Burnout is real and it sucks. Does any of this sound familiar…?
- You’re exhausted and worn down from working LONG hours six or seven days a week.
- You rarely see friends anymore because who has time for a social life?
- You check and respond to emails at all times of the day and night.
- You don’t have much interest or energy in doing anything fun outside of work.
- You are sleep deprived and may have trouble sleeping despite being so tired all the time.
- You rarely go on vacation.
- You’re feeling unfulfilled in what you do and wondering if this is all your life can be.
You may be nodding your head to all of these or just a few. Either way, you may already be burned out or headed for burnout highway in the fast lane.
And it’s not just that burnout is a painful place to be. If left unchecked, burnout can cost you pretty much everything – your career, your physical and emotional health, and even your personal relationships.
I get it because this used to be my life.
5 Simple Steps to Avoid & Beat Burnout
The good news is it doesn’t need to be this way. I’m here to tell you that you can turn it around and reclaim your life so that you feel more fulfilled, happier, and re-energized.
Here are five simple steps to beating burnout and creating more space and time for you.
Prioritize & Get Clear on What’s Important to You.
Write down your entire to-do list and go through each item to determine if it’s important or urgent. Usually, the urgent things on our list tend to get done first because they’re, well, urgent. But that means the important items can fall to the wayside and another day or week passes where you realize you didn’t get to the projects that mean so much to you.
And here’s the problem with that – often the urgent items are actually just distractions (checking social media, responding to emails or voicemail). Or they may be urgent for other people, but not for you. Still, you get pulled along on the wave of urgency and end up dropping everything to help.
Change how you approach your list. Instead of dealing with the urgent items first, address the important items. Make those your priority because that’s what’s going to nourish your mind and soul. And here’s the dirty little secret about the urgent items – if they are truly urgent, you’re going to get to them before the end of the day anyway….because…they’re urgent.
So take a little time to get clear on what’s urgent and what’s important, and then take action on the important items first. You may also find in doing this exercise that some things on your list are neither important nor urgent. If that happens, celebrate – they can be dropped and your list just got shorter!
Set Boundaries & Learn to Say No.
A surefire way to experience burnout and feel worn out is by making yourself too available and saying yes to most requests that come your way. The fact is that when you make yourself accessible at all hours of the day and night, people expect you to always be there and it’s simply unsustainable.
You need to get proactive with your calendar and block out times when you’ll disconnect from email and other devices so you can focus on what matters most to you. The trick here, of course, is sticking to your commitment.
When that request comes in for a conference call during a time you’ve blocked out for yourself, you don’t need to feel guilty and give it up. Instead, you can simply respond that you’re already booked at that time (because you are) and offer some other options.
Now, let’s face it – even when you’re being pretty good about your boundaries, you’re always going to receive demands on your time. It’s how you deal with those demands that will determine whether you can protect your priorities. Before saying yes to a new project or request, ask yourself four questions first:
- Do I have the time? (Be honest – this isn’t about shoe-horning yet another thing into your already-packed schedule.)
- Is this a priority for me?
- Do I want to do it?
- If I do it, am I valuing myself and my time?
If the answer to all of these is yes, then have it. But if it’s not, chances are you’ll want to say no. Saying no doesn’t have to be awkward or scary. Oftentimes, saying no can actually earn you more respect! But if you’re still worried about it, try this approach: say yes to the person and no to the request, explaining that you wouldn’t have the time/the resources/the fill-in-the-blank to fully commit to their request.
Now, I know that if you’re feeling overwhelmed with everything you’ve got going on, chances are you’re defaulting to the good old habit of multi-tasking to get everything done. Most of us think it’s the only way we’ll ever manage our to-do list.
But here’s a newsflash: nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, multi-tasking actually reduces our productivity, makes us less competent, increases our stress, causes burnout and sends us into overwhelm mode. Essentially, all we’re doing is just switching from one thing to another and losing time and focus in the process.
Starting today, focus on one thing at a time. I know that may seem tough because your mind is moving at warp speed and you want to move ahead to the next thing while still doing your current task. Embrace that pace and make it work in your favor by shortening meetings, conference calls, and giving yourself deadlines to get tasks done.
Set yourself up for success by turning off distractions and avoiding predictable interruptions – close your office door, shut off your email program and app notifications when you’re on the phone or you need to write.
Try mono-tasking for a week and you’ll be amazed at the results. You’ll feel less stressed and you’ll be more efficient than you ever imagined.
Take Daily Me-Time Breaks.
Do you ever have days where you just feel like you’re drowning? Work and life can feel like you’re swimming upstream or just trying to keep your head above water.
You get to the end of your day and you’re just so depleted because you’ve been spending your energy doing, doing, doing – and usually for everyone else. You’re getting projects done for the boss or your clients; you’re taking care of household errands; maybe you’re also caring for kids or pets. The list goes on and on.
In the midst of all that you can forget about the most important person: you. Remember, there’s a reason that flight attendants tell you to “put your own oxygen mask on first before assisting others.” It’s because if you don’t take care of you, you’re not going to be much use to anyone else.
It’s the same in everyday life. If you’re not taking a little time for you each day and you’re just constantly being pulled in different directions, you’re not showing up as your best self for all those people you want to serve.
So find just a little time each day. I’m not talking an hour or even 30 minutes. I’m talking 10 minutes – just 1% of your busy day. Take 10 minutes to switch off your devices, find some quiet time and do something that gives you a little break. Take a nap, meditate, close your eyes and breathe, get outside for a walk, listen to some uplifting music – whatever feels good to you.
Sleep, Eat, Play!
Yup, all the cool behavioral strategies in the world won’t make any difference unless you’re paying attention to what your body needs.
- Make sure you’re getting adequate sleep at night. Easier said than done? I know the feeling – sometimes it’s just so hard to unwind with all those “gotta do this, this, and this…” thoughts running through your mind. So develop a bedtime routine where you can slowly ease into some calm and quiet. Turn off the TV and other LCD screens about an hour before you go to sleep, and take all devices out of your bedroom (yes, that means your smartphone and iPad!).
- What are you putting in your body? Chances are you’re living on a diet that’s full of caffeine and sugar so you can keep going along without enough sleep. Now, I’m not going to get super-radical here and say you’ve got to give all of that up, because that would be too much change too soon. But, you can start introducing more healthy foods to your diet to give your body nutritious energy. Try cutting back on the junk food and/or increasing your fruit and veg intake.
- Get outdoors, engage in fun activities (i.e. not related to work!), and participate in some form of exercise regularly. While you may feel too rundown to engage in exercise, it could be exactly the thing you need to help boost your energy levels. I’m not talking about starting some crazy-strict workout regime. This can be as simple as a quick walk at lunch time – just taking those brisk steps outside will help refresh and re-energize you.
So that’s it – these are the five quick and simple things you can start doing TODAY to ease your burnout, stress, and exhaustion. Have at it!
You can beat burnout and prevent it from happening in the first place if you just take a little time to recognize the need for these basic self-care strategies amidst all the chaos. It’s about realizing that you deserve the respect and time you freely give away all day every day to others.