs. micro, Matt uses a social media example: Do you need to turn off Twitter notifications on your phone—or do you need to stay off Twitter entirely for a while?
#3: Don’t just focus on what not to do—nurture the solution space
Serial entrepreneur and community builder Tom Ross spent time in a hospital because he’d burned himself out building his company. The experience gave him a lot of insight on how to not let that kind of thing happen again.
He believes avoiding burnout is about getting specific on what you should be doing for yourself.
“If you just have the vague intention of like, ‘Oh, I should try to live in a healthy capacity,’ that's too ephemeral,” he says.
That’s why he has a self-care checklist of roughly ten daily must-dos.
“I have to get eight hours sleep. I have to drink enough water. I have to try and eat at a reasonable time. I can't work beyond a certain number of hours each day; otherwise, that becomes unsustainable.”
Tom emphasizes that these “shoulds” are just as important as—if not more than—the things you think you shouldn’t be doing.
“I have this theory that burnout actually comes from an absence of self-care even more so than simply overwork in isolation. Because you can actually work pretty hard if you are also sleeping and eating right and looking after yourself. That's more sustainable than if all that stuff goes out the window.”Tom Ross, CX 025
“If you have no self-care but you're working even ten, twelve hours a day, then you can burn out pretty quick,” says Tom.
You don’t necessarily have to run from hard work and long hours if you’re doing the things you need to do to stay healthy, focused, and balanced.
Or, in Tony’s catchy words, if you’re “nurturing the solution space.”
#4: If you’re a leader, set the right example
In the best case, a leader talks the talk and walks the walk. They set a self-care example that can ripple throughout the organization.
But even if you can’t walk the walk, make it clear to the people you lead that you don’t expect them to wear themselves out too.
That’s what Tom Ross did. He found that even after his stint in the hospital, he was driven to hustle and wear himself out working. It had become ingrained behavior that took Tom more time to undo.
But in the meantime, he recognized that he had a responsibility to look out for others on his team who might follow his bad example.
One thing I never did was impose my hustle mentality on my team. I was very clear on that. I have friends that work for startups where the CEO’s there saying, ‘If you're not here at midnight with me, then you're not part of our culture.'Tom Ross, CX 025
Instead, Tom wanted his team’s culture to be “predicated on balance.”
“We're very bullish about allocating time off and trying to support people, whether it's mental, physical health balance, et cetera.”
In the worst case, shield your team members from the bad example of your own hustle. But in the ideal case, self-care and work-life balance are modeled and replicated from the top down.
That’s something we try to do at SPI, as Jillian says in CX 012:
Our company very much has the, ‘Get your work done, but do it on the schedule that works.' So if you need to take an hour to go sit outside in the sunshine and stare at the grass, or whatever it is, if you need a reset during the day, you can do it.Jillian Benbow, CX 012
#5: Empower your team to be leaders too (hand off the baton)
There’s another step to take if you truly want to be an exemplar of an anti-hustle approach for your team or community members.
It involves letting go, and empowering others to contribute and take on leadership roles.
One of the best ways to take care of yourself and build a healthy team culture is by sharing the load, delegating, teaching and training others to become leaders too.
It’s about realizing you don’t have to do it all yourself. Because you shouldn’t. For your sake, or your team’s.
Tony and Jillian make this point in CX 012, and I’m just going to excerpt it because they put it so perfectly.
Tony: One of the big keys I wanted to touch on is empowering others to be leaderful in your community, and trying as much as you can to cultivate a sense that you're not necessarily the one and only canonical provider of all things in the community. But you are more a steward and a shepherd and a guide and a facilitator who is encouraging the community to prosper.
Jillian: It's kind of that relationship of trust and control. Trust that other people can make decisions and be willing to let go of the control. Very often, our ego gets in the way of building trust in our team and letting go of control of some aspects of our work. But if we’re aware, we can see through the trap it’s setting for us.
Tony: It's so true… The ego will say, it will talk about it in a very friendly voice. It will say, ‘Oh, but only you can do it, nobody else can do it as well as you can.’ It says it in this very heroic voice. But it's a trap.'Tony Bacigalupo and Jillian Benbow, CX 012
#6: Join (or start) a community that's trying to make work work better
When Marissa Goldberg began working remotely, she realized she could be a high performer without sacrificing her health.
I learned through falling into remote work and figuring out how to optimize my environment and figuring out that rest isn't the opposite of work; it's just one piece of work.
This realization led Marissa to another one: that the pressure to be constantly working to prove our worth is built on a shaky foundation.
“This narrative that we're all kind of fed, that we should be working all the time and that's going to be the best for us, doesn't work at all and it's not sustainable.”
The natural next step was to find others who felt the same way. “I knew I couldn't be the only one,” Marissa says.
We need to have a community of people that can feed off of each other in a positive way. Instead of being like, ‘Oh, you didn't work 24/7, you are awful,’ more like, ‘Oh, hey, you took a shower in the middle of the day that made your brainstorming just fall into perfect rhythm afterwards. That's really cool. What else can we do like that, that could really help increase our productivity while making us happier and be sustainable long term?’Marissa Goldberg, CX 005
The only problem was she couldn’t find a community that matched her vision.
So she decided to build one—and recently fielded applications for the first fifty members of her new community.
“I have a really big vision for it. I want to change the entire culture.”
Finding a Community that Supports a Healthier Vision for Work
If you’re interested in learning more about Marissa’s new community and her efforts to change the way we work, listen to CX 005.
And if you’re feeling even more inspired, consider how you might go about connecting with others who want to work differently. How can you find others looking to avoid burnout, undo hustle culture, and work smarter in 2022?
Maybe it’s as simple as connecting with like-minded folks on Twitter, or joining a mastermind.
Or perhaps you’re called to aim bigger, to build your own custom community of people who want to help each other do things differently?