By Kate Zabriskie
Wake up, coffee, shower, office, meeting, call, meeting, call, work, work, call, store, gas, home, dinner, walk, work, bed, repeat. You are busy and exhausted, and each day is less satisfying than the last. If that describes your day, you may be dangerously close to big-time burnout.
How did you end up in this seemingly endless cycle? In all likelihood, a little at a time. In other words, the problem gradually evolved. We said “yes” when we shouldn’t have; we took on projects that added little value; we made choices that were pennywise and pound foolish; and the list goes on.
So, how does one stop the churn? The same way it started: one step at a time.
Step One: Imagine a Better Future
The first step in addressing burnout is picturing the ideal in conjunction with reality. If you could wave a magic wand paired with a dose of reality, what would your day look like? Fewer meetings? Less travel? More interesting people? Less chaos? Whatever it is, get a clear vision in your mind about what energized looks like. Once you do, you’ll have a destination toward which you can strive.
Step Two: Look for Root Causes
Think about what got you to where you are and if it has happened before. People who find themselves overwhelmed and overworked often arrive at this destination more than once. They take on too much, frantically shed activities, and then again find themselves in the same position. It happens more easily than you might think. Despite their dealing with all the activities their choices create, repeat offenders often fail to address the root cause of their predicament.
If you’ve been on the hamster wheel more than a time or two, look for patterns. Do you take on activities before thinking through costs versus benefits? Do you make decisions that don’t factor in the long-term implications in addition to the short-term rewards? Do you take joy in being busy, but then become overwhelmed and just shut down?
The faster you recognize the source (or sources) of unpleasant busyness, the quicker you can start to do something to avoid getting back on the wheel.
Step Three: Ask Yourself What Activities Add Value for You
Deliberate decision-making can reduce burnout. When taking on a new task, clearly identify the value it delivers for you or someone who matters in your life. Working extra hours on a project that interests you and could open doors in the future might be a fine investment. On the other hand, flying halfway across the country to meet with a client you could connect with via video conference is something on which a deliberate decision-maker would probably take a pass.
But what if your boss insists you meet with the client in person despite your reservations? From time to time, what you think is important and what others identify as critical will differ. That’s normal, and you might find yourself on an airplane regardless of your cost/benefit analysis. It happens, but it doesn’t alter the fundamentals: focus on what you can control and don’t let the things you can’t become an excuse for not managing the decisions you do make.
Step Four: Block Time for Battery Recharging
Even if you participate only in activities that add value, you can still find yourself tapping out your personal reservoir. Value-add after value-add after value-add with no break will still lead to burnout. For that reason, block out some time for thinking, walking, reading, or doing whatever helps you renew and recharge. A meeting-free day, for example, can yield great dividends. Can’t get a full day? How about a morning off to work in solitude if silence and quiet time are important to you? The point is calendars fill, and if you don’t claim space something or somebody will gobble up your time. You will only have yourself to blame.
Step Five: Reflect and Ask if What Used to Be Important Still Is
Sometimes, what used to be a fruitful activity no longer is. For example, if you once got a lot out of networking with a group, and now seeing those same people doesn’t have the same return on investment, it could be time to redirect your energy to something more fulfilling. Do you participate in activities that used to excite but no longer interest you? Are you maintaining friendships or relationships you find draining? Are you holding on to projects you should delegate? If so, it may be time to refine your calendar instead of going through motions that ultimately drain you.
Burnout from an endless spin is real. With a little effort and time, you can change gears and slow the pace.
Kate Zabriskie is president of Business Training Works Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. For more information, visit businesstrainingworks.com.
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