Have you ever sat at your desk fidgeting, impatiently fantasizing about the moment when the clock hits 5 pm? Have you ever dreaded all day Sunday because of everything that has to get to done when you get back to work on Monday?
YOU MAY BE FACING BURNOUT
If so, chances are high you’re not content with your work/life balance. Chances are high you may be facing burnout.
Truly, if you’re not content with your work life, burnout could be the cause. And if you suspect it is, keep reading, because we have some insights in this post to help you avoid burnout.
Now, if the situation described in the beginning is all you feel, consider yourself lucky. Why? Because some hard working people facing burnout reach a point where they end up fainting, developing twitches, or even getting depressed. Hopefully you have yet to reach that point.
Before we get into it, you should realize that getting burnt out is not a problem you face on your own. Truth is, burning out is something everybody feels at some point in their career. It can even start in high school, and if you don’t fight to overcome the “work dread”, it can stick around well into your retirement years.
But don’t despair.
Psychologists and workaholics all over the globe have struggled with this issue, and they’ve found many ways to overcome it. This article discusses 10 ways to avoid burnout, based on expert input and personal experiences fighting this all too common mental challenge.
BEST WAYS TO AVOID BURNOUT
1. Work Towards A Goal
Students at The Harvard MBA Business School did a study back in 1979 about goal-setting. They found that 83% of graduates have no goals whatsoever, 13% of them have some goals, and 3% of them have clear, written-down goals.
Want to guess who was more successful?
The 13% that had some goals ended up making twice as much as the ones that had no goals, while the top 3% that had clear, written down goals ended up making ten times (10x!!) more than their former colleagues.
The validity of this study has been questioned in the past, and financial gain may not be the only metric for success, but psychologists, entrepreneurs and CEOs agree that goal-setting is important.
And it makes sense. It’s easier to stay focused and keep working when you see a greater purpose (and finality) to your efforts.
But, you don’t need to JUST set some goals and write them down. This creates ambiguity in your unconscious mind, which creates an unclear image of that higher purpose.
To avoid this, be as specific as possible in your goal-setting – don’t say you want to be rich, clarify how rich and in what timeline.
2. Schedule Your Day
Goals seem unreachable when you just throw a 3 years resolution out there, no matter how specific.
For that purpose, you need to get nitty-gritty with your future plans. The best way to do that is to plan each day in advance.
I use the Google Calendar for that – You can easily create tasks, you can color-code them and you can share them with other people.
The best thing, however, is that you get notifications on your phone, in advance. That way, you’re always reminded of what you have to do and it’s easier to focus on the task at hand, since Google keeps track of the big picture you set up in advance.
The Google Calendar is not the only app that helps you schedule your day. Wunderlist (soon to be To-Do), Trello, Todoist, Evernote – these are off the top of my head. I’m sure you’ll find one that suits your needs.
If apps don’t help, you can get old-school. Grab a piece of paper and a pen and create a classic to-do list, but just make sure you do it.
Once you have a tasklist, make sure you stick to it. That’s a task in and of itself, but the next steps should help with that as well.
3. Build A Positive Outlook On Life
You might think “Easy for you to say, you’re not stuck with a shitty job that you have to struggle to keep in order to pay the bills”
First of all, a lot of successful, happy people were in your shoes at some point in their life.
Secondly, a positive outlook on life can be built (keyword built) in spite of your job, debt or problems.
Did I say build a positive outlook? Yes I did, because a healthy mindset doesn’t appear out of nowhere – you can’t just have a positive thinking. You have to work for it.
What might you do? There’s a few things that can help:
- Focus on (re)building healthy relationships with those close to you.
- Spend more time doing what you love (It can even turn into a full-time gig if you focus hard enough).
- Eat healthily, sleep well and exercise.
- Get support. There’s nothing wrong with seeing a therapist even if your mental status is not completely wrecked.
Developing a high emotional intelligence is key when you think of how to avoid burnout.
4. Practice Deep Work to Avoid Burnout
I have to admit, Cal Newport is a big source of inspiration for me.
For those of you who don’t know, he wrote a book called Deep Work. It’s a very easy read on how to focus completely on what you’re doing and achieve more in less time.
If you haven’t read it, I recommend it. It changed my viewpoint on work ethic completely and it did help me achieve a lot more in less time.
So what is Deep Work?
Basically, a person that performs deep work is so immersed in what they’re doing (i.e. writing, coding, talking) that there are absolutely no distractions. It’s a trance-like meditative state in which the mind is completely focused on a singular task for a prolonged period of time (I practice it for about 2-4 hours a day).
Practically, for 2-4 hours there are no phone calls, no emails, no social media, absolutely nothing else other than the task at hand.
“I can’t do that, people rely on me, I must provide prompt answers to their queries over email or phone”.
That’s what I thought. That’s what Cal Newport thought. But as soon as you begin to practice it, you’ll notice emails and phone calls can wait for a few hours – and the results are drastic improvements in productivity.
You probably won’t be able to start with a 4 hour Deep Work push. That’s all right, I started with 30 mins of deep work everyday and worked my way up from that. Regardless of how you do it, try it out – you’ll achieve a newfound sense of pride and completeness about your work, which keeps the stress at bay.
5. Exercise Regularly
This one is often thrown around for a better everything.
Regardless of how mainstream it is to mention exercise for any type of improvement, it’s truly important for a better work life.
Making time to exercise gets your happy chemicals working – serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, all brain hormones associated with happiness are released when exercising.
And when you think about it, burnout is a chemical reaction in our brain, just like everything else we feel.
When it was first coined in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger, the term “burnout” referred to “emotional depletion” among other things. The jury’s out on that, regular exercise is a deterrent to emotional depletion, so jogging every morning should help.
6. Optimize Work
We don’t get bored or mentally destroyed by creative and engaging new tasks.
By nature, humans love a great challenge, and we get excited when we have to come up with new ideas, even if that’s at a meh workplace.
What gets the stress wheel going are the tedious tasks – sending and answering to emails, repetitive data entry, holding the same workshop the 23rd time, etc.
That’s why you should find ways to work efficiently.
If you can afford it, personal assistants help a lot with that.
They take the tedious part out of your work so you can focus on the good stuff. You don’t even have to hire someone full-time for that, you can find awesome, highly trained virtual assistants on places like Zirtual for as low as $400 a month.
Don’t really need and/or afford a virtual assistant?
That’s alright, technology is here to help. You can automate the boring parts of your work with software like Zapier, Memberful and MailChimp. Emails, data entry and scheduling are all done easier with these apps.
7. Do Fulfilled Projections
Meditation is great for a more productive lifestyle. It teaches you self-control, it improves your emotional stability and it’s a good tool for removing stress.
There’s a myriad of resources online about why you should do it and how you should do it. What I’d like to talk about now is a special kind of meditation, called projections.
So, once you’re capable to remove every thought from your head for at least 10-20 minutes, you should try imagining yourself in certain situations.
While you’re in a meditative stance, take your goals one at a time. Know them by heart and start projecting yourself in a situation where you’ve achieved your goals. Don’t just generally think about them, be specific about how you feel, what you see and what you do after you’ve made a million bucks or quit smoking.
Once you’ve got a clear picture about your best possible future scenario, also project yourself in situations where there’s a struggle. Imagine the obstacles along the way, such as getting bored, being stressed, and most importantly: failing. After that, also imagine how you’ve overcome the obstacle.
This will make burning out an easier obstacle to overcome, simply because you’ve mentally been there before. It’s like a trick for your mind – if the subconscious believes you’ve been in this situation in the past, and yet succeeded, it will be much easier to stay focused and stick to a schedule.
8. Sleep Well
Any effort towards burnout prevention is futile if you’re tired.
No matter how much motivated or hard working you are, if you don’t have a healthy sleeping schedule it will be physically impossible to stay focused and be productive.
Nobody knows why humans have to sleep, but everybody knows that they do have to
Experts suggest that for the average adult 7 to 9 hours of sleep should do the trick, but everybody is unique and you may need more or less. The basic healthy sleep schedule is a good 10 pm to 6 am slumber, because this is the interval our brain secretes the most melatonin, a hormone that helps with getting a restful shuteye.
You should start there and experiment with cutting or adding a few hours, based on how you feel.
Can’t accomplish everything you want with only 16 hours of conscious existence every day?
Biphasic and Polyphasic sleep can help. These are methods of segmenting your sleep schedule throughout the day in order to get rested, but have more time at your disposal. An example of a polyphasic sleep schedule would be sleeping from 1 am to 4 am, then taking two more 20 minutes naps at noon and in the evening.
It may sound like sleep deprivation, but a lot of people employ this method to be more efficient and avoid burnout by not being stressed by the tick of the clock.
Is this right for you? You can find out more over here.
9. Take Breaks
Taking a well-deserved break doesn’t mean giving in to burnout symptoms. It’s actually a great way to overcome them.
Everybody has a breaking point and there’s no shame in either stopping for a chat at the water cooler or taking a 3 day city break in the weekend. Disconnecting from your daily tasks is a great way to prevent burning out, because your subconscious realizes the tedious tasks don’t go on forever, and there’s fun at the end of the dreaded tunnel.
However, make sure you don’t spend too much time in the Bahamas!
Taking breaks that are too long (or too often) can have the opposite effect. To best avoid this, define clear breaks in your schedule.
When I’m not performing deep work, I work the classic 50 minutes with 10 minutes break time, but you can experiment with this. The Pomodoro Technique entails 25 minutes of focused work with 5 minutes of break time after each productive push, so that might work better for you.
10. Work For Yourself
The easiest way to not be overcome by dread every time you sit at your desk is to work for you. Your dreams, your goals, your ideas, your interests and your beliefs.
Stuck at a shi**y call center job while you dream to have your own business selling consultancy services?
There’s always something you can do to be closer to your dream. If right now you are dependent on a job you don’t like, there’s still time after 5 o’clock to learn a new skill, go back to school, put in the hours for a side project, etc.
You can imagine your current job as a tool – brings money in so you can invest them in your own ideas later on. That in and of itself will make every task easier to complete, and you’ll be much better prepared on how to overcome burnout at work.
The point is, you should always align your efforts with your goals, and make changes in your life accordingly: start saving money, create your own website, volunteer, get another degree.
Anything that gets you closer to where you want to be in life.
Final Thoughts on Avoiding Burnout
Here’s a closing recap on the best ways you can prevent burn out:
- Work Towards a Goal
- Schedule Your Day
- Build Positivity Into Your Life
- Practice Deep Work
- Exercise Regularly
- Optimize Work
- Do Fulfilled Projections
- Sleep Well
- Take Breaks
- Work For Yourself
None of these tips will solve your issues instantly. In fact, most of them will require dedication to complete.
But, with a little bit of patience and some diligence, following these steps on how to avoid burnout will get you closer to a stress-free life.
Till next time,