Advice on how to prevent burnout for IT professionals
Recently, I described how to identify work-related burnout in yourself or your staff members. Tech pros are very susceptible to this malady, but being able to spot it doesn't help much if you don't have a cure. Let's discuss some tips for breaking out of burnout mode and returning to a constructive way of thinking and working.
Pauses in career goals are okay
Changing your attitude isn't something as simple as saying that you aren't going to be burned out. You can attack burnout by realizing that the factors that cause it aren't as important or time critical as they might appear.
First, you must realize that the problems and issues contributing to your feeling of burnout don't matter in the grand scheme of things. Even a few weeks or months of setbacks don't mean that things cannot change or that you aren't on the right track.
This is particularly true when one of the causes of burnout is feeling that you aren't reaching your professional goals. Younger professionals tend to think about their careers as having to move forward every month, every week, and every day; however, slow, steady progress towards a goal is the right approach. An occasional pause to collect oneself isn't a bad thing.
Remember what's important
All of us, burned out or not, tend to get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of our day-to-day activities, and we sometimes forget that we work to live. We must take time to have a life. It's rarely the core things that are truly important to you that contribute to your burnout feeling.
For me, I must remember that the health of my son and my wife are more important than any project or person at work. I have to remember to pet my dogs, to take a deep breath in the spring air, hold a peaceful baby, or any one of the hundred things that are truly important to me.
Make a list of the things that are important in your life and how well they are going. Even if one important aspect of your life isn't going well, it is a sure bet that the majority of them are, and that one bad aspect is sure to get better.
Focus on areas of positive growth
Focus on what's moving forward in your life. When you are feeling burned out, describe the things in your life and the things surrounding you that are progressing. There are usually more things going right than wrong. You just have to take the time to think through what they are.
The things that are going right could be anything: your car running, your house still standing when you wake up in the morning, or something more significant, such as a spouse or significant other that cares about you. Make a list in your mind of all of the things that are going right—big and small.
Break your routine
Sometimes it's difficult to change your perspective while still on the job. You may need a change in routine or, in some cases, a vacation—even an inexpensive one. Breaking out of your daily work routine can help you to focus on your life outside of work and what it means to you.
Even if it is only for a few days or a few hours, getting away from your job can help clear your head. It can be as simple as taking your children or nieces and nephews to the park to play. You can go fly a kite or ride a bike. Anything that changes your routine so that you are not doing the same things can help you feel less burned out.
One of my least favorite activities is exercise. In fact, my idea of running is trying to get away from something. However, the endorphins that your body releases during exercise can help you feel better. As little as 20 minutes of exercise every other day can help change your perspective.
Ultimately, burnout that isn't addressed becomes depression, which is a treatable medical condition. If you have tried changing your routine, changing your attitude, and made lists in your mind of the things that are important and positive in your life, and nothing has worked, it is time to ask for help.
Larger organizations today have employee assistance programs (EAPs) to help employees who are struggling with emotional issues. EAPs are confidential and can help point you toward the kind of help that you need.
If your organization doesn't have an EAP, you can consult your primary care physician/family doctor. Although family doctors aren't necessarily experts on burnout, they will know how to help you cope. And even if your doctor can't help you or can't determine the extent of the problem, he or she can find someone who can.
Don't give in
Though it can be difficult to overcome, it's important to break free of burnout because it has the potential to consume the energy and drive in anyone. And even if you aren't experiencing burnout right now, take care to vary your routine and keep a positive perspective to prevent it from getting you down.