If you’re ready to stop burnout in its tracks and start feeling like yourself again – you’re in the right place!
This week wraps up a three-part blog series all about burnout. If you haven’t read those yet, I highly recommend it as they explain the context around the signs of burnout and why it desperately matters for the sake of your health!
As I mentioned in part 1, there is a road to burnout. It doesn’t happen overnight. You know that feeling when you wake up in the morning with a sore throat? It’s like…agh…I’m gonna have a cold for two weeks now. At that point, it’s too late. You are sick and there is nothing you can do to make it go away. It just has to run its course.
Luckily, burnout isn’t like that. We can fight this! I’m on a mission to help people acknowledge burnout as something serious and understand the warning signs. When you know more about burnout, you’ll start to notice common patterns when you are entering the burnout zone, and then you can prevent it from happening to you again.
If you are starting to feel burnout, here are 20 things you can do to prevent it.
Please don’t get overwhelmed by this list. That’s exactly what we are trying to avoid! Instead, try one. Then try another. Do the ones that work for you. This isn’t all or nothing and some of these are easier to implement than others. Think of these as a toolkit. They are simple strategies that you can use if and when you need them.
- Talk about it. There is no shame in burnout. You aren’t weak or fragile if you face it. It’s natural and it’s happening to way more people than you think. The perfect mom at your child’s school with the flawless skin, a home that belongs in Architectural Digest, and the bakery-quality homemade cupcakes….even she has had it at one point or another. So, forget the stigma and talk about it with your partner, a good friend, an understanding boss, your doctor, or me. Permission to ugly cry (you know you feel better when you do). Sometimes the simple act of talking about it can release some of the tension. Holding it all together in front of people isn’t actually helping. It’s adding more pressure to your day. There are a lot of people in your life who are willing to listen. People who you don’t need to be perfect in front of. Let it out. If you are a manager encourage this as part of your company culture. Fact: “Employees who strongly agree that they feel supported by their manager are about 70% less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis. In contrast, a negligent or confrontational manager leaves employees feeling uninformed, alone, and defensive.” Source: Gallup.
- Remember your why and your purpose. Let’s start at a high level. Are you doing work that you feel is impactful to yourself, your company, the world? Does it fuel you? Are you clear on how your contribution is meaningful? Are you fulfilled? If not, think of ways to make a change (see #3). On a more granular level, what’s the purpose of the tasks you are currently working on? Do you feel like you can see the results of your efforts, are you wasting time on tasks that don’t matter or are you working toward a moving target? Are you getting burned out just trying to figure out what you are supposed to be working on today? Only 60% of workers know what’s expected of them. (Source: Gallup) So, just getting clarity around your role within the company can help you feel a greater sense of purpose. This step requires both self-reflection and speaking with your manager.
- Take on a new challenge. Your burnout might actually be boredom. You don’t see the value in what you are currently doing. You haven’t felt fulfilled. This might mean you are ready for a big change like a new career or a smaller change like speaking to your boss about how your talents could better contribute to the larger company goals. At work, you could offer to take on a new project you think you would enjoy or work with a new department. Outside of work, maybe you can learn a new skill, try a new workout, plant a vegetable garden, cook a new recipe. I know it feels like you don’t have the time. But, challenging yourself in a new way can really help you get out of that blah, stuck in a rut feeling. Instead, you’ll be proud and possibly amazed at what you were able to accomplish. Go on, step out of that comfort zone, and get your mojo back.
- Embrace the season you are in. When we hear “seasons” we instantly think of the holidays. But seasons come and go all the time. They can be physical like winter or summer. But, they can also be a period of time. Think of it as a chapter in life such as when your kids were little or when you lived in another state. For example, right now, we are trying to start a school year in a pandemic. Hello, challenges we never could have anticipated! For as crazy as things are right now, this is a season we are in and it will pass. Yet, you can’t ignore the fact that things are more than strange right now. Give yourself some grace to shift your priorities, emotions, and life to align with the realities of the business and personal seasons you are in.
- Check your emotions. Your emotions around a situation cause a reaction. This reaction can lead to stress. And, repeated stress leads to burnout. Alright, it’s self-awareness time. In moments of stress, ask yourself these hard questions. Be honest! Are your emotions getting the best of you? Is it really that bad? Are you blowing things up in your mind? Are you making things harder than they need to be? Are you overthinking things? Are you worrying about something you have no control over? Are you anxious about the same issues over and over again? You may be wasting a lot of time and energy festering over a problem that either doesn’t really exist or isn’t as big as you think it is. I know this is hard to recognize. But the next time you are feeling overly stressed, take a second to think if you are part of the reason it’s escalating. This is also a good time to talk this out with another person to gain an additional perspective on the situation.
- Are you busy being busy? In today’s culture, being busy is worn like a badge of honor. If you are busy you must be important. Right? One time my friend asked me, “how are you?” and I said “good”. She replied, “wow, I don’t think you’ve ever said that – you always used to say “busy.” I challenge you to not be busy. But rather to intentionally work on the tasks that will move your business forward and drop the rest. You don’t need to fill your day being busy with 100 little things you think you should be doing. You need to focus on the tasks that drive revenue and profit. Period. If you don’t get customers from Instagram, stop spending your time being busy there. If no one reads your email newsletter, stop wasting time writing it. What myths are you telling yourself about how you need to spend your time? What’s keeping you busy, but not productive?
- Eliminate overwhelm. Overwhelm is one of the key ingredients that lead to burnout. Overwhelm happens when you feel like you are drowning in everything you have to do. Yet, you aren’t really sure how to get things done or where to start. Your brain really struggles to process huge projects or general ideas. Therefore, it’s important to break your projects down into smaller bite-size tasks that are more manageable. Tasks should start with a verb, be actionable, and be able to be completed or not. For example, plan a birthday party is a project, and book the caterer for 40 people is a task. See the difference? By breaking projects down this way you can eliminate both overwhelm and procrastination.
- Organize your mind and your lists. Our brains have 60,000 – 80,000 thoughts per day. I don’t know about you but I can’t remember all that! This is where a brain dump and list-making is a huge help. Writing it down gets it out of your crowded head. Then, you can stop thinking about trying to remember it. And, it will help you get clarity on all your projects and tasks at hand. From there organize your lists and filing systems so you can easily find all the thoughts you’ve documented right when you need them.
- Prioritize. Your ability to set priorities and stick to them is a huge step to overcoming burnout. Pick three tasks to work on for the day and then execute on them.
- Make a plan. Using the lists you made in #8 you can now make a game plan for tackling your most critical tasks. Prioritize those lists and then utilize your calendar to deliberately plan, set realistic expectations, and schedule when you will accomplish those priorities. Without a clear plan, you are living in a reactionary or emergency mode. When your brain declares a state of emergency it elevates your cortisol levels and will put you right back on the path to burnout. Alternatively, plans lead to productivity. Productivity leads to results.
- Get rid of distractions. Distractions come in many forms. Social media, your phone, even certain people in your life. Awareness of what causes distractions for you is key. Then, be disciplined enough to remove those things when it’s time to get your work done. This can be really hard especially when it comes to people! But, when you are stuck in a negative mind frame surrounding yourself with positive people that can help you break that cycle is critical. Let go of the people who may be bringing you down. Misery breeds more misery and you don’t have time for that!
- Just get started. When you are feeling overwhelmed you might not know where to start. In those cases there is no right or wrong answer, instead, the key is to just get started on something. Once you start a project you can uncover additional questions or find you need more resources. But, until you start you’ll only leave it sitting on your to-do just moving the due date. This action alone can produce more stress. Don’t worry about finishing the whole project at once just take one step. When you start you can use one action to inspire and propel another. This momentum is so powerful.
- Understand your triggers. Every time you notice yourself feeling stressed write down what is causing it. Is it a certain type of work, a person, a particular client, a time of day, cooking dinner, traffic? By writing it down you will pay more attention and become aware of what triggers you. Then, you can take steps to try to eliminate those triggers. And, if you can’t eliminate them you can do #14.
- Create processes. If you think you might repeat a project or task, make a process for it. You should never have to spend time figuring out the same thing twice! Last week, I gave the example of my packing list. But you can make a repeatable process for pretty much anything. Just write down the steps! Writing proposals for clients, new client onboarding, frequently used vendors, how to fix your jammed printer…pretty much anything! Not only can processes ward off your triggers but they just make life easier.
- Set boundaries. We often feel like we “have to”…insert whatever it is. But setting boundaries allows you to control situations and say “no” when you need to without the guilt. You can set boundaries by setting office hours, asking clients to only use one mode of communication to contact you, maintaining a physical space for your work and the list goes on. The key is to commit to the boundaries you want to set it for yourself then clearly communicate what those boundaries are to others.
- Stop trying to be perfect. We all know perfection isn’t achievable yet we are still desperately striving for it. For one, everyone’s opinion of perfection is different. Also, you could be wasting a lot of time trying to make something “perfect” when it really is “good enough” to accomplish the goal at hand.
- Control with you can control. It’s especially important to shift our focus from what we can not control in favor of things we can control. It’s incredible how this simple perspective shift can affect your mood and your actions. This is so important that I wrote a whole blog about controlling what you can control.
- Put yourself first. If you are a parent or a business owner this one is especially hard. Keep in mind that there is a reason you put your oxygen mask on first and then you help others on an airplane. You aren’t going to be able to help anyone when you are burned out. Practicing self-care and how you recharge looks different for everyone. For example, introverts will need to refuel very differently than extroverts. Whether it’s yoga, HIT training, meditation, sleeping in, or getting a spa treatment, make sure you’re communicating your recharge needs with your partners to ensure that you are both getting what you need out of rest and relax. Schedule time for yourself the same way you would schedule time with an important client or your boss. You would not cancel that meeting so why are you canceling the time for yourself?
- Take Time. This is the “T” in my COAT Productivity System. Take time to celebrate your wins. So often we achieve a milestone and then dive right into the next thing. Hello…you are awesome and you just did that! You don’t need to go to Tahiti but at least get-up, grab a cup of tea and take a moment to recognize what you just did. Congratulate a teammate. Celebrate for heaven’s sake! That moment of acknowledgment and reset produces momentum that will charge you up for the next task! On top of it, creativity often happens in the stillness. When your mind is at rest it’s open for clearer thinking and inspiration. Watch TV, take a vacation, take a day off, go for a walk. And whatever you do, be 100% present with the time you deserve to take.
- Ask for help. If you feel you’re on burnout street, ask for help before you need it. Asking for help isn’t failing and shouldn’t only be done in case of an emergency. Little tweaks along the way and outside perspective can prevent burnout.
Imagine never having to feel burnout again.
Burnout isn’t about how hard you work or the number of hours you work. You could work 80 hours a week and not be in burnout. Instead, burnout comes from our attitude around the work we are doing, a lack of fulfillment, and our inability to conquer those feelings.
If you want to talk, please book a complimentary session with me. If you made it this far in this blog series, we’re friends, and I’m happy to be the person help you work through this.
You Got This! Sarah
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Hi, I’m Sarah
The productivity coach who creates programs for overwhelmed professionals who are ready to say buh bye to stress, anxiety, mental clutter, and analysis paralysis and hello to clarity, purpose, and success.
I bring systems and quick productivity wins to your day so that you can get back control of your time, accomplish more, and be present when you are done at 5.
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