Are you worried about burning out? When I started my first full-time job after college in 2007, it was the furthest thing from my mind. I was full of energy, excited about the work that I would be doing and eager to succeed. But within a year, I found myself completely exhausted and constantly stressed. I no longer enjoyed working and, regardless of how many hours I put in, I just wasn’t getting the results I expected. Unable to face another day in the office, I handed in my resignation. I had reached burnout.
What is burnout?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), burnout is a result of chronic workplace stress and has three main characteristics:
- Feeling exhausted or having a lack of energy.
- Feeling negative about your job, or feeling detached from work.
- Being less effective or productive at work
It is normal to have good and bad days at work, but if the bad days become more regular and frequent, it is time to take a step back and look at what changes you can make to avoid reaching burnout.
How to reduce the risk of burnout
- Find a way to disconnect from work
- Take regular breaks during the working day
- Track your time
- Take a day off
- Ask for help
Find a way to disconnect from work
Constant connectivity to work leaves no time to restore your energy levels. The advances in the digital workplace are fantastic, allowing us to work from anywhere at any time. But this needs to be managed so that it doesn’t turn from a benefit to a burden. A daily routine is a great way to do this. Decide in advance what disconnecting from work means for you. For some people, it might be the single act of closing email for the day. Other people may also need to consciously disconnect their mind so that they aren’t thinking about the to-do list after they turn off the laptop. Be honest with yourself about what you need and identify what steps you need to take. Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect the first day or even the second. Refine your routine over time until you find the sweet spot that works for you.
Take regular breaks during the working day
Taking regular breaks supports your mental and physical energy throughout the day, allowing you to perform better without teetering on exhaustion. Schedule a lunchtime meeting with yourself every day and eat away from your workplace. Micro breaks of 5 to 10 minutes are also an excellent way to manage your energy throughout the day. Set a couple of alarms to remind yourself to step away from work. Get up and move about for a few minutes. If you are heavily reliant on a computer or laptop for work, this will also help combat screen fatigue.
Track your time
Tracking your time each week helps to reduce the risk of burnout in many ways. First, it brings awareness to the amount of time you are working. There is nothing wrong with working longer hours from time to time, but if you are consistently working more than planned, you have less time for everything else. By tracking your time, you can identify when this is happening and take steps to address it. The second benefit of tracking your time is that it allows you to see if you are spending a lot of energy on things that are of low value. If too much time is spent doing “busy work” instead of getting the essential things done, it will result in more stress and unplanned overtime. Reflecting on the week will help you see if this is happening. The final way tracking time helps prevent burnout is that it highlights the progress made during the week. Reviewing your accomplishments, big and small, at the end of the week will give you that sense of “a job well done“ and make it easier to switch off.
Take a day off
Taking a day off work mid-week is a great way to avoid burnout, especially if you have a lot on your plate. Often people take time off in weekly blocks or don’t do it all. But a single day off can give you that extra bit of space to recharge when you need it most. Stepping away during a busy period at work also allows you to get some perspective that isn’t possible when working on getting through the long list of tasks. You’ll return with more energy – and possibly even some new ideas.
Ask for help
If you are doing all of these things and still feel like you are heading for burnout, it is time to ask for help. It may be that your workload is unrealistic, or perhaps there is an opportunity to manage your time better. Either way, nothing will change until you take action. If you are working in a team, the first person to speak with is your manager. If you are working alone, you could talk with someone you trust to discuss your work with or a coach.
Burnout can happen at any stage in your career, regardless of your job or industry. My experience in 2007 would be the first of multiple times I pushed myself to burnout in pursuit of career success. But the success only came when I learned how to achieve my work goals sustainably over the long term. If you feel like you are close to burnout, then follow the steps above and, most importantly, ask for help if you need it.