Burnout. Even the word sounds exhausting. If you’re feeling burnt out at work, don’t feel bad. It happens to the best of us. Let’s talk about what burnout really is and how you can recognize it and take simple steps to take care of yourself and get back on your feet again.
Take Your PTO
Americans are notorious throughout the world for not using our vacation time. Somehow, never taking time off has become a badge of honor and a demonstration of commitment to an employer. That has to stop! Not taking your earned time off has a slew of scientifically-proven health effects. It also erodes your relationships with those you care about and it actually reduces your performance at work. Did you know that being creative and innovative requires novelty? If you never break your routine, your brain can’t make new connections and your creativity is stifled. So if you want to jump off the fast track to burnout, take your time off.
One of the major drawbacks of our hyper-connected society is that work is no longer left at the office when you leave for the day. It has long since become expected to be constantly available, whether it’s after hours or on your day off, or during your vacation. The pandemic only served to further blur the lines between work and home, leaving many people suffering from burnout and feeling overwhelmed. Technology doesn’t move backward, so the only solution is to establish and maintain clear boundaries.
It can be difficult to establish boundaries, especially when you’re concerned that you’ll be seen as less committed to your job. In fact, the opposite is true. Maintaining boundaries improves your health and productivity, making your employer a winner as well. Don’t know where to start? Here are a few tips:
- Clearly define your working hours and let your boss and team know that you won’t be available or checking email outside of those hours. Tell them you are available by phone for true emergencies only.
- Silence your email/text notifications on your days off and don’t check your email.
- Don’t bring your laptop on vacation! The point of vacation is to disconnect. If it’s an emergency, they’ll call you.
Once you’ve trained your boss, your team, and yourself, you’ll be able to be fully present wherever you are, which will, in turn, improve your personal relationships, your mental and physical health, and the quality of your work.
Ask For Help
This is one of those things that is so simple, but not so easy. Asking for help is very difficult for a lot of people (myself included). The reasons vary; some don’t want to feel like a burden, others don’t want to admit they can’t do it all, and others fear the consequences. Ironically, being able to ask for help is one of the hallmarks of a great leader. It’s also a key ingredient to curing burnout.
Start with the areas in your life where you feel the most overwhelmed or burnt out. If the problem is at work, sit with your boss and explain your situation. Ask for their help in identifying what is most important and what can potentially be put on the back burner for a while. If everything is urgent (which everyone feels like but is rarely the case), ask for temporary help from a colleague or contractor.
If your burnout is a result of an imbalance between work and home, ask for help with enforcing the boundaries you’ve made and enlist others to share the burden. Children can (and should) help with household chores, spouses can take on dinner prep half of the time, and if you work at home simply making a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign for your home office can help minimize the clash between your roles in the home and on the job.
Just because you can do it all doesn’t mean you should. Women are especially guilty of stretching themselves far too thin as they try to be great mothers, good housekeepers, attentive wives, and rockstar employees. It’s possible to be great at all of those things without doing everything yourself! Take an inventory of your life and make a list of the things you can get someone else to do.
Hire a cleaning service, get a personal assistant for 10 hours a week to run all your errands, or sign up for a meal kit subscription. You’d be amazed at how affordable it can be to take a few things off your plate, and it pays dividends in your ability to be present and actually enjoy your life.
Prioritize Your Health
You’re never going to overcome burnout if you’re not taking care of yourself. This includes both your mental and physical health.
You already know what to do to take care of your physical health. Drink water, eat nutritious foods, exercise, and get some sleep! You don’t have to run a marathon or grow your own organic vegetables, but simple changes like walking every day and going to bed a half-hour earlier can really make a big difference.
Mental health is, thankfully, much less taboo to talk about than it used to be. But we still have a long way to go. Everyone’s situation is unique, but there are some things that will benefit anyone. A calming practice, getting out in nature, taking time for yourself, and having a safe person to talk to are all crucial. For me, journaling is a better calming practice than meditation. Find what works for you. And don’t be afraid to get professional help. Personally, I think everyone should have a therapist just like they have a primary care physician and a dentist.
Find a Challenge
When I was young and just starting my career, I thought that becoming an expert and knowing exactly how to do every aspect of my job would make me happy. If I knew all the answers then I would never mess up or embarrass myself, right? That level of mastery and invincibility seemed ideal until I actually became the expert.
I couldn’t figure out why, if I knew my job inside out and was exceeding expectations, I felt so burned out and unhappy. When I found the answer, I learned something very important about myself: when I’m no longer learning, I’m no longer happy.
I love learning for its own sake and the process of finding out what I don’t know and then taking the initiative to learn it is what makes me feel alive and engaged. This may not be true of everyone, but if you’re stumped about why you’re unhappy, ask yourself if you’re challenged. If not, consider a new role or ask for a different project. It may be just what you need.
Life is too short to spend it burned out and frazzled. If you have other tips, share them in the comments below!