Burnout: the nemesis of the highly driven
Managing burnout can feel like an impossible task. When you’re working at breakneck speeds — often for days, weeks or months — with no end in sight, the thought of continuing to tackle job responsibilities at such a fast pace is enough to put anyone into a full-blown burnout breakdown. You might even feel like quitting your job, even if you’re highly driven and love what you do.
What’s worse is that burnout is so common. Most high-performing individuals experience burnout at some point in their lives. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that this kind of exhaustion is serious — so serious that it can stop executives, entrepreneurs and other go-getters from achieving their dreams.
If you’re currently managing burnout, what can you do? Let’s look at what burnout is, as well as how to tackle it when true exhaustion sets in.
By now, burnout symptoms are well-documented. When it comes to job burnout, ask yourself these questions:
- Have you grown critical or cynical of your work?
- Do you have a hard time starting your job in the morning?
- Are you procrastinating far more than you might have in the past?
- Are you often irritable, annoyed or impatient with coworkers, customers or clients?
- Do you feel like you lack the energy to complete daily tasks?
- Are you having trouble concentrating?
- When you do achieve something, do you no longer feel a sense of achievement?
- Are you disillusioned with your work?
- Are you sleeping poorly?
- Do you have other unexplained physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach cramps, bowel problems or bodily aches and pains?
- Are you feeling depressed or anxious?
If you’ve answered “yes” to a majority of these questions, you’re probably experiencing burnout. Once you’ve established that you’re officially burnt out, the next step involves coming up with tools and tactics to manage and dispense with your exhaustion.
While not always possible, it’s best to prevent burnout before it happens. Here are some different ways to think about burnout, and how to stop it in its tracks before it turns into a life-altering problem.
- Don’t allow “slippage” to occur: You’ve probably never heard of the term slippage before, and that’s okay — I invented it, after all. After watching a number of executives go through the stages of burnout, I noticed something most of them had in common: when it came to their daily routine, they were allowing something very important to slip through the cracks. It could’ve been their eating habits, their sleep, their exercise routine, their downtime or even just their time spent outside. Whatever the case, they were letting go of a lot of preventative tactics that could’ve stopped burnout from happening before it hit. The goal, of course, is to stop slippage from occurring, thus preventing burnout before it sets in.
- Address your emotional state: When your emotional state is calm and level, you’re able to handle more. This is probably best demonstrated through the concept of parenting: think about a parent who is well-rested and coming off of a vacation vs. a parent who has been up for three nights straight with a sick child. Which parent is going to be able to handle more adversity, conflict and difficulty in their life? The same goes for burnout: if you’re emotionally well, you’re going to be able to handle a lot more adversity in your daily job than if you’re feeling depressed, upset or unwell.
- Turn inward and become introspective: Burnout is kind of like driving on the freeway at 80 miles an hour. While working at a breakneck pace will help you get where you’re going pretty fast, you’re not going to see anything along the way. Maybe that works in the short-term, but you’re going to get bored, restless and tired if you’re always whizzing by everything. Instead, try slowing down and reflecting on your life once in a while to stay grounded and centered. My top recommendation for this is to try journaling: writing about your experiences is one of the best ways to catalogue them with purpose and intent.
Lastly, when it comes to prevention, it’s important to remember that none of these tips or techniques are considered “breaks” from work. Everything we’ve just discussed is actually a part of your work. That’s because your work won’t happen if you don’t do all of these things. You’ll either end up doing a worse job than you’d like, or you’ll decide not to work at all, because neglecting yourself and pretending burnout isn’t real is the worst way to stop burnout from happening.
Managing burnout when it occurs
Unfortunately, sometimes it’s impossible to prevent burnout. The nature of modern work means that sometimes you’re going to have to put your head down and get things done. When that happens, slippage might occur, and you might be reeling from sleep loss, poor nutrition or a lack of exercise. What can you do?
Here are some tactics for overcoming burnout:
- Dispense with guilt and take a break: One of the biggest reasons burnout persists after it sets in is because people who are most prone to burnout are those who work really, really hard. That means you’re probably not used to taking a break, even if you need it. Resting when there’s work to be done might make you feel guilty, anxious or stressed. But continuing to push through burnout is only going to make you, your work and your mental health suffer. Instead, take a step back and do what you need to recharge. Depending on what you like to do to relax, that could mean taking a nap, making a cup of tea, going for a walk, seeing a movie or even just changing your physical environment. Whatever it takes, take some time to yourself to replenish and “check out” from work.
- Reintroduce play into your atmosphere: If you’re feeling burnt out and you’re stressed over a big meeting, project or presentation at work, you might think the answer is to put your head down and get serious. In fact, the opposite could be true. If you’re feeling anxious about a meeting, why would scanning and re-scanning your notes make you feel any less nervous? Instead, try having a little fun. Maybe you need to watch a funny TikTok. Maybe you need to read a chapter from your favorite book. Whatever it is, introduce a little levity back into your life, and see what happens.
- Make it your mission to feel good: A lot of us get burnt out because we feel like it’s our job to accomplish things. That’s a very North American way of looking at things, but unfortunately, it’s deeply ingrained. Instead of trying to rid yourself of that belief, try looking at it this way: what if what you absolutely need to accomplish is feeling good? Instead of believing that taking breaks and playing a little and having a good time are barriers to your achievement, consider them tools you can use to accomplish your most important goal: feeling good.
I think a lot of people make the mistake of thinking that burnout “cures” are frivolous things that get in the way of doing big things. After all, it might not seem like getting a facial or watching a football game are tactics to doing better at your job. But those types of things are absolutely crucial to your wellbeing, and that means they’re also crucial to your job performance. Consider them a part of the job description, if you will.
Ask yourself these burnout management questions
For those of you out there reading this right now and feeling burnt out, let me ask you the following questions:
- What are you doing to give yourself a break?
- What do you like to do when you’re not “getting work done”?
- Are you getting enough exercise, sleep, water, sunlight and nutritious food?
- When’s the last time you closed your computer early for the day and went on a walk?
- Will the world end if you don’t get something done for a few extra hours? Days? Weeks?
- When’s the last time you allowed yourself to play?
- Are you giving yourself a break mentally, as well as physically?
- Can you let go of your guilt regarding work?
- Are you able to make it your mission to feel good every single day?
- Are you on board with the idea that all of these things will make you even better at what you do for a living?
Hopefully these questions will help you look at managing burnout a little differently down the road. For even more advice on overcoming burnout and exhaustion, you can always drop us a line. From burnout to job advancement and more, coaches such as myself offer executives and other high-performing individuals the tools and tactics they need to manage their daily lives.