How to Avoid Burnout
Do you pride yourself on being a hard worker? Do you try to do your best at every task you take on every day?
Being a hard worker is an honorable trait and it’s a necessary part of achieving goals and advancing your career. But every strength has a downside when it’s taken to extremes.
Hard workers with high standards can’t help pushing themselves to produce excellent results. But eventually it’s very possible you’ll hit a limit and experience burnout. After all, you’re human… and even machines need a break!
Burning yourself out is all too easy to do when you’re dedicated, driven, determined and demanding.
The problem is that it hurts your health, your relationships and your career.
3 Steps to Avoid Burnout
If you’re feeling burned out or like you’re on your way there, it doesn’t have to be this way. You can take steps to avoid or get yourself out from exhaustion and overwhelm. Consider the following three steps.
1. Recognize Your Patterns
I’ve found that certain patterns of thinking and behavior are more likely to lead to burnout, which is why some of us (raising my hand here) are more likely to burnout than others.
Do any of these thoughts and beliefs ring true for you?
- Hard work pays off, no matter what you’re working on
- Success requires intense effort
- Have a sense of urgency
- Do your very best work on every task
- Get it to 100% no matter how long it takes
- If you want it done properly, do it yourself
- Keep improving it
- Keep working until you finish
The thing about beliefs like these is that they have probably served you incredibly well for much of your life and career. They’re how you’ve gotten ahead, achieved goals, closed deals, and gained wins, promotions and recognition.
But at some point, the approach of redoubling your efforts and bearing down on problems until you wrestle them to the ground may stop working for you. And it can even come close to being your downfall.
So now is a good time to get in touch with what your patterns and tendencies are and see which ones might get you in trouble if you take them to extremes.
2. Pay Attention to Wake-Up Calls
Once you get in touch with your patterns and tendencies, you’ll find it easier to notice the early signs that point to future burnout.
In my experience, they usually show up in your health (mental and physical), feeling of well-being (or lack of it) and relationships. Think of these as “wake-up calls”.
They tend to start as “whispers” so you might not recognize them for what they are, like having trouble sleeping or constantly replaying things in your mind.
But then they get progressively louder – it’s your body looking out for you – until at some point, it becomes impossible for you to continue in the same old way you’ve always done things.
Often, it takes a serious wake-up call to acknowledge that you might be working too hard and about to burn yourself out. It could be something like an accident that happens because you were tired and distracted, a panic attack over a seemingly simple thing or becoming paranoid that everyone’s out to get you.
The best thing for you, your career and the people around you is to heed those early “whispers” because you’ll stay on track and have a better life.
The second-best thing is to pay attention to whatever wake-up call you’re getting right now and use it to motivate yourself to make a change.
3. Change Your Approach
It can be challenging to make a change, especially a fundamental one like changing your beliefs and the way you approach work.
Even if it’s obvious you need to make a change, you’ll probably be tempted to adopt a temporary fix. Like rest for a couple hours (or even a day) but then dive right back in as soon as you feel better.
But band-aids like this only put off the fundamental shift you need to make to transform your future possibilities from burnout to a better life.
So don’t wait. The sooner you transform your approach, the more enjoyable and successful your life and career will be.
Recently, I was faced with a wake-up call – fortunately the “whisper” kind. Given my past experience (a longer story for another day), I figured I had better take it seriously and not rely on a quick fix.
So I committed to changing my approach to work with the goal of finding a healthier, more sustainable way forward. It’s the only way I can achieve my vision for my business while honoring my relationships and personal well-being.
Here’s what I did to make the transformation from the burnout route to a sustainable one. Could it work for you too?
Old Way, New Way
I sat down and made two lists. On the left side of the page, I wrote down my “Old Way” of doing things and on the right side, the “New Way” I’ll replace it with. You could also call them “Old Beliefs” and “New Beliefs” if you prefer.
Both sides of the ledger are important. On the left side, you’re acknowledging the way you’re currently approaching work and life. That’s the first step to any change.
On the right side, you’re identifying the new approach you want to take so you know what to do and say to yourself when your old patterns crop up. And they will.
Making the linkage from the Old Way to the New Way is key to the transformation you want to make.
My “Old Way” of thinking and behaving was essentially my set of patterns and tendencies. My “New Way” is how I am retraining myself to think and what I want to value.
Old Way: Hard work pays off, no matter what you’re working on.
New Way: Focus on what’s essential, don’t worry about the rest.
Old Way: Success requires intense effort.
New Way: Find the ease in what you do.
Old Way: Have a sense of urgency.
New Way: Everything in its time and place.
Old Way: Do my very best work on every task.
New Way: Identify what’s “good enough” for each task.
Old Way: Get it to 100% no matter how long it takes.
New Way: Do my 80% quickly – stay away from the point of diminishing returns.
Old Way: If you want it done properly, do it yourself.
New Way: Put together a good brief, create a template, allow others to display their genius.
Old Way: Keep improving it.
New Way: Get to done and move on.
Old Way: Keep working until you finish.
New Way: Take breaks, step away at impasses, share with others, come back refreshed.
What changes do you need to make to avoid burnout?
So how about you? Are there any “wake-up calls” you need to listen to? Is it time to make a change in your approach to work and life?
Remember that “what got you here won’t get you there”.
And when it’s time to make a change, pull out a clean sheet of paper (or the digital equivalent) and write down your Old Way or Old Belief and the new one you’re going to replace it with.
Keep this list close to you – where you can see it every day and remind yourself.
When you can keep morphing yourself to do what’s needed at the next level, that’s the real success formula.
What’s the Old Way you most want to change in order to get to the next level of your greatness, and what’s the New Way you can replace it with?
Leave me a comment and let me know.
This is just what I need right now to support my learning path to the next level. Thank you, May. Sending love from sunny Arizona.
So glad this is helpful Kelly! Sending positive thoughts your way.
The hills and valleys have been the course of my entire career. I feel I’ve been trending up with a more steady, positive through line but still encounter the burn and fatigue of burn out. Much attributable to those whispers you’ve highlighted.
One key factor of which I’m aware for myself is the constant need to get in front of and follow up on everything. I then find myself becoming critical of others who don’t, or appear to not, follow the same sense of urgency. And eventually the wear and tear from chasing everything starts taking its toll.
I’m aware and am working on the acceptance of the “good” and 80%. Recently read an article on Medium that what we say yes to yesterday defines who we are today and that which we say yes to today sets the stage for who we will be tomorrow. It also references the quote from Warren Buffett regarding successful people say no to most everything. Of course there is context and nuance at play, but a key element of my return of resilience and enjoyment of the day, work or play, is to put into practice “No” a bit more.
Thanks for sharing these great insights Don. Especially Warren Buffett’s point about saying “no”. Wonderful that you are so aware – you’re on a good path. Keep going!
The consideretion old/new ways gives me a lot of values.
This is principal clue. The transformation had been started. I hope with a succes.
Thanks a lot
Wishing you well in your transformation, Michal. Sounds like you are off to a great start – keep going!
I really like the OLD WAY / NEW WAY comparison list. I am definitely a comparison person and a list maker so this really made sense to me.
Awesome that you like the Old Way / New Way lists. Looking forward to hearing how that shifts things for you.
that was so me! and did go through the morphing with a hard wake up call unfortunately. But a change it was and I am back in full force – what you describe works and works wonders. It is an efficient way to go about it.
You are welcome, Monica. So glad you’re back at full force. Congratulations and wishing you well!
Hey May !
This is a great article! Thank you. The lesson I learnt why I was struggling for my past career life was that I never learned how to fight the battle of the mind.
Honestly, we don’t have to hit rock bottom before we really change. There are wake-up calls going on all around us every day, if we’ll only listen to them. But if we don’t, you’ll continue on a path toward destruction.
If we want to learn to manage our mind, we must be delivered from destructive thoughts. That isn’t easy, because there are enemies -> old nature and world’s value system that keep us from fulfilling all our good intentions of changing our life. The body says what the lips cannot…
I believe there are powerful, underlying messages and meanings when these things occur, and there are key lessons our life is trying to teach us through these experiences, if we will only stop, sit up and listen.
Thank you for sharing these observations and wise words – and yes, we need to stop, sit up and listen!
Really appreciate this lesson and exercise. I made my lists and felt different even after writing just two of my old beliefs and the new beliefs that I choose to hold in their place. Thank you May! I’m listening to the whispers.
Wonderful, Renee! And you may find it helpful to review the old beliefs/new beliefs lists on a regular basis to reinforce the change. Keep listening to those whispers!
I work in a very old way company. We now have new and younger VP’s that are committed in changing all the company’s culture to the new way.
I can tell you, it’s a real struggle in all aspects, personally, professionally and collectively.
Breaking old habits it’s hard, especially for the older generations.
I was appointed as the intern manager and I wanted to prove myself.
I learned the hard way, I burned out and it affected my heart so I had to take a year off.
Now I definitely hear the whispers & I whisper to my team.
I always learn something with your words.