‘Me time’ is NOT a waste of time… — Lionesses of Africa

by Lionesses of Africa Operations Department

You notice a lot of small things when sitting having an early morning coffee, watching the world go by…” and as so often is the case as we open our emails at the start of yet another busy day, we are greeted by Melanie beginning her essential guides to business, life and the Universe in her Good Morning Lioness daily blog, with a serious hint.

When was the last time you stopped, took a moment for yourself and simply observed?

As Melanie wrote here:

Burn-out, it’s a feeling all too many women entrepreneurs are experiencing right now.  Let’s be honest, we have probably all been there at some point on this crazy entrepreneurial journey – working too many long hours, giving up our weekends for months at a time, sacrificing valuable family time because the business demands everything from us…

It’s also external worries that drag us down. In a report entitled: ‘Anxious Britain: How worried are we in 2022?’ by Isabel Taylor, Kate Belcher, Josefien Breedvelt, Bea Taylor for NatCen Social Research (here):

…one in five women reported being extremely worried about most of the areas they were asked about, compared to only one in 10 men.

These issues include being worried about our parents:

…half of women but only one third of men said that they were extremely worried about their parents…” and no surprise, being  extremely worried about our children in the same ratio – does this ever stop?!

The UK Government in their study during the main Covid period (Mar 2020 – Jan 2021) found that “Women reported higher anxiety, depression and loneliness than men” (here) and given the NatCen results, we are sadly doubtful that women bounced back in 2022.

…and so it goes on: “…women were also more likely than men to be extremely worried about their work-life balance and about their level of education, training and qualifications.

…and there it is – that elusive work-life balance.

As Melanie so rightly says: “At times like these, chronic fatigue, anxiety, and depression can make an appearance in our lives, ultimately leading to burn-out.

There is absolutely no doubt that many businesswomen feel this struggle between their business pressures and also the pressures at home: “…working too many long hours, giving up our weekends for months at a time, sacrificing valuable family time because the business demands everything from us.” (Melanie again!)

As the study from NatCen also found: “People’s work-life balance became a particularly pertinent issue during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for women who take on the majority of caring responsibilities inside the home.” Note this is in the UK, in many countries across Africa women take on far greater responsibilities within the home.

What can be done – do we just power through?

As a founder, it’s important to remember that your health and wellbeing are also critical to the success of the business, and avoiding burnout is vital…it can be all too easy to work very long hours and not take proper breaks. You might think you are working more efficiently and getting more done, but the fact is that both your body and your brain need regular breaks.” Melanie here.

Given the emphasis Melanie gives to this, there is absolutely no doubt it is an important subject – but just how do we control these thousand thoughts that race round our heads each minute and the thousand jobs we simply have to do each day (to say nothing of the constant barrage of emails!)? To take regular breaks is easy to say, but seriously – where would we find the time?!

There are so many issues rushing towards us that we have to deal with, not least of course as we have warned since March, daily we see the global economy heading downhill fast – tougher times are upon us and growing. We are all seeing inflation taking hold in our weekly shop and our currencies weakening as investor both rush to the US$ and also become ever more concerned about the possibilities of bond defaults our countries. Sadly this is a larger issue than many recognize as those countries that borrowed in US$ over the past 10 years now have a far greater bill to pay back, as the FT say (here): “Sovereign bond yields for foreign-currency denominated debt are sitting at more than 10 per cent in about a third of emerging economies.” So African Governments who borrowed assuming very low interest rates in US$ would continue for decades, now not only have to find more to repay the whole amount, but the interest rates in US$ terms are now moving above 10%. Ouch!

Indeed in 2015 the IMF judged that eight countries in sub-Saharan Africa were in debt distress or at high risk of it. Zambia defaulted in 2020 but by March 2022 the IMF’s list had grown to 23 countries who were at severe risk of default.  According to Bloomberg and visualised brilliantly by Visual Capitalist (here), of those across the world most likely to default, Ghana comes in at number 2; then Egypt (5); Kenya (6); Namibia (10); Angola (12); Rwanda (14) and South Africa 15th…a total of 12 African countries in the top 24. If your country has oil or gas then life will be better as these are priced in US$, but if not, expect the worst including severe restrictions on the amount of foreign currency you can purchase from your bank (Nigeria we heard recently is capped at $30k).

With all this uncertainty, with our currencies heading lower (so invoices in US$ will just get larger each day), there is a large chance of serious burn out as you look left/right, up/down and all you see are fires to extinguish. You owe it to yourself, to your company, to your employees and to your family to avoid this.

There are times ahead that will require your complete concentration to survive, but also to thrive. As Enno de Boer, a Partner at McKinsey says in this video on themes discussed at Davos (here, time 0.20), you have to think of recessions (and as we keep on saying, there is no guarantee that your country will have a recession of course, but times will be very different, difficult and on occasions very tough), as a time when the fit and strong pull apart and away from the rest. He asks us to think of a major cycle race where the Peloton (a group of cyclists in a race) is all bunched up on the flat plain areas, and then the uphill begins where the fit and stronger cyclists start to pull away. Then while the rest are still struggling on the uphill, the fitter reach the top and start to freewheel the downhill, picking up speed and distance from the rest. Then down onto the flat valleys again and they are way ahead. This in business is when you will pull away from the completion, but only if you are fit enough and strong enough…

Find the time for a quiet period, find an area where you cannot be disturbed, mark out your calendar and turn off your phone. Breath deeply and let the air out of your lungs slowly (it works). We are not saying that all your problems or issues will disappear like magic, but just a few moments each day and you will begin to see more clearly. You will start to recognize which problems you can control and those which are uncontrollable (see our article on ‘Controlling the controllables’ here).

Indeed these moments of peace will make you begin to recognize as Jack Ma said in the ‘Looking for Africa’s Business Heroes – Documentary of the 2019 Africa’s Business Heroes Competition’ (here – time 14.32) in answer to a question on how he avoids burn out from our very own Christelle (here), – that

“You have to know how to prioritize,

otherwise it is impossible to survive.”

Being able to prioritize and that includes the essential ‘me time’ is not easy. Everyone wants a piece of you, yet controlling your own mind is the first step on this journey to controlling far more. This is seen clearly when one starts meditation. The hardest part is calming the constant noise racing within your own head. This is why so many meditation techniques have mantras that allow you to be taken to that almost somnolent state that quietens the noise within and allows you to breathe undisturbed and indeed, see more clearly through the fog. 

No one will thank you if you collapse, please take a few moments each day for yourself.

At night?

Sleep that soothes away all our worries. Sleep that puts each day to rest. Sleep that relieves the weary laborer and heals hurt minds. Sleep, the main course in life’s feast, and the most nourishing.” True in 1606 when William Shakespeare wrote those words in his play Macbeth, as it is now. Time for your ‘significant other’ as the term goes, to step up. On their way to the gym? Your neck and shoulders are a good place for them to start their evening workout routine! Hold back on the alcohol and late night espressos. Eat early in the evening. If your phone has a ‘Do Not Disturb’, use it – just remember to tell the kids and parents they need to call twice for it to cut in and ring, otherwise you will wake in the dead of night worrying! As the Dalai Lama says, sleep is the best meditation, can’t really see us disagreeing with him!

With the heavy winds coming down the mountains towards us, we have to be ready and that especially includes our mental state.

That is certainly not a waste of time.

Stay safe.

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