“If you’re not careful, you’ll burn yourself out.”
This is a warning that has been offered to me over and over and over again by my mother, my husband and my well-meaning friends. It’s not surprising, considering the way I define balance: I throw myself into one project or area of my life (sometimes to the detriment of other areas), and then move on to the next project; I eventually get it all done, but rarely do it all at the same time.
What was surprising to me was to find that “burnout” is a real phenomenon discussed by mental health and productivity experts. Burnout is generally described as long-term exhaustion and diminished interest or motivation. Symptoms of burnout include moodiness, extreme tiredness, suppressed immunity to illness, and a lack of interest in your work.
Excuse me while I go take another horse pill for my most recent respiratory infection that will not go away.
Apparently, burnout is extremely common in people who have high-stress jobs (not me!) and people with Type A personalities (oh.. um.. er..).
While I clearly have everything well under control in my own life, some of you may be interested in a few tips to prevent burnout.
Tips To Prevent Burnout
1. Take care of your health.
I hate this kind of advice. I generally feel like if I had time to take care of my health than I wouldn’t be so stressed out in the first place, thank you very much. But the fact is that our stress levels and our health are undeniably linked, and the easiest way to break the too much stress/bad health cycle is to stop and take better care of ourselves.
Get plenty of rest. Eat well. Exercise. Drink plenty of water. If all of that sounds a bit overwhelming, start with getting enough sleep at night.
2. Lower your expectations.
Being overworked is one of the most common causes of burnout, and often times that need to work ourselves to the point of exhaustion comes from having ridiculously high standards (see: Type A personalities). Try taking a step back and thinking about worst case scenarios: what will happen if you don’t land that new client? In most cases, the downside of being less than perfect isn’t nearly as bad as we imagine it to be.
Another trick (which will make my fellow Type A’ers convulse) is to think about your work in terms of bare minimums. What’s the bare minimum you need to do to get by? While I would never advise someone to make a habit of always doing the bare minimum in life, this strategy can help you set more realistic expectations for yourself, or at least realize when you’re setting the bar a little high.
3. Ask for help.
The simplest way to reduce your workload and avoid burnout is to reduce your workload. Don’t be afraid to ask other people to share some of the responsibility that you’re carrying around. Examine the things you’re currently responsible for and ask yourself if there’s anything extra you’ve taken on that you can delegate to co-workers. Be sure to examine your personal life as well, as many people tend to suffer from burnout because they feel like they’re responsible for everything all the time.
If you can’t share some of the responsibility because you really are the “buck stops here” person, then simply enlist help. Identify tasks that can be done by someone else and delegate, even if you will still ultimately carry the responsibility of the end result.
There’s no way around it; if you need a break, you need a break. Take a break. That may mean taking a walk in the middle of the day. Perhaps you need to spend some quality time with your friends and family on the weekends. Maybe you need an actual vacation. People who work hard tend to need to play hard in order to maintain a long-term balance. Make your downtime as much of a priority as your work time, even if that means you need to schedule it in a planner. Console yourself with the fact that all of this goofing off will make you more productive at work.
Photo by Vanessa Pike-Russell