🧨 How to prevent CTO burnout in 10 steps: TMW #292 by CTO Craft
Hi all! Hope the week's going well so far
This week we're taking a look at burnout - the causes and symptoms are inescapable as engineering leaders, and we know from all the conversations we have both in the CTO Craft Community and in Circle sessions that burnout and overwhelm are incredibly widespread, especially for those in their first non-IC role. We'll be looking at why burnout is so widespread in our industry in another issue, but today we'll focus on how to prevent and react to burnout, and how to pull yourself out of the fire. Read on.
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Until next time
Andy @ CTO Craft
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How to prevent CTO burnout in 10 steps
As a tech leader, stress is inevitable, but it’s the way you deal with it that matters and can make all the difference between burning motivation and burning out. While the latter can make you feel like there is no light at the end of the tunnel, there are in fact, several things you can do that will stop you from reaching the tunnel in the first place, or, if you’re already in it, getting you back on the train and out the other end.
1. Take responsibility for your actions — Wearing the many hats you do as leader, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and point the finger at everything else being the problem. While certain stressors will contribute, they are not the entire cause of burnout and apportioning blame will — wrongly — harbour a defeatist attitude and the feeling that you are unable to control or even change things for the better . As Sanctus’ Jame Routledge says:
“It’s really important for people to take ownership of their mental health rather than blame other things like technology and social media. Burnout is a result of you living your life and often relating to work in a typically unhealthy way.”
2. Take time out — Anything, from taking an hour for lunch to an extended holiday is beneficial. The key is to do it when you need it, not simply when the ‘time is right’. Reconnecting with the world outside of work is great for taking a step back and gaining some perspective. Like the RNLI advice given to those who’ve fallen into cold water: ‘Fight your instincts, not the water, in order to survive.’ — if you ‘just keep swimming’, eventually you’ll tire and ‘drown’ under the pressure.
3. Find ways to manage your stress — One of the most common stressors at work is time or the lack thereof. Getting on top of your workload and calendar, may seem counter-intuitive when you’re up against it, but organising your days and allocating time to particular tasks and activities will give you back some control, and is likely to free up space for other, non-work related activities.
4. Share the load — We’re sorry to break it to you this way, but you’re not Superman / Wonder Woman and you can’t simply do everything, all at once, all of the time. Your team are there for a reason and growing a business is a collaborative effort. Delegate what you can so you don’t feel like you’re shouldering the burden alone.
5. Exercise — While you might feel like there’s no time to exercise, quite simply, you need to make time. A 2015 study looking at impact of exercise on workplace burnout prevention by the National Institutes of Health found that cardiovascular exercise increased well-being and decreased psychological distress, perceived stress, and emotional exhaustion. Resistance training was particularly effective in increasing well-being and personal accomplishment so get pumping.
6. Seek support — Sometimes, the hardest thing to do when you’re struggling is admit to it, but it’s the best thing you can do. Find a trusted colleague, compassionate friend or family member, and / or medical professional that you can rely on and share how you’re feeling; with advice and assistance, you’ll be able to get back on track.
7. Believe in yourself — Continually think you’re failing? Chances are you’re not, but you will be if your mindset is working against rather than with you. Start by valuing who you are instead of what you do and although it may be difficult at first, acknowledge your achievements, however small. Positive reinforcement works to gradually bolster your confidence and when you start to feel like you’re good at something again, you will be.
8. Find a creative outlet — Creative hobbies can act like therapy for your mind and have a meditative effect on the body that helps relieve stress. A 2015 neurology study by Roberts et al found that engaging your brain in creative endeavours and doing something different from your day job could not only protect neurons from dying, but stimulate the growth of new neurons as well — something that is essential for a healthy nervous system.
9. Change your view — In all senses of the phrase; try to find the positives in your work (again no matter how fleeting), but also vary the location from where you operate as it will increase your idea of freedom and will help avoid the feeling of monotony.
10. Reassess what’s important to you — If you’ve burned out or are, close to doing so, there can be an upside, because you will be forced to reflect on where you are in life. You might find that you’re working yourself into the ground for something you no longer love to do, or, you’ve lost sight of an end goal you still truly believe in. These realisations can push you to adjust your actions and as therapist Julie McNamara believes:
‘Breakdown can actually be a breakthrough.’
CTO Craft Bytes
CTO Craft: Office Hours with Adelina Chalmers, Fri 23 Sep 2022
For our first Office Hour, we’ll be joined by Adelina Chalmers, CTO Strategic Advisor and Founder at The Geek Whisperer. She’ll be answering your questions and offering advice on how to get the rest of the C-Suite or board on board with your plans.
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Have an amazing week!