If you want optimal performance from a piece of software or a server, you must maintain it. If you want to be a high-functioning IT leader you can be, you also have to take time for upkeep.
Self-care is no longer a dirty word; it’s becoming a critical skill for CIOs who want to keep pace in dynamic organizations without running themselves down. “To be an enterpriser, your brain and body need to work optimally – with elevated work efficiency,” says Karen Brown is an executive coach and consultant and the author of "Unlimiting Your Beliefs: 7 Keys to Greater Success in Your Personal and Professional Life."
[ Read our related story: 8 ways to fight burnout on IT teams. ]
Consider these eight practical actions IT leaders can take to better care for themselves.
1. Gather data
You can’t manage what you don’t measure. A good first step for many CIOs to make changes in their daily routine is to assess the status quo. “Take a moment each day for one week to note metrics such as the number of hours you worked, your level of stress, and how productive you feel to quantify your baseline,” says Jeremy Greenberg, founder of Avenue Group, a firm that advises executives of Fortune 500 corporations, private equity firms, and mid-market companies.
When you notice troubling trends, hold yourself accountable for reducing excessive workload; changes won’t happen otherwise. “If you want change, don’t depend on others or the passing of time to drive it,” Greenberg says. “Just as you are responsible for meeting your business goals, you must make behavioral changes, such as those listed above, to better manage your workload.”
2. Seek to blend, not balance
Forget work-life balance; it may have been an impossible goal and one that is out of sync with our increasingly overlapping work and personal lives. “Blending is the new, more effective method that replaced work-life balance,” says Brown. “Millennials work this way and get more done in less time.”
Rather rigidly seeking some elusive ratio, be open to integrating work and personal time more seamlessly. “This gives you more control and flexibility, and efficiency,” says Brown. “Gone are the days when every waking minute at work must be spent on work and all personal stuff has to be done evenings and weekends.”
3. Experiment with different work styles
There’s no shortage of data showing that overworking can literally make us sick. But overworking may be driven in part by an inefficient work style. “Your role model or boss may have a style that works well for her or him, but you must find what works well for you,” Greenberg says. Test techniques like short work sprints, focusing on only one task at a time, rotating your efforts from one project to another, or doing different types of work at different times of the day to find what approach is most efficient for you.
4. Create white space
Jocelyn K. Glei, host of the Hurry Slowly podcast, argues that just as negative space helps to even out and focus a design, white space is a necessary ingredient in daily workflows. In order to create an environment that nurtures innovation and problem-solving, CIOs need to build in free time to retreat and refuel in ways that work for them – such as taking a walk or doing yoga, stream-of-consciousness writing or free drawing, people-watching, or playing a game.
Glei suggests putting white space blocks into your calendar weeks in advance “so that no matter what meetings or deadlines come up, you still have time blocked off to take a few moments and think about the big picture – or think about nothing at all.”