You can't pour from an empty cup

April 13, 2020 11:00

I’m a small market news director. News directors, myself included, tend to feel like we have the weight of the world on our shoulders. Especially now in the world we’re living in, when there is such uncertainty for everyone, ourselves included. I’m a person of action. I don’t wait to be told what to do, I make it happen. It’s something that I’ve always prided myself on. It’s also something that looking back, has probably gotten in my way more times than I’m willing to admit.
The first week of March I attended the Kneeland New Media Leadership Forum in Austin. The fellowship brings news managers together, with the hopes of giving them tools they need to be better, smarter newsroom leaders. It’s also an opportunity to connect with other managers who face similar challenges, like finding work/life balance. Days after the fellowship started, we really started to see the impacts of coronavirus here in the United States.

I remember coming back from Kneeland so refreshed. I was ready to really find that work/life balance and then the pandemic happened. We started to hear of more and more cases of the virus in the United States. Major events were being canceled nationwide in hopes of stopping the spread of the virus. Just like so many other news managers, I hit the ground running on our coverage plan, coming up with a remote working plan, making sure my team was as prepared as possible for the days ahead. On top of that, I was in the final month of my master’s program, with two major projects due within days of each other.
For some, this all might have felt overwhelming. For me, it was my norm. Just getting it done. Pushing through and surviving to see another day. I thought I was doing a good job. I was really happy with our coronavirus coverage. My team seemed to be smoothly transitioning to working remotely.
Then it happened. My cup ran out.
The early mornings and late nights started to catch up with me. I was downright exhausted.
Amid looking out for everyone and making sure the plan was perfect, I failed to look out for me. It’s something that so many of us are just not very good at, but we have to do better. If we don’t take care of ourselves now, we’re going to be no good for anyone else later.
So, I took some days off for a couple of reasons—the most important one was to rest. Then I realized I have no idea what that even feels like. To just sit still for a moment, to not be attached to my cell phone. While I’m still figuring out how to refill my cup, here are some things I’ve found to be helpful now and when I return to my team.
If you’re going to take time off, be off: I know, it’s hard. You’re thinking of all the things you should be doing. How your team will not make it without you chiming in on that email thread. But they will. You have to trust the people you hired to do exactly what you hired them for. It’s not by accident that you’ve put them in those positions.
Delegate: While I know you think you’re the only one who can do it right, you’re wrong. Stop taking on those tasks your managers are more than capable of handling. Every project is not your project. Give it to your team, step back and let them feel empowered to take it on.  Even if you don’t have a team of managers, chances are you have a producer or anchor who is ready to step up and take on a new challenge. Let them.
Take a breather: Right now, getting any time to yourself might feel impossible. Especially as things are constantly changing during this pandemic. You can’t sit in that chair all day. Take a few deep breaths when things feel overwhelming… It really works, trust me. Get some air. Go walk a lap around the parking lot. Take your cell phone with you. If people need to reach you, they’ll find you, believe me.  
Give yourself a hard wrap: Whether you’re in the building or not, that breaking news is still going to happen. You’re not going to get a medal for working the most hours in a day. There will be times when you have to pull 12 to 14-hour days, but those shouldn’t be all of your days.  So, come up with a hard-out time and head for the door. Your family will thank you.
Don’t be too hard on yourself: It’s so easy to beat ourselves up over the things on the to do list that we didn’t get to. Or the story that we didn’t beat the competition to. The list goes on and on. While we’d all love to, you’re not going to win all the days, but there will definitely be some victories along the way. Learning to celebrate them is something my General Manager Matt Brown encourages us to do. When you can start appreciating all that you have done, that mountain of things you still need to tackle starts to feel a lot less scary.
A lot of these approaches are things I learned at Kneeland, so I can’t take credit for them all. What I can do is encourage you to use these tips or find your own ways to get that work/life balance. Our jobs are too important to let yourself get so burned out you have to walk away for good. I now know you really cannot pour from an empty cup and taking time to refill yours from time to time is necessary. You owe it to yourself, your team and the communities you serve.