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27 successful Australian executives share their tactics to prevent burning out at work

Photo: iStock

There is less than two months until Christmas. Crazy.

At this time of year work deadlines begin to creep up. We get busy trying to finalise projects before offices shut down over the break and people take annual leave.

With the increased work load and festive social events ramping up, it can begin to feel a little overwhelming and can easily lead to your body and brain burning out.

So, to help you find balance this silly season and maintain your health, and mental wellbeing, we asked successful Australian executives what they do to prevent burning out.

Here’s what they had to say.

Emily Yue, co-founder of Expert 360

Emily Yue. Photo: Supplied.

“Doing something active before work helps me prepare for the day. I’m usually up before the sun at least three days a week. In the afternoons, I swap the chocolate fix for a walking break and tune into a good podcast like the Tim Ferriss Show or the Startup Chat with Steli and Hiten for a bit of extra inspiration.”

Patrick Garrett, CEO of Six Park

Patrick Garrett. Photo: Supplied.

“Surfing helps me get away from the work environment and clear my mind of the many distractions that arise with startups. Every day presents an array of fun challenges, difficult decisions, unexpected twists and turns, big wins, and some stress. These can clutter one’s mind, so it’s important to have activities to get away from the work environment, settle the mind, and look at decisions, opportunities and challenges with a fresh and clear perspective.

Sitting on a surfboard beyond the break as the sun is rising is an effective way to declutter my mind and approach work-related matters from a positive perspective.”

Ivan Lim, founder of Brosa

Ivan Lim. Photo: Supplied.

“Intentionally make space in your day (I usually mark out 1 hour at least) to do something that’s different or exposes you to some new form of knowledge. I do this by listening to podcasts about Roman history at the gym in the morning (I also really like listening to Serial – a podcast in the states that is kind of about investigative journalism, think How to Make a Murderer on a podcast).

I also spend a lot of time reading different things that are not tech-related (politics, food, history, op eds). I use Flipboard a lot for this. It’s a beautiful app that presents content from around the web in a beautiful magazine style format.

I also read lots of books that aren’t tech-related. Recent favourites of mine were Checklist Manifesto and The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

David Holmes, CEO of GoCatch

David Holmes. Photo: Supplied.

“For me, creativity comes from being busy and my work/life balance is about fitting everything in. Using technology to allow you to schedule in kids soccer training, a trip to the gym or finding time for yourself. For me, that’s a round of golf with mates, windsurfing, surfing and skiing.

Music is another great way to encourage the brain to think creatively. It’s not well-known but I’ve also been a singer and guitarist in rock bands since I was 12 years old.”

Dean Steingold, co-founder of Urge

Dean Steingold. Photo: Supplied.

“Growing up, my whole focus in life was sports, including wakeboarding and surfboarding. I think the discipline and skills I learned growing up as teenager that was heavily engaged in team sports has also helped me in my business career.

Being part of a sporting team helped me develop the social skills, confidence and life lessons that can be applied to professional life, as I grow Urge’s client base and meet with investors.

These days, I turn to sport as a means of escaping the fast-paced, high pressure environment of scaling a startup.”

Ben Thompson, CEO of Employment Hero

Ben Thompson. Photo: Supplied.

“My #1 activity for switching off is racing my laser dinghy at Manly Yacht Club on Sunday afternoons. Lasers are a small (13 foot), Olympic class, single-handed dinghy and are a lot of fun.

For a few short hours each week, I am basically alone, uncontactable and entirely focused on the elements. Lasers require total concentration to keep it the right way up and sail competitively. I find that after a few hours on the water, I have not had a second to think about work or anything other than being in the moment.

Sailing is the best way to get out of my head for a few hours and that’s why I love it.”

Luke Anear, CEO of SafetyCulture

Luke Anear. Photo: Supplied.

“My passion outside of the tech world is a mix of mountain biking and making films. I travel with my family often to developing countries and help my daughter make short films about the unique people and places we encounter (you can see some of those videos from my daughter’s blog here).

I also like making short films like this one which is based on the true life of a private investigator named Larry Snickers. In fact, I’m currently working on a film about the tech industry which I am going to pitch to Netflix!”

Trevor Townsend, managing director of Startupbootcamp Australia

Trevor Townsend. Photo: Supplied.

“For me, planning my next snowboarding trip is the thing that keeps me sane. My favourite deep powder location for the last few years has been Japan – heading to the Myoko region and hitting the local resorts just after a big dump.

Getting fit for these trip, driving up to Mt Buller on the weekends to improve my boarding and hanging out with my snow mates and doing all the detailed travel planning make it a year-long adventure. And once there … exhilarating!”

Ryan Berman, CEO of VidCorp

Ryan Berman. Photo: Supplied.

“The biggest concern from my mother, wife, staff and little cavoodle is the fact that I’m always working and my mind is always focused on and in the business, which understandably, may lead to burnout.

In addition to having a good sense of humour with VidCorp’s various stakeholders, I’ve discovered daily habitual routines have made me more resistant to severe burnout. I begin each and every day by getting my daughter up from her innocent slumber (which makes all the world’s problems seem non-existent), to various types of music as well as playing games like Candy Crush (guilty as charged) on the train to and from work. This is then followed by a 20 minute stroll with the cavoodle at night — rain, hail or shine.

I finish off with a warm ‘extended’ shower (we have a water tank and use water-saving shower heads) to alleviate stresses and mentally prepare myself for the following day. I have some alone time to think. I love what I do, so mum please don’t stress!”

Levi Aron, country manager at Deliveroo

Levi Aron. Photo: Supplied.

“Working at a fast paced on-demand startup like Deliveroo, battling 11 hour time differences, massive growth, a nationwide expansion, and the regular pains of making sure that I am spending enough time with the people that matter most, I often run out of time to do one of the most basic, but essential tasks of the day – eating lunch!

One of my daily strategies includes a ‘1pm switch off’. My phone is turned off (still remains close, but off), I don’t use my laptop, don’t take work meetings and I try to find the quietest corner in the office, or if not raining, a quick walk to the park. Once I’m there, I’ll sit uninterrupted for up to 30 minutes to enjoy an awesome meal and then reflect on all the positive things that have taken place so far today.

I’ll finish up with a nice big glass of Melbourne’s finest tap water, and then get back to work. Carpe diem!”

Tony Ward, MD APAC of SurveyMonkey

Tony Ward. Photo: Supplied.

“For me I find exercise keeps me balanced and also gives me energy. It forces your brain to take a bit of a break as you focus on the physical side of things.

If I don’t exercise I definitely have less energy which seems like an oxymoron.”

Jonathan Horne, co-founder of Hosting Australia

Jonathan Horne. Photo: Supplied.

“With the launch of my new business this year I am really conscious of burning out and finding ways to avoid that. As it turns out, my favourite way to avoid burnout has become building Lego with my son. Not only is it a chance for me to spend quality time with one of my favourite people in the world but it also lets me tap into my inner child and just forget about work for a short while.

“I am always blown away by my son’s imagination. There is nothing quite like helping him turn some plastic blocks into a spaceship or a fortress to help me wind down and recharge.”

John Winning, CEO of Appliances Online

John Winning. Photo: Supplied.

“When you’re passionate about your work it can be hard to separate business from your personal life. For me, it’s important to always have an interest in something completely independent to my work.

Whether it’s an ongoing hobby like sailing, or a short-term goal like climbing Mt Kilimanjaro or competing in Sydney to Hobart, I find that activities outside of work help me unwind. I also think it’s important to have one holiday a year where you completely shut off from work, even if it’s only for a few days.”

Kate Morris, CEO Adore Beauty

Kate Morris. Photo: Supplied.

“If I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed with brain overload, I go to the movies, by myself. It’s a forced switch-off from technology – no calls, no texts, no emails, no Slacks – and it forces my mind to focus on something else for a couple of hours.

“I always emerge feeling refreshed and more relaxed. (And as an added bonus my local cinema is licensed, so I can have a nice glass of wine too!)”

Martin Hosking, CEO Redbubble

Martin Hosking. Photo: Redbubble.

“Creating a company is among the most fulfilling but also overwhelming experiences. It is very easy to lose context – for the venture to seem to be all that is important.

For me, regaining context is the most important thing and there is nothing better for doing this than meditation retreats. I do at least one retreat a year, which is no phones, no distractions and just time with the universe and myself. This is time not so much to reflect as not to reflect. It is time to get beyond the thinking mind to a calmer state of being and regaining the context in which we all live.

The photo is me (standing) watching the dawn in central Australia with others who are also on the retreat. The simplicity of this ancient landscape, our place in it and our place with each other is revealed. To be lost in wonder is the real journey we are all on.”

Chris Strode, founder of Invoice2go

Chris Strode. Photo: Supplied.

“I’m a big believer that your brain needs downtime. If you’re not functioning at 100% it’s actually hurting your business. Just like when farmers have to let their fields sit out a season so the nutrients have a chance to fully replenish, you need to refresh your mind by getting out of the office and doing things you love.

I find being outdoors and in the elements really resets my mind. I take on a lot of extra curricular activities and exercise about four hours each week. When I can, it’s even better if I can take myself to areas with no WiFi so I’m not tempted to carry my work around in my pocket.”

Jess and Stef Dadon, founders of HowTwoLive

Jess (left) and Stef Dadon. Photo: Supplied.

“Music can have such an effect on your mood, so we really rely on it to help prevent from burning out. It can take a little while to get motivated on a Monday morning, so often we’ll play music loudly. We find this gives everyone something to look forward to, and can provide a much-needed boost to begin the week.

Then sometimes if we’re feeling a little on edge, finding a quiet spot in the office or outside, closing our eyes, and listening to classical music for ten minutes can offer a complete reset. It’s amazing how music can keep you sane!”

Andrew Paykel, founder of LayAway Travel

Andrew Paykel. Photo: Supplied.

“Delegate to empower your staff. The most effective and productive way to prevent burnout at work is empowerment.

Having good people around you at work goes without saying. It pushes you and drives you to engage and respond effectively and efficiently. However if you can empower your staff to take on more active responsibility this will serve as a dual benefit.

A higher level of engagement within your team (no matter what the size) will share the load and encourage a more inclusive and productive work environment. This also ensures you have more time to balance work and focus on what is important to you personally and professionally.”

David Fastuca, co-founder of Locomote

David Fastuca. Photo: Supplied.

“I find that exercising every morning before work helps me to start the day fresh, energised and alert. No matter how busy or stressed I am, making time first thing in the morning to go to the gym is crucial as it helps me to release tension and gain perspective on whatever is happening in the business that week.

Getting into an exercise routine has also made it easier to form other habits that are positive for the mind and body. For example, going to the gym before sunrise has gotten me into the habit of getting to the office before everyone else. This helps me to tackle the hardest tasks first — before any meetings or calls. By the time everybody gets in, I’ve powered through a good amount of work and have also had time to unwind through exercising. It’s a win-win.”

David Hickey, ANZ director at Meltwater

David Hickey. Photo: Supplied.

“There are three key components to prevent yourself from burning out. Firstly, it’s important to stimulate your mind away from the office. You need to invest time into a project that you are passionate about outside of work that you can focus on. Secondly, don’t work weekends where possible – friends and family are some of the best riches you have, so spend this time wisely.

Finally, trust your management team. There is no point doing your direct reports’ job. Promote people wisely, build strong relationships with them and empower them to prosper without your constant supervision.”

Robin McGowan, co-founder of InStitchu

Robin McGowan. Photo: Supplied.

“Today technology is such a big part of our lives that the line can blur further between work and personal time. A lot of my time at work is spent online and it has become increasingly important for me to ‘switch off’ during my down time.

For a few hours a week I force myself to put away my iPhone or tablet, which is extremely therapeutic. This allows me to disconnect from my work and the rest of the world, fully appreciating the company of my friends or a good book.

Another good trick to stop myself from working non stop is to put on a good podcast while traveling to or from work instead of endlessly flicking through emails or reading the news.”

Jordan O’Reilly, CEO of Hire Up

Jordan O’Reilly. Photo: Supplied.

“I heard an entrepreneur once describe himself as a firefighter. He described how his work was about being faced with problems and working hard and fast to fix them. This resonated with me.

I feel like I have to be permanently switched on and attuned to what’s going on around me. This constant state of awareness is tiring so to combat burn out, once a quarter I get away. I go hard and every three months I take a week to do something totally different. It’s the best use of four weeks’ annual leave. Skiing, hiking, adventures in new countries or surfing holidays with mates. Just so long as it’s a world away from the office.

“I come back recharged, energised and with a fresh perspective. Short breaks are easier to take and is something to look forward to when it’s tough. This time it’s Cuba and I can’t wait.”

Taryn Williams, CEO of The Right Fit and WINK Models

Taryn Williams. Photo: Supplied.

“My strategy to avoid burning out is to constantly be trying new things that stimulate my mind in a different way, or challenge me to use new skills and a different part of my brain.
This year I’ve tried arial yoga, skydiving, mermaid swimming, gin making classes, cooking classes, trampolining, and my favourite… Virtual Reality! It’s a great way to break out of the day to day of your job, and keep yourself learning.

“It also means I’m meeting new people, challenging myself, and breaking out of the grind.”

Ben Wong, CEO of AcademyXI

Ben Wong. Photo: Supplied.

“When you’re working 12-17 hour days 6-7 days a week, it’s pretty important to ensure that you look after your mind and body as well. The one thing that helps me relax and unwind is painting.

“Recently, I’ve taken my love of painting into the world of virtual reality and started using Google’s Virtual Reality Tilt brush. It’s an amazing experience, it’s much cleaner and for me it is really therapeutic. I put on some of my favourite tunes and get painting in 3D with the Vive. No set up, no mess and an endless amount of supplies, I love it!”

Nick Bell, founder of WME

Nick Bell. Photo: Supplied.

“As a new dad, my life is busier than ever right now. With several international businesses on the go I work some crazy hours so finding the right avenues to channel my energy is really important.

I’ve always been pretty active, but recently I decided to add yoga into my routine twice a week. It’s a completely different ball game. I initially got into yoga to help loosen my stiff joints and improve my flexibility, but I’ve found that it’s so much more than that.

Being so fresh to yoga means that I find the poses quite challenging at times, which I thrive on; it’s just as much a mental game as a physical one. Not only that, but yoga also helps me to compartmentalise my thoughts – when you run several businesses at once, your brain can start to go into overdrive. Yoga helps to reel everything back in.”

Alex Louey, co-founder of Appscore

Alex Louey. Photo: Supplied.

“I always loved building things as a kid. I often found myself pulling toys apart just so I could work out how to put them back together. Now, as an adult, this love of pulling apart and fixing things has become my release to avoid burning out.

I especially love tinkering with cars. It’s a great way to unwind and channel other areas of my brain. Nothing ever comes together like the instructions and you often need to find ways to fit a square peg in a round hole.

Working on cars is one big problem-solving exercise and it’s a great thrill when it all comes together. Running a global business means I don’t switch off that easily, so playing around with cars is a great way to distract myself and revert back to those things that excited me when I was a kid.”

Michael Jankie, CEO of PoweredLocal

Michael Jankie. Photo: Supplied.

“I’m a street-art collector and have been for 10 years, buying from people I like. I generally meet the artist and talk to them, as I want to remain connected to something that’s offline.

“Nonetheless, we inevitably start to talk about social media (the space I work in, alongside marketing). Recently, I was buying a piece from an artist in Brooklyn and before he told me the price, he asked to see my social media reach. The agreement was, if I was going to post pictures of what I’d bought to Instagram and my following was high enough, he would give me a discount.

So, even though it’s my escape from the business, it’s interesting to draw the connections between my hobbies and my work.”

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