Maybe you’ve experienced it before: The dread of going into the office. Feeling completely helpless as the growing responsibilities of work stare you down. Paralysis ensues instead of action. Day after day this inaction breeds more and more anxiety. You start to wonder: "What happened?"
Four short months ago, you felt unstoppable. But now, you feel out of control and unable to achieve what you used to.
Welcome to burnout.
It happens to all of us, high-performers and newcomers alike. While there is a distinct difference between burnout and overwhelm from poor prioritizing, both can leave us feeling helpless and our energy depleted.
One common misconception is that if we are putting in 80 hours a week, we’re heading for burnout. While this isn’t totally untrue, there is an equation that gives more insight into what causes this:
Time ≠ burnout (time does not equal burnout)
If we’re used to producing at a high-level, it feels odd when we don’t consistently show up and crush it. At first we think it could be the day or even the week but, eventually, our performance starts to slip into a spiral. We hope no one notices as we put in more hours and try harder than ever. Unfortunately, more effort is not the solution to this problem.
(Time + “x-factors”) + “X-factor” = Burnout
What are some of these possible “x factors”?
- Too little sleep?
- Unbalanced diet?
- Lack of vitamins and minerals?
- Family stresses happening in life?
- Financial stress?
Psychology Today featured some research from Drs. Michael P. Leiter and Christina Maslach giving insight into what some other “x-factors” may be:
- Lack of control in what you’re doing
- Values conflict between yourself and the organization
- Insufficient reward for the work you feel you’re doing
- Overloaded with work
- Unfairness at work
- Breakdown in community
As real as these are, we can often see them coming. One perspective that catches most of us off-guard is the following:
The slippery slope to career burnout
I’m betting you’re a pretty good employee. In fact, probably a great one. You’re constantly trying to learn how to get your edge back and improve your productivity. Constantly working hard to get amazing results.
One thing we often fall into as dedicated employees is the “yes” zone.
Say you’ve started a new gig or just recently got a promotion. The CEO or a leader approaches you to help solve an emergency. OF COURSE you want to be a help and increase your exposure! You say yes, enthusiastically, and you do a great job. In fact, you absolutely deliver. And because you did such an amazing job, you deliver again and again over the next few years.
You become known as the GO-TO for this problem and eventually carve out your niche in this area.
Slowly, though, you start realizing this is your whole role. You find you’re doing less of the work you really want to be doing.
One day you realize you’re a bit tapped out. You’re dipping into your energy reserves.
Then one day, as you open your eyes you’re staring down the barrel of burnout.
You never saw it coming.
You do great work. You show up and deliver. Every time. And now, for what?
But that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. Here are three ways to get your edge back when you’re approaching burnout.
Break the pattern
Monotony can be one heck of a drain on your psyche. Sometimes your brain just needs a pattern interrupt.
A lot of us are high-performance employees who have just gotten away from high-performance habits. Maybe we stopped meditating. Perhaps, we used to take the extra 15 minutes to set priorities for the following day. What was it that you used to do that really made a difference but the dull of the process has moved you away from doing?
We can also switch up our physical patterns and go out on a weeknight to a relaxing place (I always love a cigar and communication). Check in on some work out classes (I recently started going to Orangetheory). Go to a place you’ve never gone before and just walk around — let your brain breathe in a new experience. Go look at something from a new perspective.
Practically speaking, sometimes I’ll go to a grocery store I’ve never been to before, put in my headphones and do the grocery shopping while experiencing something new. Since each store is set up a little different, my brain loves this little exercise. There is a new Whole Foods that opened about 25 minutes away I'm excited to try soon.
Take a close look at how you’re spending your mornings on the weekend, or even during the week. Is there something new you could try to bring back a level of excitement to your life? I’ve been fighting to maximize Sunday (5:30 - 7:00 AM) as a time of reflection on the last week and setting expectations for the days ahead. If I can’t do it, I love to grab a cigar in the afternoon on Sunday and just think.
At work, ask for a new, more interesting responsibility (don’t ask for more work that doesn’t satisfy you!). Is there a hole in a process you could patch up? Do you notice an inefficiency that just requires someone to take ownership? Even better, is there an opportunity going unseized that you could move forward? See if you can dedicate some of your working day to that task instead of the daily schedule that has you feeling like you’re stuck in a rut. Even 15-30 minutes a day of something new can start to chip away at the dull buzz of daily process.
Evaluate the margins
Your margin time is the time you spend outside of work. For example, your daily commute or your weekends. What are you doing with that time?
I’ve developed a powerful AM routine that has been instrumental in keeping burnout at bay. Each step has a reason behind it: I use voice dictation to do some reflection and journaling. I meditate. I spend some time in prayer for the day, my clients and my business. I text my wife something specific to tell her how grateful I am for something that happened the prior day. I listen to a little bit of research to round out my morning charge up. What I’ve done is made the routine transferable. So regardless of whether I am in the car, on a plane or at my desk, I’m able to accomplish this.
All of that margin time has been put to good use. It’s about finding the gaps where we can and using them to their maximum potential.
One thing that has challenged me lately is to not lose the margin time to those micro-moments when I want to scroll on social media. Scroll...scroll… scroll…. It’s only a few moments, right? Instead, I try to revisit the priorities for the day (Check out the Do 3 Thingsapp) or a big question I’m tackling I could take 3 minutes to start researching.
A great sports team will find a way to expose the margins of their opponent. Time is our opponent and we can expose the margins to get the victory we need. If we have a relentless approach to this HIGHLY controllable time and override our feelings we can reboot those high-performance habits and fight back burnout.
Extend your current capacity
As humans, we are incredibly adaptable. We have the power to push our bodies to new heights in interesting and inventive ways. Through diet, sleep training, supplements, and exercise, we can find ways to extend our capacity and energy reserves so we can perform and peak levels of intensity.
A lot of this comes down to learning about your body and what works best for you. For example, I know when I have a glass of wine at night, I may not be as sharp as I’d like to be the next morning. (Let alone the damn gluten) When I drastically limit my carbohydrate intake and eat a diet that forces my body to go into ketosis, I know I perform at a much higher level than I do while eating other foods.
This is a product of trial and error. Start jotting down how you feel during the day and possible contributing factors. Did three cups of coffee help or did it make you crash later in the day? Was that sandwich at lunch a contributing factor to being maxed out by 3p?
A very simple way to start hacking your food is to notice when you yawn. I’m serious. If you yawn within an hour after eating a meal or snack, your body is responding negatively to what you ate. Nearly 50% of American Adults have some level of insulin resistance.
It’s 100% possible for your energy to be consistent all day, every day without an up and down experience. Imagine what your capacity and performance could become with straight, consistent energy all day long.
If that’s too much research and tweaking for you, try buying your time. When we are hitting our wall, we need to look for tasks that we can outsource to find more capacity in our daily lives.
Hire help strategically: Can you invest a few extra dollars in a grocery delivery service? Is there money in your budget for a housekeeper once a month? Does it cost $5 to have dry cleaning picked up and dropped off? Are there small tasks you can give to an online personal assistant? Could you find an assistant to help 5-10 hours a week? You know your pain points and time sucks so do something about them.
Yes, it’s money out of your pocket but we can literally buy time. Seriously, think about. Life is stretched, you’re on overload and you can purchase more capacity by getting someone else to assist you.
Small investments can reap massive rewards in time and energy.
We so often operate at a maxed out capacity without even realizing it, causing our work and mental health to suffer greatly.
But what about the other cause of burnout?
While doing work that is not made for us is one of the most common causes of burnout, losing focus of the purpose of our work is just as detrimental to our capacity.
If you want to regain the purpose you’ve lost, I’ve created a wonderful email course to get you back on track and help you create your best work yet.
Until next time,