The road to burnout is paved with good intentions. You want to perform at the highest level and you care very deeply about your work. But slowly, over time, the chronic stress and pressures lead you to feel utterly depleted and ineffective.
Burnout often happens as a result of simple prolonged overload of work, but not always. Other common factors include:
- feeling like you have no control over your work
- lack of clarity about your responsibilities
- feeling isolated or unsupported
- not enough feedback, rewards or recognition
There are no quick fixes, but you can take real actionable steps to make it better, or – if you can imagine this – even eliminate burnout.
Burnout: Foster Good Habits and Break Bad Habits
Kind of goes into the “Duh” category doesn’t it?
But those who are living the burnout dream and most need to change their habits, rarely realize it.
You know the type (it might even be you!). They eke out every minute of productive work time, skip exercising, eat junk food while working, and work nights and weekends to crush that deadline. And it works. Once.
But those productivity short cuts are deceptive. Over time, they erode the body and mind of the capacity to cope with stress effectively and cloud your ability to see what’s happening to you.
To break the vicious cycle:
- Prioritize physical exercise. It seems tiring in the moment but it’s actually rejuvenating for those with burnout.
- Shift your approach to stress. You can never eliminate stress, but you can pause for deep breathing or just recognize the anxiety you are feeling. Here’s a list of 30 second stress relievers from Inc magazine!
- Take breaks and vacations. When you step away you create not just physical distance, but mental space. And when you do step away, leave your phone and email behind to do a digital detox.
Burnout: Make Smart Time Trade-offs
Many women feel that there is never enough time to get on top of things and that it’s impossible to keep up. Ultimately this sense of time scarcity can feel overwhelming and contribute to burnout.
Efficient time management can help (see my review of the book Getting Things Done) along with controlling your calendar (see an Entrepreneur article on this). So can adopting a ruthless focus on what makes the most difference. I subscribe to the thee Most Important Tasks (MIT) theory. Every morning I take a couple minutes to identify the 1-3 things for that day that will have the most impact. I actually do this once I get home in the evenings, too, and on weekend days. That is my focus, so that high-impact things don’t get swallowed by all the “noise”.
Burnout: How Are Things with your Manager?
The relationship you have with your manager can have a HUGE impact on your energy, enthusiasm and confidence. The list of sins includes micromanagement, no feedback, poor communication, unrealistic expectations, etc.
Good news, though, is that relationships usually can be improved.
The bad news is that it usually takes a difficult conversation.
To prep for this conversation, think about the role you’ve played in letting it get to this point. For example, are you the go-to person for short deadline projects because you’ve proven that you always deliver. Are the powers-that-be aware of the sacrifices you make in order to hit those deadlines?
Never assume your manager knows things about you, until you tell him or her outright.
Then, the conversation can be structured in a calm, direct way. Yes, I know most women prefer to be indirect, but this is not the time for that!
Burnout: Connect with a Peer
When you are stretched thin, taking some time to talk with a peer can help you uncover useful information that may help you feel more connected and supported at work.
There might be common challenges that you can learn how to deal with differently. This broadens your thinking AND lightens the burden by sharing it, too. Or you might learn more about the organization as a whole and THAT helps you do your job better.
A word of warning here: If your burnout manifests itself as cynicism (and it often does!) be careful that your conversations don’t devolve into gripe sessions.
Burnout: Reconnect with What Motivates You
As I said in last week’s post, lives are built on solid foundations.
Think back. What excited you about your job in the first place? Often, amid the rush of daily demands to keep cranking out a product or service, it is easy to lose sight of why you are doing what you are doing.
Find ways to regain a sense of meaning in your work. Usually this requires you to get to your end user. That may not be your customer. In my day job, my customers are the leaders in the workplace. My ultimate end user, though, is the soldier in the field who receive the technologies my clients work on.
If I ever need a shot of motivation, I need only talk to a soldier who’s life was saved by some bit of tech that my org provided. It’s incredibly motivating! Even when my day to day is dealing with people who can’t get along!
Ok. So what if you’re motivated by advancement yet promotions are hard to come by? No problem. Look at what you are doing as a way to advance and showcase your skills so that next promotion opportunity finds you more prepared. It’s like eating your vegetables. Do the job now because it’s good for you in the long term!
I’ve only suffered burnout once in my career and that was due to having a 5 & 3 year-old at home and traveling too much for work. I won’t lie, I left that position and took one with less responsibility. And it took me a while to recover mentally and physically. But a couple years later I was ready to step up to the plate again at work, and took a new position that ultimately resulted in my promotion into leadership a couple years after that.
If I can do this, you can do this!
Leaving you with this from the lighter side: “Hello? Coroner? I’d like to order an autopsy to find out what killed my ambition, enthusiasm and hope for a brighter tomorrow.”