Feeling burned out at work can be an afternoon affair or a multi-week slog. Here are some ways to cope with this inevitability.
Whether we admit it or not, most of us have experienced burnout at some point. For me, this is usually a feeling of productivity paralysis: an inability to start, advance, or complete any project on my docket, and a feeling I can best describe as bemused dread as deadlines slip and the queue relentlessly fills while I watch like a dumbstruck bystander. In the best case, this is a single day affair, easily cured by ending the day and waking to a new one. However, like many others, I've also experienced multi-week versions of these feelings that result in negative career impacts and a deepening sense of ineffectiveness and depression. Here are some tips for recovering from burnout.
A change of some sort, even if completely unrelated to your work, can often help provide a psychological "jolt" that breaks the burnout cycle. In the simplest case, stopping what you're doing, putting your mobile phone away, and taking a long walk might be the cure. For more insidious forms of burnout, consider changing your diet, adding or changing an exercise routine, delegating or abandoning a project, taking a long vacation, or in a particularly insidious case of burnout, changing job roles or employers.
Check your (four-legged) stool
I've long evaluated my life in terms of a metaphorical four-legged stool: health, work, family, and finances. When one of these legs suffers, or in particularly challenging times, multiple legs are out of whack, burnout often results. Your struggles at work might be due to ongoing financial worries, or the most obvious manifestation: poor sleep (health) resulting from challenges at work.
Also consider the media you're consuming. The news media is not a great source of positivity these days, so putting yourself on a restricted news diet and refocusing on friends and family who are close might be just what you need to adjust your attitude and reduce feelings of burnout.
Too much work is a sure recipe for burnout, and in times of stress it's tempting to bring everything in-house and try to micromanage key tasks to maintain a sense of control over their outcome. However, this only increases your workload and exacerbates the problems of burnout. Take a hard look at the tasks you're managing on a daily basis, and identify ones you can readily delegate, even if there might be some startup time while you transition them and oversee someone who may require some initial handholding.
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Seek trusted (and honest) advice
Sometimes the best cure for burnout is a sense of perspective, encouragement, or even the verbal equivalent of a swift kick in the pants. Seek a friend, spouse, family member, or colleague who is not in your area, and share your challenges and ask for their honest assessment. Things may not be as bad as they seem, and merely vocalizing your challenges can often be the first step to overcoming them. Avoid sharing with subordinates or those experiencing similar feelings of burnout. With the former, you'll appear to be complaining, and with the latter, you run the risk of joining a pity party that only deepens your sense of dismay.
While it sounds gimmicky, if there's some entity I'm finding particularly challenging or troubling, I might write them an email or letter and unload all my thoughts and vitriol, and then later delete it. Or write an informal journal where you can get all your concerns on paper and out of your head. Obviously, don't send these emails or share these journals, and ideally do them using a technology that's not connected to your employer's systems, like pen and paper or a personal machine at home where there's little risk your missive ends up accidentally sent or saved to a company server.
Learn from the burn
As you begin to recover from a case of burnout, try to identify the source and ultimate cures. Perhaps you get burned out during a particular time of year, in which case a preemptive vacation might be an easy solution. Perhaps you delegated a key task and the effort was ultimately successful, indicating that more delegation might be a great way to avoid burnout. If you can become better at understanding your personal cycles and identifying the onset of burnout, you'll grow better at mitigating it.
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