Whatever happened to the 9 to 5 workday? It seems like it’s passed us by in a split second leaving us constantly searching for more hours in a day. We get caught up in our work, family, and chores, leaving us little time to take care of ourselves. We might even see the glass half empty when we once saw it as half full. The bottom line is this: All of our hard work is necessary. The aftermath might not be.
How do we know when we’re burnt out?
Have you ever woken up in the morning feeling like you haven’t slept at all even though you had a full night’s sleep? How about those mornings when you dread getting into the car to go to work or take care of a sick relative? Any chance you’ve felt negative emotions, such as frustration, or found yourself to be cynical? When this happens, you’re likely experiencing the big B: Burnout.
So, how do we prevent it?
Tip 1: Set a cutoff time.
When we’re busy or passionate about something, time has a way of escaping us. Chances are that at some point, you’ve looked at the clock and asked yourself, “Where has the time gone?” While this is usually a good thing, when it happens often enough or we’re feeling the pressure of a deadline or new responsibility, it’s easy to be discouraged and feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done.
In the spirit of work/life balance, I encourage my clients to give themselves a cut off point at the end of the day. I often suggest they think about quality of their work at the end of the day vs. in the morning, especially if it will take longer at the end of the day to complete that task. You may be surprised at how you are able to look at the task at hand with a fresh perspective in the morning.
Let’s just say that you chose 6pm as your cut off time. And let’s just say you happened to make a dinner reservation for 6:30pm once a month at a restaurant you’ve been dying to try. My guess is that you’d figure out a way to get work done by 6pm so you could make that dinner reservation at 6:30pm.
What would happen if we all got into the habit of picking one or two days a week for starters when we decided to leave at 6pm (you name the time) and planned something to do that evening? It may be difficult at first and you might even struggle to find something not related to work or chores to do, but, ultimately, you’ll be able to push the mental reset button at night and be more productive the next day.
I once had a client who decided that public transportation forced him to pick his cutoff time. If he chose the last train available, he knew he’d either be sleeping at work or would be forced to take a cab. So, he decided that the train was a good motivator to get himself out of the office on time. And it worked.
Tip 2: Pencil in some fun
How exactly do people fit in time to hit the gym or see friends when they’re always so busy? Answer: they pencil in time to do something they love. This tip speaks to all the self –proclaimed Type A-ers out there who use calendars as a way of keeping themselves organized (that’s me!). If a calendar is not your preference, get creative in setting reminders for yourself. Try setting reminders in your phone, using colorful post-its, or even putting up a sign on the fridge.
Whether its Zumba, yoga, or that pottery class you’re dying to try, block out that class time in your schedule and stick to it. If recharging involves cuddling up with a good book, joining a book club, or spending time with friends, make sure that makes it on the schedule as well. The main idea here is to hold yourself to the plan you set, so make sure it’s something that motivates you and keeps your interest. You might even make a new friend or develop a new hobby!
Tip 3: Just say no
How many times do we hesitate to say “no” in a given day? When your boss asked you to push up a deadline or complete a last minute task, did you hesitate before saying “yes” or was it automatic? Most of us struggle to say “no” for a variety of reasons. We could be trying to prove our worth, have goal of being promoted, or know that they’re short staffed and you will ultimately end up completing the task anyways without a choice.
One of my clients recently told me about a company merger. She was debating whether or not to leave the company for a different position and, when offered to stay through the merge, didn’t think twice about saying “yes”. During the merge, she became overwhelmed with the amount of transition-related work that needed to be done and, before she knew it, found her workload had doubled and she was working 80 hour weeks. We talked about her struggle to say “no” to certain tasks and strategized ways she could politely say “no” without jeopardizing her job. She found these strategies so helpful that she even used them at home with her husband and kids.
Sometimes, talking with your boss or colleagues about why you’d like to wait on completing a task ends up being time saving in the long run. It might also prevent some headaches and emergency snack/coffee runs due to long hours and needing quick energy.
A word of caution here: before saying “no”, consider its impact. We’re not looking to make waves here, just ripples in the water. Tread lightly when needed.
Tip 4: Support in Numbers
We often talk about burnout in terms of our jobs. However, one of the more prevalent non-work related types of burnout is caregiver burnout. With the population of older adults increasing, it puts a strain on the adults in the “sandwich generation”, or the middle-aged adults that may be taking care of both their parents and children simultaneously.
Caregiver burnout is a unique type of burnout because of the physical and emotional strain it can place on one person or a family. We are seeing more and more caregivers that have day jobs and/or are family members and this impacts how people cope with stress.
One of the most important things to remember about being a caregiver is that there is strength in numbers. There are many wonderful resources out there waiting for people to take advantage of, so check out what’s in your area. Maybe there’s a support group for families who have a loved one with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or Huntington’s. There might even be one for a chronic illness or a more generalized support group for overwhelmed family members.
If your loved one has a specific illness, look into foundations or charities and see if they have support groups or other programs available. If hospice is involved, reach out to the care team and find out what’s offered for families. In this case, the more resources and people you know who can help, the better. That way, you’ll be armed with options if and when you need them.
Tip 5: Seek professional help
If your company offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), look into having a few therapy sessions with the EAP therapist. Employers have at least one therapist that they contract with to provide a limited number of free sessions for every employee, so check this benefit out if cost is an issue.
Either way, having a nonjudgmental person to talk to can be beneficial in helping sort out what’s really going on. If your company does not offer EAP benefits, consider seeking out a therapist in your area.
As a therapist, I often see clients who struggle to find a manageable work/life balance. They often talk about not having enough time to themselves, feel a strain on their personal relationships, and how disconnected they feel from their hopes, dreams, and aspirations.
Many of my clients report that even if they feel like they’re “venting” the entire session, they leave feeling less stressed and are armed with tools they can use to help solve those tricky day-to-day problems that arise. We all need to have tools in our emotional toolbox, so if you’re feeling like you don’t have the right tools to solve your problems, it might be time to go to the pros.
So, next time you’re feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and unmotivated, consider whether burnout is a possibility.Choose the burnout prevention strategies that work best for you and remember that you might have to try a few first to figure out what will best meet your needs. Knowing what works best for will help with consistency and will keep you on track. Before you know it, you’ll have more meaningful time to yourself and will have mastered the art of preventing burnout.