Burnout at work is common from time to time, even if you love your job. Perhaps you just finished a big project and you are having trouble getting motivated for the next one. You may have a pile of tasks to do at work and you do not feel like starting on one of them. Or it could be that your home life is taking up more of your energy than usual. Or maybe you’re just bored. What’s the best way to recharge? Are some forms of renewal better than others? How do you know if what your feeling is ordinary burnout or something else, like chronic dissatisfaction?
What the experts say on burnout
Burnout — the mental and physical exhaustion you experience when the demands of your work consistently exceed the amount of energy you have available — has been called the epidemic of the modern workplace. “There’s no question that we’re at greater risk of burnout today than we were 10 years ago,” says Ron Friedman, the founder of ignite80, the consulting firm, and the author of the book, The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace. “In large part, it’s because we’re surrounded by devices that are designed to grab our attention and make everything feel urgent.”
Heidi Grant Halvorson, a social psychologist and the author of No One Understands You and What to Do About It, agrees. “There’s a lot of pressure in this 24/7 cycle,” she says. “It can lead you to feel lethargic, stressed, and depleted — literally spent.” So you need to find ways to “put gas back in your tank.”
So here are some ideas for you to help you overcome burnout:
Take breaks during the workday
Burnout often stems from a “lack of understanding about what it takes to achieve peak workplace performance,” says Friedman. “We tend to assume that it requires trying harder or out working others, [which] may get you short-term results but [is] physiologically unsustainable.” To perform at your best over the long-term, you need regular “opportunities for restocking your mental energy,” says Friedman.
Take a walk or go for a run. Have lunch away from your desk. “Stepping away from your computer gets you out of the weeds and prompts you to reexamine the big picture,” he advises. “It’s often in the intervals between thinking really hard about a problem and then stepping away that solutions becomes apparent.” But take your breaks at the right time, Halvorson says. When your energy is highest – often in the morning – you should focus on work and maximize your productivity. “Tackle your toughest challenges at those times,” she says. Then step away for a rest.
I can’t agree more on this. When I start to feel overloaded with work and I can’t handle it anymore, I take a 10-minute break for every 90-minute consecutive work. Try it. It it really effective, and it’s only 10-minute break.
Put away your digital devices
That is something I fully support to avoid burnout. Before the Blackberry and the smartphone era, leaving your work at the office was the default. “If you wanted to take work home with you, that required effort and planning,” says Friedman. That’s no longer the case. “Today we’re all carrying around an office in our pocket in the form of a smartphone,” so we’re both psychologically and physiologically still attached. The remedy, he says, is to actively limit your use of digital devices after hours. Place your smartphone in a basket or drawer when you arrive home so you’re not tempted to pick it up and check your email; or you might devise a rule for yourself about turning it off past 8pm. “Put away your phone,” says Halvorson. “Whatever it is, it can wait until tomorrow.”
Do something interesting
Instead of concentrating on limiting or avoiding work in your off-hours, Friedman recommends scheduling “restorative experiences that you look forward to.” Making plans to play tennis with a friend or cook a meal with your spouse compels you to “focus on an approach goal — doing something pleasurable — instead of an avoidance goal — not checking email,” he says.
“Research shows that approach goals are easier and more enjoyable to achieve.” Studies also indicate that doing an activity you find interesting and you love is better for you than simply relaxing. “What you do with your downtime matters,” says Halvorson.
Sure, it’s appealing to relax on your couch with a tub of popcorn and a movie, but she recommends engaging in something more challenging — like a crossword or game of chess. “Even though it’s difficult, it will give you more energy.”
Well, I agree & I advise you to try it. Doing something interesting that you love will put you in a different mood and perspective. Therefore, when you get back to work, you will feel fresh, energetic, and ready to go.
Take long weekends
Well to me, this is a great technique to overcome burnout. Feeling mentally and physically exhausted may also be a sign that “you need to take some time off,” says Halvorson. The break need not be a two-week vacation; rather, she says, when it comes to stress-reduction, “you get a much greater benefit from regularly taking three- and four-day weekends.” While you’re away, though, don’t call the office or check your email. “You need to let go,” she says. “Each of us is a little less vital than we’d like to believe.”
Focus on meaning
If your job responsibilities prevent you from immediate time off, Halvorson suggests “focusing on why the work matters to you.” Connecting your current assignment to a larger personal goal — completing this project will help you score that next promotion, for instance — will “help you fight the temptation to slack off” and will provide a “jolt of energy that will give you what you need to barrel through that day or the next couple of days,” she says. I believe thinking positive and believing in the value of what you do is a good approach to avoid burnout.
Be aware, however, that this may provide only temporary relief. “If you’re burnt out from working too hard, you need to stop and take a real break” Halvorson says.
Make sure it’s really burnout
If none of these strategies work, you could be dealing with something more serious. If you’re listless and fatigued but still feel effective on the whole, then it’s probably just burnout. “But if you feel as though you’re not making progress and that the work you do doesn’t seem to matter,” it’s a different problem, Halvorson says. Is your manager giving you what you need to work at your best? If not, you may need a different position or even a different job. Is the very nature of your work draining your energy? If so, you may need to rethink your career.
To find out if it is really burnout, I suggest you take these valuable tests on Psychology Today. There are two tests: one for non-service industries here. And another for service industries here. They are worth the try.
Principles to remember to avoid burnout
- Set boundaries around your use of digital devices during off-hours
- Incorporate regular breaks into your workday
- Focus on why the work matters to you if professional obligations prevent a vacation
- Stay positive and always look at the bright side
- Check your email when you’re taking a vacation or long weekend
- Spend all your downtime relaxing only; engage in activities that challenge and interest you
- Mistake constant fatigue and apathy for a temporary case of burnout; if you feel ineffective on a daily basis, it might be time to look for a new job
- Make burnout escalate. Overcome it quickly before it becomes a major psychological issue
So are you burnt out at work? If yes, do you want to change that? Follow the above simple techniques to avoid burnout at work and stay motivated.
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This article was inspired by an article on Harvard Business Review here.