Burnout And Peak Performance: Redefine Your Success And Let Go Of The Wrong Things With Erin Stafford

Penny ZenkerTake Back Time Podcast

Take Back Time | Erin Stafford | Peak Performance

 

People in all sectors suffer from severe burnout cases as they struggle to adjust to a post-pandemic world and the pressures it puts on their personal and professional lives. Today, let’s address that dilemma and help people overcome burnout and reach their peak performance. In this episode, Erin Stafford, a high-powered marketing executive, talks about burnout and peak performance. She also shares tips on letting go of burnout by doing little shifts in your actions. Erin explains the importance of slowing down and resting, especially if you are a high-achiever or top performer. Let’s grab Erin’s wealth of insights and expertise as you tune in to this episode today. Stay on top, and don’t let burnout force you to flop!

The Type A Trap: Five Mindset Shifts to Beat Burnout and Transform Your Life

Erin Stafford

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Burnout And Peak Performance: Redefine Your Success And Let Go Of The Wrong Things With Erin Stafford

On this show, we are looking to work smarter. What does it mean to work smarter and not harder? We hear that all the time, but a lot of times, we think we know what to do, but we don’t do what we know. I’m bringing experts here to help you work smarter. I’m super excited to have Erin Stafford with us, and we’re going to talk about performance and burnout as they relate.

She is a marketing guru, a burnout survivor, which is why she can talk about it, a hypergrowth business leader and a Social Psychologist. From working with the world’s highest achievers throughout her twenty-plus years in an international career, being an A-type poster child herself and interviewing Olympians, startup founders, Fortune 500 CEOs, leading researchers and celebrity coaches, she knows and has seen firsthand how Type A personalities and constant overachievement are coveted in the world of business nowadays and yet can lead to debilitating burnout.

I know. I’m going to put myself right there and clear out my laundry, too. Erin has made it her mission to help leaders everywhere to identify and break free from the Type A trap so that they can stay in peak performance for the long haul. By the way, before I introduce Erin, the new book that she launched is The Type A Trap. Erin, welcome to the show.

Thank you so much for having me. I’m thrilled to be here.

Type A Trap

I can totally relate to that Type A trap. I was reflecting on how much, as we learn and try to get away from it, it’s always pulling at us. It’s something in us that is who we are. Tell us first what Type A is so everybody’s clear, and what the Type A trap is if we’re going to start there.

Clearly, it’s something that I’ve made up, but I define the Type A trap as all of these things that help us be successful early on in our career. The hustle, the grind, the grit, the long hours, the going to the conferences, staying late, working early, putting in the hard yards. All of those things that help us be incredibly successful in our careers are also the very things that cause us to burn out.

It’s this trap because, on the one hand, you want to most people, at least me, most high achievers, we want to be successful. We want to continue to succeed. We want to be able to perform at these high levels, but we also would like to do it without burning out. How do we find that balance? How do we get out of that trap in a way that lets us do that?

I can only speak for myself. You’ve interviewed lots of Olympians, but I find it compulsive. If you look at the bell curve, and I talk about this in my first book, The Productivity Zone, where we fall off. When we’re good at something, but when we become obsessive over it, that’s when it starts to not be an asset and starts to be a liability. It’s a compulsion to work harder to reinvent it or to compare myself or whatever it is. How do we get out of that compulsion?

There’s this great quote that says this constant push for more isn’t ambition. It’s addiction. We are very much addicted to that feeling of accomplishing, achieving and doing more. Sadly, we live in a society that rewards people for burning themselves out. We see it time and time again, these people who are leading great companies, achieving all these big things. Six months later or whatever, they have a heart attack or they completely burn out or they have some other physical ailment because they haven’t been taking care of themselves. It’s a slippery slope.

Sadly, we live in a society that rewards people for burning themselves out. Click To Tweet

Redefine Success

I think one of the biggest things is trying to redefine success because if we are constantly so obsessed with achieving and accomplishing, but we’re ultimately too broken inside, too depleted or too physically unhealthy to actually enjoy that success, then what the heck is even the point with all of this hard work if you never have time to enjoy it? You’re missing every family dinner or you’ve got gallstones or random things that happen to us when we don’t take care of ourselves. What does that success look like and how can we redefine it a bit?

I do think we should redefine it because I don’t define that as success at all. I don’t find myself to be successful if I’m frantic or if I’m stressed, overwhelmed or pushing too hard. It’s about getting clear on that definition and getting clear, like you said, on that addiction.

As you said, it’s a compulsion because when you are someone who’s super driven and motivated and internally motivated and you love accomplishing and achieving, the goalpost keeps moving. It’s not that once you climb the mountain, you’re going to be happy. You get up there, then you see another mountaintop. We hear it time and time again. The goalpost continues to keep moving. We’re never happy with what we’ve done or accomplished. We keep wanting the next big thing and it absolutely becomes an addiction.

First, redefine our success. That’s what I’m hearing. Sit down with pen and paper and define what success looks like to you. Second, I would say, how do we help people let go and get clear on what to let go of? I think so many people are focused on the wrong things. It would save them a huge amount of time if they stopped doing the things that actually aren’t moving the needle and focused on the things that are. How do we help people to let go?

Here’s the thing. I’m never going to get somebody who’s like this compulsive overachiever to do an absolute 180 in their life overnight. It doesn’t happen. They’re not going to all of a sudden completely reorganize their schedule and be totally imbalanced. It doesn’t work like that. The key is making small, incremental shifts.

I look at it a lot like diet and exercise. I think we’re very clear on what we need to do to stay healthy. Eat well and exercise often. It’s not a matter of doing this one day and then all of a sudden, we’re in great shape. No, we got to drink the water, have less wine, get the salad instead of the fries and take the stairs. All of these little things add up to us being healthier.

Overcoming Burnout

It’s all of these little things that add up to help us be healthier. Drinking water in and of itself, that’s not going to change your life. It’s all of these things added up that do help to collectively make us healthier and happier. The same exact thing is true with preventing and overcoming burnout, letting go of it. How can we make small incremental changes to help us let go a little bit?

As I said, if you’re a control freak who’s been running some massive company and all this success, you’re not going to instantly change your whole life. There’s something I call the Coco Chanel takeoff. There’s this great quote by Coco Chanel, the famous French fashion designer, that she says when dressing with accessories, before you leave the house, take one thing off. I take that approach with my schedule and I say, “Before you start your week, take one thing off.” Can we look at our schedules on Sunday night or Monday morning and take one thing off?

Is this a meeting or a Zoom that could actually be an email? Let’s be real. There’s a lot of those. Is this the week that your kids can carpool the soccer practice with somebody else? These things don’t have to be at work. These can be at home, too. Is this the week that you look at your schedule and you’re like, “I have three evening activities this week. It’s Monday and it’s already stressing me out.” Cancel one of those or reschedule one of them.

There’s another great study out of Gartner that talks about proactive rest. I love this concept because we often think of rest as something that we have to earn or be absolutely exhausted before we rest. This study out of Gartner says, “No, let’s look at rest as something that we incorporate into our day and our week proactively so that we prevent exhaustion in the first place.

These are small little shifts and these could look a million different ways for people. It could be having 50-minute meetings instead of 60-minute meetings. Give your team those ten minutes back to run to the restroom, grab a coffee, or whatever they need to do. I know something that I implemented on my former team was Meeting-Free Fridays. I could not control the whole company, but I had about 75 people on my team and on my marketing team, we didn’t have marketing meetings on Fridays. It was a way to give them back a little time to catch up on the week so that they could go into their weekend feeling a little less pressure with everything that’s so sitting on their shoulders.

Another great thing is turn the music off in your car. That’s another great proactive rest tip. Often, we are bombarded by text messages, podcasts, emails, audiobooks and all the things we’re constantly bombarded with. We get in our car, we’re commuting, so we want to be productive so we turn on an audiobook or something. There are a lot of different times you could listen to it, but give yourself a break sometimes and turn the music off when you’re commuting.

Take those moments of silence. Give your nervous system a chance to reset. All of these small little things that in and of themself are not going to change the world, but you add a bunch of these up together and you will start to have a healthier approach to life and your work. All of these little changes can ultimately add up to helping us let go more, which is your original question. They help us let go. They help us create a more productive and healthier schedule.

Those small things help us create a more productive and healthier schedule. Click To Tweet

You brought a lot of great tips in that segment there. I want to share some of my own as well, which I think are helpful. You talked about taking things off, like I love that it came from the fashion sense. I like to do that, too. If I know that I’ve got something that needs a lot of creative time, like you wrote your book and it takes a different headspace.

Know what head space your different types of work require and then look at your schedule. I do that, too. As I go, I’m like, “I have to clear some time. Which of these meetings can be moved, which aren’t essential or urgent?” We get caught up in all these false urgencies. I believe we have to ask ourselves, “Is this urgent that it needs to be done today? How can we create space for ourselves and move it?”

One of the ways I like to create space is to delegate first thing in the morning because then I’m compounding my effort. It means I’m giving something to someone else that they can accomplish that’s on my to-do list so I can get to the things that are most important for me to do. That has to be a distinction, especially for a lot of leaders. I’m this person, too. I’m in recovery here. We have to remind ourselves and it has to become a practice, like you said, a daily practice of taking things off your calendar, and changing the venue. If it doesn’t need to be a physical meeting, send an email or maybe vice versa. It’s going to be a lot faster to pick up the phone and speak to that person versus writing an email. Sometimes, you have to be so specific in your language. Assessing that and where we can take back. This show is called Take Back Time. Where can you identify the top three areas in that you can take back time by delegating, automating, pushing something out, or any of those means?

It’s hard and often it requires us to be honest with ourselves. I’ll give you this example. I was supposed to launch a digital course in October. I had all sorts of horrible things happening in my personal life for a couple of months. I was also in the approach up to my book launch. That was a hard deadline that was coming out, whether I wanted it to come out or not. I couldn’t move the deadline and the publishing date of the book coming out.

In the digital course, I had to take a realistic look and as a super Type A, I want everything done all the time and want to do everything. I had to sit there and go, “I’m going to have to push this launch of my digital course back because I have too much going on in my personal life right now, things that were a massive curve ball that I wasn’t expecting. I’m not going to burn out launching a book about burnout.

I have to be able to taste some of my own medicine and realize, “I got thrown a curve ball. I wasn’t expecting it. Something’s going to have to give, the digital course can wait until Q1 or Q2. No harm, no foul. Is it what I planned? No. At least I got that off my plate. Trust me, that was hard because as the recovering Type A, I feel like I failed and I was like, “You should have been able to do it all.” No, we can’t do it all. At some point, something has to give. Being honest with ourselves and knowing when we have to pull the plug on something and say, “No, this is going to have to wait for a while.”

I’m going to play the advocate of the person who’s online and says, “I’m not an entrepreneur. That’s great for both of you.” We’re both entrepreneurs. We have more flexibility in our deadline setting than some other people have. What is your advice for somebody who is, let’s say, in a middle management position and is very much subject to the deadlines that are coming from above and doesn’t have the luxury to move something? How does that person deal with their schedule and their deadlines?

Changing Your Personal Life

I think there are always small adjustments that can be made. Always is probably too broad. Maybe if you’re a shift worker, a line worker or you’re in some factory, I get it. You have to be there doing your job. I think there are always adjustments we can make in our personal life. If we work at a job that is very regimented, very strict, very organized and ordered in a way that we don’t have a lot of autonomy or agency over our schedule, then I think we can always make adjustments in our personal life. Are there things you can do outside of work that are going to streamline your time, that are going to allow you to spend more time doing things that you love, that light you up, that builds you up and get you excited instead of dragging you down?

Take Back Time | Erin Stafford | Peak Performance

Peak Performance: There are always adjustments we can make in our personal life.

 

These can be so simple. These can be like streamlining where the trash can is in your kitchen. Is it annoying like the drawer gets jammed every time you have to pull it out. Does it drive you nuts and you get annoyed? Fix it. Some of these smallest little things that irk us every day in our house and in our environment drive us nuts and cause us stress, all these things add up. As I said, none of these is going to change your world, but all of these things add up to create more stress, more friction, more tension in our lives.

How can we look at how do we meal prep throughout the week? How do we prepare our kids’ lunchboxes during the week? Are there things we can do to streamline bath time or homework time? What are the ways that we can implement some of these things in our personal lives if our work life is super regimented and not flexible?

Those are great suggestions. The people who are in those types of positions that might be regimented, I think that they argue with their reality like it should be different. They complain about the fact that their job is ad hoc, so therefore maybe it’s difficult for them to plan. What I say is when you accept the reality, that’s how it is. Look for pockets. I also think that even if you’re very regimented, if you’re an admin assistant and people are coming to you or you’re a project manager and you have multiple projects across different departments, how do you do that? You look for those opportunities. Maybe it means the first hour of the morning is your you time. It’s what you need to do to get organized and feel in control of your day.

You don’t take any meetings during that first hour or maybe it’s like I have an AI assistant that takes notes. Maybe you have an assistant, some bot that supports you. Even maybe you pay for two hours a week of an assistant of your own. I don’t care what position you are but maybe that would help you because you’re not good at PowerPoint slides and other people are. You could hire somebody for $10 an hour who does a great job and could create a great presentation for you.

I think that when we step back and get perspective and  assess objectively our reality and where do we have those pockets? Are we communicating clearly? When we’re transparent and communicate, the workload may be unfair and you have more than your counterpart. Maybe there’s a way to balance the workload or to cover the phones for each other when you’re taking a particular time. I think we need to tap into our creative brain.

With sites like Fiverr and things like that, you can find people for exactly so cheap in other parts of the world that are experts in whatever you may need help with. In my last job, we had this sales guy who was a successful sales guy and on his own, outside of work, work didn’t pay for this. He found a group of people in the Philippines that would make cold calls for him and tee up meetings for him. He was trying to be more efficient at his job.

They didn’t know about this. He was paying for it out of his pocket. It ended up working out for him because then he would eventually book the deal and get the commission, etc. How can we work smarter like that? How can we take the initiative and dig around online? The beauty of the world we live in right now is that you can literally find anything on the internet. You can get someone to help you with anything and for relatively inexpensive. I realize that’s not always an option for everybody, but you can find a lot of good stuff there for cheap.

Yeah, you can., don’t rule it out. Depending on how stressed you are, maybe it’s also something that your boss would agree with and the company would take over that budget realizing that you are spending your time in areas that aren’t your key areas. What didn’t I ask you, Erin, that we need to talk about before the end of our session?

I think one thing is the importance of slowing down and how as a motivated, driven achiever Type A, whatever you want to call it, it is often so hard for us to slow down, to stop, to take a break, to take a pause. As with any high-achieving athlete, they understand the importance of rest and make it an integral part of their training. We have to do the same.

I still struggle with this myself. It is something I have to constantly remind myself that on days when I’m feeling overwhelmed or I have so much work on my plate, I need to sit at my desk longer and do more. Ultimately if I step away for 10 or 15 minutes and lie on the couch with my feet up or go on a walk outside or do 20 jumping jacks, something to get the energy shifted and move and get away from my desk, it ultimately reinvigorates me and helps me feel better.

I know that at the depth of my burnout, I had so many recovery tools jam-packed on my schedule like therapy, massages, facials, chiropractor, doctor’s appointments, meditation, and all the things. You name it, I packed my schedule a bit, but at some point, I was like, “Am I relaxed yet?” I wasn’t because I was trying to do too much. At some point, we have to realize we’ve got to take something off the schedule. We’ve got to slow down, not forever, just in pockets here and there to give our bodies time to rest and recharge because we will never be able to perform at our absolute peak if we are constantly running ourselves into the ground.

It’s so funny, you were an overachieving recoverer.

I was. I was like, “If I’m going to be burnt out, I am going to be the best of recovering from burnout that you’ve ever seen.” I’m a work in progress.

Take Back Time | Erin Stafford | Peak Performance

The Type A Trap: Five Mindset Shifts to Beat Burnout and Transform Your Life

I think that’s actually a great way to end the show in that we have to give ourselves a break. We’re all work in progress. We can’t do it all. We can’t please everyone. We have to step back and realize, do what we can and make space, as you said, to slow down and take it easy. You’ll get it all done or you’ll get the important things done. That’s what happens. Thank you so much. Where can people get your book and read more about you?

You can find everything on my website ErinStafford.com. You can also find my book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and pretty much wherever you buy books. It’s called The Type A Trap: Five Mindset Shifts to Beat Burnout and Sustain Peak Performance.

Thank you so much for being here, Erin.

Thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it.

Thank you all for being here. Right after you get off this show, I want you to chill out. I want you to go get some water and drink some water. I want you to find a comfortable space and sit down. Don’t put your phone in front of you. Take a moment to pause. Maybe you could close your eyes and picture yourself here. I’m going to do it right now with you. I’m going to picture myself on the beach.

My favorite time at the beach is about 5:00 PM in the summer when everybody’s gone home so it’s thinned out. There’s a little breeze that might be coming on and you’re listening to the waves. It’s so relaxing to me to listen to the waves, to sit at the beach, to feel that salt air. Give yourself a couple of minutes to imagine that you’re somewhere cool and be there and be present. That’s it. You can go back to whatever it is that you have to do and you’ll go back with renewed passion and be reinvigorated when you take the time to pause. Go get Erin’s book also so that you can take a look at those five mindset shifts and we’ll see you in the next episode. See you there.

 

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About Erin Stafford

Take Back Time | Erin Stafford | Peak PerformanceErin has blazed a trail of action-oriented success fueled by trial and error, bold decisions and unwavering self-confidence. Her figure-it-out mentality has shaped her career journey from being a fledgling public relations intern to a high-powered marketing executive at a hyper-growth company.

Erin is a multi-faceted, marketing jack-of-all-trades. Her career has stretched from Paris and London to LA and San Diego. As an MTV advertising executive, she’s worked with the world’s biggest brands including Apple, Nike, Coke and American Express. As a celebrity stylist and fashion journalist, she’s dressed celebs for the Emmy’s, Grammy’s, Academy Awards and had her work featured in numerous international publications. As the head of marketing for the biggest healthcare staffing company in the country, Erin led marketing for the largest deployment of healthcare personnel in history while helping to grow the company by 27x in six years.

In short, Erin has surrounded herself with some of the most motivated, ambitious, famous overachievers in the world for her entire, diverse career – people at the highest levels of success, but who often think burnout is something that happens to weak people, lazy people, those people, not high achievers like them. Yet leaders in all sectors today are suffering from severe cases of burnout as they struggle to adjust to a post-pandemic world and the pressures it put on their personal and professional lives.

 

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