Tired From Morning Till Night? 7 Ways to Kiss Burnout Good-Bye
Taking a sabbatical at 28 or leaving the workforce altogether by the age of 30 is becoming increasingly common—especially for women. The culprit isn’t motherhood; it’s burnout. A recent study published by McKinsey & Company revealed that while 53% of corporate entry-level jobs are filled by women, only 26% of vice president or senior management roles are held by women. While those stats may not be surprising, the interesting factoid is that the only 11% of the women who choose to leave the workforce permanently do so to have children. McKinsey’s conclusion? Burnout has its grips on women, especially those striving for excellence in all areas of their life. “I didn’t realize it at the time,” says Jenny Blake, a former Google development manager, “but I was in the fast lane to burnout. My pace was not sustainable, and I only realized it after I crashed,” she tells Fast Company. Blake wasn’t burning the candle at both ends in terms of work and family. Rather, she was a young woman working hard at Google and then spending nights and weekends working on her first book. This is the kind of hustle that many women in their 20s and 30s practice.
We respect ambition, always appreciate a side hustle, and believe that hard work and determination make your professional dreams come true. However, if you want to practice a sustainable work ethic, keep track of your pace and the toll it takes on your mental and physical health. The next time you’re feeling the symptoms of burnout (i.e. chronic stress, failure to find meaning in your work, exhaustion, and lack of motivation), try implementing the following steps.
A recent study published by the U.S. National Institute of Health explored the effect of exercise on being burned out. The study divided employees into three different groups: an aerobics group, a resistance training group, and a sedentary group. It’s no surprise that the groups in the cardio and strength-training programs reported less stress and higher overall well-being than the group that sat at their desks all day without exercising. Maintaining an active lifestyle also helps prevent people from turning to alcohol for relief. Use physical or mental exercise (like meditation) as a recovery ritual to help manage your energy levels and fight negativity from creeping into your psyche. Schedule five-minute breathing breaks or 10-minute walks into your calendar every 90 minutes or so to prevent burnout.
We hate to break it to you, but if you’re burning out, your colleagues and/or friends have definitely noticed, even if you haven’t told them. Find a confidant in your life, and talk about how you’re feeling. Hiding your inner Debbie Downer won’t help you break out of the burnout cycle. Confiding in a friend, a trusted colleague, or even a considerate boss can help you brainstorm ways to relieve the symptoms. Sometimes even just admitting out loud that you’re burned out is all you need to feel better. Maybe the person you tell has experienced the same thing and worked through it. Anecdotal evidence of burnout recovery is comforting and effective when implemented.
In Europe, if you have 20 vacation days per year, you take 20 vacation days per year. In America, taking your vacation days can be seen as a weakness, and employees often wear their streak of uninterrupted work as a badge of honor. “I haven’t taken a vacation in two years” becomes equivalent to a perfect attendance record. News flash: Neglecting to use your vacation days severely heightens your risk of burnout. In order to produce consistently exceptional work, you must take care of your headspace. In our opinion, skipping vacation shows that you don’t take pride in your mental health and, therefore, aren’t doing everything in your power to preserve and maintain the quality of your work. Do yourself and your employer a favor: Take your vacation. And fully unplug when doing so. Remember, being on vacation is not a synonym for working remotely. It’s a time to digitally detox, meditate, restore your equilibrium, and refuel your energy tank.
According to Darwinian theory, only the fittest survive. In order to prevent burnout, you have to be (at least a little bit) selfish. Twentieth-century psychologist Abraham Maslow proved that “an individual can only be happy if they are able to express themselves and achieve their potential.” He called this self-actualization, which we believe is a key tenant to fighting burnout. If your entire workday is spent executing the demands of others without any direction of your own, burnout is inevitable. Make sure you allot a certain part of your time every day to working on projects whose direction you have an impact on or that you want to create. Google calls this the 20% rule. While 80% of a Google employee’s time is meant to be designated to the responsibilities of their job, 20% is reserved to work on anything that interests them. If your office life doesn’t permit for this type of balance, create your own. Start a passion project like writing a novel, redesigning a part of your home, or learning to code, and make sure you advance your personal project by a small increment everyday. This will help you maintain a sense of meaning in your life, even if you aren’t deriving that from your day job at the moment.
If you’re on the road to total burnout, you probably have a type-A personality, or one within the spectrum at least. That means that your 80% translates to the majority of people’s 100%. Even if it’s not your best work, realize that completing a task 80% to your liking is better than not completing it at all—or pushing it off again and again. Being okay with 80% means doing work that is good enough, not quite perfect. And this is okay.
Last year The Atlantic published an article entitled “The Power of ‘Good Enough.’” It argued that settling for good enough makes people happier than gunning for perfection. Psychologist Barry Schwartz explains this phenomenon as follows: “As people have contact with items of high quality, they begin to suffer from ‘the curse of discernment.’ The lower quality items that used to be perfectly acceptable are no longer good enough,” he writes in his paper “Doing Better but Feeling Worse.” Schwartz argues that by keeping expectations consistent with realizations, people will live better, happier lives.
Remember when you made your college application list? You had your reach schools and your safety schools. When you’re in the throws of burnout, create the same categories of goals for your professional life. Hopelessness is often a symptom of burnout. You probably aren’t getting as much done as you used to and setting the same expectations that you always have will only exasperate your hopelessness. Create three realistic goals that you know you can accomplish each day. They can be as simple as taking a 10-minute walk at lunch, finishing a draft of one article, or sending one important email. Whatever they are, make them things you can 100% accomplish. Then feel proud when you do.
Perhaps you’re feeling the burnout because your regular workflow is getting a little monotonous. Refresh your routine by restructuring your day. When do you feel most energetic? Is it first thing in the morning? Maybe it’s the last hour of the day. Whenever it is, make sure your highest energy times are reserved for your most demanding tasks. Paula Davis-Laack, an author and stress and resilience expert, calls this technique job crafting. “It’s a way to change your job without leaving your job. Since burnout causes you to become disengaged with your work, job crafting is about reordering your day and boosting your engagement by doing things that give you a lot of energy and vitality during the day,” she tells Fast Company. We always try to write our to-do list for the following day before we leave the office each night. Make sure one of the first things on your list is something you want to do, not something you’ve been putting off—it will help you look forward to your morning.
Escape the perils of burnout with a few of our favorite comforts below.
Burnout is contagious. Have you managed to fight the symptoms of burnout even when your co-workers are struggling?