17 Feb Avoiding Burnout
It’s an idea you’ve had hammered into your head since you were a wee toddler; hard work pays off. Getting what you want out of life requires blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice. It’s universally acknowledged that working hard at your job is a “good thing.” It showcases your drive, assures your dedication and inspires others to achieve your level of output and productivity. But like so many other “good things” in this big blue world, too much of it can be bad. In the case of working too hard, it can lead to the killer of productivity and the scourge of the working world: burnout.
What Burnout Means:
For all you dictionary buffs out there, the Merriam-Webster definition of burnout is, “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.” Much like how your body gets sore if you work out at the gym too hard, your brain will get sore from working too hard at your job. It goes beyond working late nights or seven-day work-weeks, too. The tension caused by things like deadlines, expectations and speed-bumps will wear on you if left unchecked.
What Burnout DOESN’T Mean:
Oftentimes, there’s an unfair stigma put on those who are suffering from burnout. The outdated logical leap people make is that if “hard work = success,” then “burnout = failure.” Well, we’re here to squash that archaic way of thinking once and for all.
Burnout doesn’t mean you’re unhappy with your job. More often than not, quite the opposite. People who love their career and love the work they’re doing likely want to give 110% to doing the best job possible. They’re so passionate and focused on success, they don’t stop to think about the simple math of it all. The fact that even the most perfect person in the world couldn’t give beyond 100% should be a pretty big giveaway that aiming for 110% is an impossible goal, and a one-way ticket to Burnoutsville.
Now, that’s not to say you’re NOT unhappy with your job. Stress can definitely compound on itself when you’re working too hard at a company/career you don’t find satisfying. This can feel an awful lot like burnout, when actually you might just hate your job. If you feel that might be the case, put this blog off to the side for a minute, take a step back and consider the reasons WHY you’re feeling this way at work. Is it that you’re overworked? Is it that you feel your boss doesn’t respect you and/or you don’t believe in the mission of the job? Also, take some time to think about what you’re truly passionate about and where you want to be in life. If none of that seems to apply to you, you can pick the blog up where you left off.
Burnout doesn’t mean you’re unhappy with your friends and family. This is an odd misconception that is outdated as it is absurd. If anything, you could be pushing yourself too hard BECAUSE you care about your family so much, you want to take care of them.
Again, as above, if you do feel like maybe it’s a family issue you’re taking to work and not the other way around, well, that’s a different blog for a different website. Really just take the time to consider where these feelings are coming from and move forward from there.
Burnout doesn’t mean you’re lazy. You wouldn’t call a marathon runner whose legs turn to jelly in the final stretch of the 5k lazy, would you? Burnout works the same way. You’re just pushing yourself too hard and you’ve reached your body’s personal threshold. It’s a pacing issue, not a lethargy issue. If athletes can get the yips from pushing themselves too hard, you can definitely get burnout, neither of which has anything to do with laziness.
Burnout doesn’t mean you have to quit your job. Don’t drop off that resignation letter just yet. Being burned out isn’t a red flag, signaling you to wave your white flag. An important tip, which we’ll get into more later, is to consider being transparent to your employer about what you’re experiencing. Any company/boss worth working for should understand and be willing to help. Not to mention they’ve probably seen burnout in the past and/or suffered it themselves.
How to Put Out the Burnout
We’ve talked about what burnout is, why we get it and why it doesn’t devalue you as a person or employee. Now, let’s try to get rid of it. Here are some steps you can try to help extinguish your burnout, instead of fanning the flames.
1) Address the Stress
From someone suffering a harmful addiction to the road-trip dad who refuses to ask for directions, the first step is admitting you have a problem. Same goes for burnout. Don’t dismiss it as “nothing.” Don’t assume it’ll go away on its own. Don’t make excuses or pin the blame on something else. These things will only make it worse in the long run. It’s important to acknowledge that something is wrong and the course needs to be corrected. The act of coming to terms with your burnout alone should lift some weight off your shoulders.
Admitting your own burnout is a great step, but it’s only half the battle. You also need to admit it to those who the burnout directly affects. This is typically both your family and your work. Because of the aforementioned stigmas associated with burnout, there’s a tendency for the one suffering to feel embarrassed to tell anyone. But again, there’s no reason to feel shame over burnout. It’s just a problem that needs solving.
There are also two very important reasons why letting others know what you’re going through is the way to go. First, the support you’ll receive from your family, friends and employer by being transparent with them can only help the healing process. Second, the people around you don’t have a window into your brain. If you withhold talking to them about your burnout, they could misconstrue the situation and potentially see it as an intentional dip in performance, or even take the behavior personally.
2) Fun is Fundamental
We all know the common expression, “All work and no play makes Jack burned out from the stress of his job, which is now negatively affecting his home life,” right? Well, it’s true. Working hard and feeling rewarded from said work is great and all, but fun is…fun.
Let yourself lighten that existential weight with activities that bring you joy. Blow the dust off an old hobby you enjoy, or try a new one. Is there a project you put on the backburner you always wanted to finish? Allow yourself to come back to it. You may find yourself getting pumped over it, which is always sure to recharge the batteries. It doesn’t even have to be something “productive.”
There’s also this tendency for highly-motivated people to feel they need everything they do to have something tangible and pertinent to show for it. Don’t be afraid to immerse yourself into something frivolous and 100% just for fun. Get caught up in a Netflix show. Learn to yo-yo. Maybe even get really into Candy Crush. Whatever tickles your fancy, productive or not, just go for it.
3) Find Your Fun
For some people going through burnout, they have a fun project/activity locked and loaded that they can sink their teeth into, but for others, it could be harder to find the things that spark joy in them. The problem is, by the time burnout hits, the sheer stress and dread of working so much can make the days blur together, causing the memories of those small moments of joy to get smothered by the big bad burnout. That’s when it’s time to put on your explorer’s hat and explore your calendar on a quest for The Treasure of the Forgotten Fun.
Start by taking your calendar or organizer, look back at your schedule, day by day, and note the activities you did that you remember enjoying. Was it fishing with your kids? Was it seeing a play with your friends? Whatever it was, do more of it. Turn theatre night into a weekly occurrence. Plan a fishing trip at a remote cabin. If you nurture these activities into a habit, they can grow into something that energizes you throughout your work week and gives you something to look forward to.
But you’ve got to keep them separated. Protect your moments of fun with boundaries that won’t let your work interfere. Condition yourself to not check your email or address any work-related issues during your fun time. Don’t worry, the fires will still be there to put out when you’re done.
4) Stage a Hostile Makeover
Day-in, day-out, you go to the same office, sit at the same desk, look out the same window and wonder why nothing’s changing. Maybe it’s time to mix things up. Give the spaces you frequent an update to break the monotony and freshen your perspective. Clean up the clutter. Rearrange the furniture. Get softer, less abrasive lighting. Anything you can do to make the place you work feel like new.
But it doesn’t stop at your surroundings. Spruce up all the things you engage with during the day. Do you have unfinished items on your to-do list that you know are not going to get done? Cross them off. Being constantly reminded of the things we need to do but can’t at the moment can make your schedule feel more overwhelming and give you unnecessary guilt. Are there meetings you feel obligated to attend even though you’re not really needed there? Try not going. It will give you more time for yo-yo practice.
5) Hit the Brakes With a Break
It seems like such a no-brainer, but one people forget or disregard all the time: get away. Take a three-day weekend. Plan a vacation. Give yourself an opportunity to step away from the overwhelming workload and take a moment to soak up life. It can be difficult for you to justify leaving work to do something fun, especially when you’re already feeling bogged down with commitments and responsibilities. But considering the alternative – a burned-out team member whose quality of work has slipped due to psychological burdens brought on by job stress – we think taking some time away is a greater good.
6) Tiny Victories, Big Satisfaction
When given a big project or an objective, it’s really easy to stare at the end goal and become intimidated, like looking up at the top of Everest. “How could I even possibly get all the way up there?” Now, big goals are great. They serve as a winner’s circle for you to visualize and aspire to achieve. But setting tinier goals along the way will help the whole thing feel less daunting by partitioning the giant impossible project into bite-size, easy-to-manage steps. And don’t forget to pat yourself on the back along the way. Giving yourself permission to congratulate the little accomplishments will be a serotonin boost and help top-off your motivational gas tank. They will also give you a chance to look back and celebrate your gains up to that point. Instead of gazing up at the top of the mountain, saying, “look how far I have to go,” turn your head around and say, “look how far I’ve come”
Kick Burnout Out:
“Burnout” is not a four-letter word. Even the most seasoned titan of industry can slip and let burnout creep its way in, and that’s okay. If you ever find yourself feeling bogged down by your career to the point that life has lost its luster, be mindful of that feeling. Know that it’s going to be okay, allow yourself the grace and time you need to recover, and rewind your brain back to when life was fun and work was worthwhile.