Overcoming Burnout

I think it’s safe to say that all of us have experienced burnout at some point.

Depending on your circumstance, you may have the freedom to walk away from the cause of your burnout or you might have to grin and bear it for the foreseeable future.

Assuming you’re in the latter situation, I’d like to share some encouragement as well as some tips for how you can get yourself over the hump of burnout and back into a space of creativity and energy.

Two Very Different Jobs That Lead Me to Burnout

A Tale of a Job I Hated

I drove 45 minutes in traffic one-way, every day. Once arrived, I sat in a cubicle between the designated hours of 8a – 5p, minus a lunch respite.

My skill-set was not just under-utilized — it wasn’t utilized at all. Because my work depended on the success of our unsuccessful sales team, I was never needed for the job I was hired to do. They kept me busy on random tasks about 40% of the time. For the rest of my time, I thought up projects to keep myself useful (created a company intranet, re-did the website, re-designed business cards, etc.). I was incredibly bored.

While it might sound like a dream to do very little and get paid for it, it was soul-sucking to make that drive every day to an office where I felt that I had zero impact.

It was the most money I’d ever made for the least work I’d ever done.

A Tale of a Job I Loved

Some mornings I was at work by 4:30am, other evenings I didn’t clock out until 11pm and it’d be long after midnight before my mind and body could relax enough to sleep.

I enjoyed the work, but it was physically demanding and, at times, emotionally exhausting. I served the public, which means I was on my feet all day, cleaning things you hope to never clean, and getting yelled at for things I couldn’t control. I also managed a team of humans, which meant I regularly dealt with the inevitable drama humans bring and the impact of that in a workplace.

Despite the never-ending demand, I energetically performed my duties for years, fueled by the satisfaction of work well done and the ability to positively impact so many lives. Even so, it eventually became too much.

It was the least money I’d ever made for the most work I’d ever done.

Here Comes the Burnout

It didn’t matter that I hated one job and loved the other, I eventually burned out on both.

Whether you love your job or hate it, you can still experience burnout. Click To Tweet

According to the Mayo Clinic, job burnout is:

…a special type of job stress — a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work.

In their article, Job burnout: How to spot it and take action, they list multiple causes of burnout. I’ve personally hit almost all of them:

Job I Hate:

  • Lack of control.
  • Unclear job expectations.
  • Mismatch in values.
  • Poor job fit.

Job I Love:

  • Dysfunctional workplace dynamics.
  • Extremes of activity.
  • Work-life imbalance.

Can you relate to any of those? If so, I’d like to offer a little light at the end of the tunnel and some tips for beating burnout.

5 Tips for Beating Burnout

1. Change Your Scenery

I work from a home office – I sit at the same desk every day and spend more time in this room than any other room in my house.

While the continuity of location is good for my overall productivity, sometimes a simple change of scenery can refresh my creativity and my mood. And when I say simple, I mean just moving my laptop to the kitchen table for a bit. When I’m needing a bigger change, I’ll roll up to a coffee shop. When I’m really desperate, I’ll re-arrange my office furniture.

If you don’t have the freedom to leave the building or even your cubicle/office, you can still change up your scenery.

Try switching something up: Change out the pictures on your desk, put something different on the wall*, or put a new background image on your computer.

Changing up little things that are part of your daily landscape can shift your mind and give you a boost.

* At the job I hated, I had a world map pinned to the wall and would study different locations, dreaming of the vacation my paycheck could eventually fund.

2. Change Your Routine

My work-from-home routine looks similar on any given day. Granted, I’m not trying to overcome burnout at this particular time, but here are some techniques I’ve used in the past:

  • Get up 30 minutes earlier than usual – to walk, to write, to watch a sunrise.
  • Break up the day – hit the gym, grocery store, or run errands mid-day instead of after work.
  • Take an actual lunch away from your desk – it’s ridiculous that I even have to include this.

For you commuting folk:

  • Do you normally take the elevator? Take the stairs.
  • Do you normally make coffee at work when you arrive? Try leaving home early one day a week (I used to like Fridays) and treating yourself to a made-to-order coffee.
  • Do you eat lunch at work? Take an actual lunch away from your desk! Go sit with your sack lunch in nature. 🙂

Changing simple details in your daily grind forces your brain to engage with your environment just a little differently.

3. Know When to Say No

Here’s a fact of life: As long as you say “yes” to things, the things will keep coming.

I’m not recommending you say “no” to your clients at every turn (or your boss, or your spouse), but I bet you can think of at least one thing you’ve agreed to in the past week that you wish you hadn’t.

  • Did you take a project when you knew you didn’t have the bandwidth?
  • Did you schedule social plans when you knew you needed to catch up on work business or personal life?
  • Did you go to a meeting and volunteer for task because it was easy, even though you knew you were stretched thin?

I’ve said “yes” to all of those things (and a lot more), but I can tell you that the older I get, the more I’m comfortable sticking to my boundaries and saying “no” to things that get in the way of my larger priorities.

A big part of burnout comes from overloading yourself with too many obligations. Start whittling away at the optional ones and create a little breathing room for yourself.

Say “no” now so that you have the freedom to say “yes” to a better opportunity later.

By the way – if setting boundaries is an area you struggle with a lot, I highly recommend Boundaries, by Henry Cloud.

4. Take Care of Yourself

Warning: What I’m about to recommend sounds incredibly selfish, but I guarantee it has the power to improve both your frame of mind and the relationships of people around you, at work and at home.

In my 20’s I experienced a significant bout of depression. I was taking care of the people around me to such an extent that I became very unhealthy – mentally, emotionally, physically. I remember well sitting on my front porch with a wise friend who gave me this advice:

If you’re not healthy, you’re not doing anyone else any good.

The message loud and clear? Make the effort to take care of myself so that I can take care of everything else effectively.

Most of us don’t have the luxury of simply retreating away. We have a responsibility to our job, our family, and the people we owe. The key is to find little ways to take care of yourself while not dropping the ball on your responsibilities.

It could be as simple as a 15-minute walk every day to clear your head, or an afternoon off to play video games with your brother. Do things that take your mind off of what’s weighing you down, so long as it’s not destructive (i.e. Getting blitzed and calling up your boss…).

This looks different for everybody, but I bet you know one thing you could do to take care of yourself without spending a dime. Be purposeful about making space in your schedule to take care of yourself, even if it means skipping something else that’s a “good thing.”

When you’re taking care of yourself, you’ll find you have more energy for your family and your work.

5. Make a Game Plan

One of the feelings I hate the most – maybe the feeling I hate the most? Feeling out of control. And that’s unfortunate since I control very little in this world. 🙂

Even though the majority of life and work is out of our immediate control, you can still take action to get out from under the things that burn you out.

Can you name the causes of your burnout?

  • Do you hate your job, but can’t afford to leave?
  • Is your boss’s boss a giant pecker that won’t stop nit-picking your every move?
  • Are your clients a never-ending stream of unreasonable requests?

Whatever it is, you may not have the power to change it, but you do have it in your power how you handle it. To the above scenarios:

  • Make some short-term sacrifices to your lifestyle so that you can exit the job you hate and make a leap to work you really want to do, even if it pays less.
  • Start freelancing on the side until you build enough of a client base to leave your full-time job.
  • Work on your communication skills so you can better manage client expectations and relationships, earning more in the process.

Sit down and plan your strategy. Assess your finances, consult with your partner, and research what it would take to free yourself from the burnout, whether it’s finding a new job or simply getting over the hump.

Once you know your strategy, set date-specific milestones and start working toward them methodically.

Having a plan of action offers a light at the end of the tunnel, giving you something purposeful to do and making today’s burnout a little more bearable.

Update: Since I originally wrote this article, I’ve written a more in-depth piece on mental health and entrepreneurship. I invite you to read it here.

10 thoughts on “Overcoming Burnout”

  1. Tried to hit “Reply” to your reply above … you may want to check out your browser console 🙂

    I was asking if you were left-handed because I think you sometimes think like a left-hander … or maybe you sometimes think in a similar way to me … and I’m left-handed … therefore … 🙂

    Funny you should mention The Princess Bride. My wife and her best friend just happened to watch it – again – only last weekend. My wife is left-handed too 🙂

  2. Pingback: Work life balance -- Draft podcast | Post Status

  3. You absolutely nailed it Carrie! As someone working to change their career (my Career 2.0 as I call it) from the equivalent of your job 1 (after 17 years) with a multi-year plan, I know all about burnout, depression, etc. Thanks for putting this down in one post. We should talk at WCUS.

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