Looking out for number 1


This weeks Squeeze podcast considers what it might mean to look after number 1, a little bit of self care.  It’s an odd topic for me, even as I start writing now, I feel a strange discomfort with it.  I think it must have something to do with a foundational belief I hold too, that ‘selfishness is undesirable compared to selflessness’.  I have always liked the principle that self serving managers, are nothing compared to organisational (or team) serving ones.  

I’m not quite ready to give up on that view just yet either, but I do accept a burnt-out manager is pretty well no good to anybody.  Which all does suggest, that looking out for ourselves must have some significant value.  

There are times for all of us when we need to burn the candle at both ends.  Those exceptional times that require an extra push, extra hours, extra effort.  The problem comes when that’s not the exception but the rule.  Whoever we are, we are not machines and constant battering by the stresses of life are bound to have a negative impact.  Rather like the car that goes from year to year without a service, the person who fails to look after themselves will at some point find the wheels will fall off!  

The key is to be sufficiently attuned to ourselves so as to recognise when we are stretching the limits of mental and physical endurance.  We wouldn’t ignore the cars temperature gauge if it was in the over heating red zone, nor should we ignore our own signals that suggest things are getting too much for us.  Listening to our own bodies can be a useful trigger for making some necessary changes.  

There are of course dozens of avenues we could travel down within this topic area, what I eat, how much exercise I take, whether I have de-stress activities to turn too.  But for the purposes of this blog, I want to focus for a few minutes on the introduction of some helpful boundaries that can act to restore the equilibrium to a busy busy life.  

Boundary setting is a super simple but effective thing to put in place.  It requires us to determine the boundary and then see it through.  Let’s take an obvious example ‘choosing not to work when taking annual leave’.  I’m frequently surprised by the number of people I meet that tell me it’s normal practice for them to keep on top of emails while away on family vacation.  There is always a cost to these types of things.  Maybe it’s a cost to the family, or alternatively a cost to our careers?  Whichever it is, there are choices that you can make.  It’s very easy for us to buy into our own legends, ‘I have to answer these emails, because I’m such a legend no one else could do it’ etc.  The reality seldom matches the legend!  If you were laid up in a hospital bed, the world would still keep turning for two weeks – whoever you are, however big your particular legend.  

So setting some simple boundaries with my team before I go on holiday would demonstrate quickly to me that I could make the choice to give family 100% of my vacation.  

Useful boundaries can be found in almost every walk of life.  What time you are willing to arrive and leave the workplace, when you will start and stop looking at work emails, how far you are willing to travel in a day before stopping over in a hotel, etc.  

Determining and putting in place some simple boundaries is just good common sense in the area of self care.  May I dare to suggest, the person who foregoes setting any boundaries like these is in fact just a total victim to their circumstances.  There should be limits in life.  A good employee will know when enough is enough and draw out the lines in clear and constant terms.  It’s probably the simplest thing you could do that would give you an immediate return in the self care stakes.  

Don’t run your personal motor into the ground and be assigned to the scrap heap way too early!  Work at a little bit of ‘looking after number 1’ and establish some appropriate boundaries for a much healthier and sustainable approach to managing your work.  

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain