Takeaway: Burnout is painful, so first identify the cause and then use the below methods to heal the damage it is causing in your life!
Burnout is the sense that you chronically have too many things to do and not enough time to do them.
Do you feel at the end of your rope?
Are you constantly tired and have trouble forcing yourself to do the things you KNOW you need to do?
Have you been working too many hours and not spending enough time with your family?
Are you frustrated because you always have to do things based on other people’s priorities?
This can be really hard. When this has happened to me I felt trapped between my promises and epic tiredness and had trouble seeing a way out.
Burnout: A Little Root Cause Analysis
Before I can recommend how to heal your burnout, we need a little understanding on what is causing the issue. We will go through 3 main causes I’ve battled at various points in my life.
1: What does your sense of urgency look like?
So, what does your process look like when you take on a task? Do you listen and let the asker tell you their priority? Or are you a giver and you want to tell them you’ll have it as soon as possible? There are many different types of people. Is your sense of urgency because it is truly important or is it a false sense of sense of urgency imposed by someone else?
When someone asks me to do something, my process goes like this:
Why do you need this/ Why does it matter?
If it’s not important, why would you do it?
When do you need this? If a short timeframe is given, I ask why it is so close?
Often just asking this question will push back the requested deadline.
What is the agreed done condition?
Doing this avoids doing extra work under the same deadline.
Remember every minute you are doing something for someone else you are not doing something for yourself.
In the case of me, I have a VERY HIGH sense of urgency naturally. I have really strong empathy, so I can almost always see why someone would ask for something. I have to tone that down and step back.
Sometimes jobs may not have such a formal opportunity to ask questions about a request: I have certainly worked at those jobs.
Sometimes your boss tells you to do something and he/she won’t listen to questions. In these cases we just need to be aware of what is happening. If these are large contributors, then we can plan our way out.
If you find yourself with a high sense of urgency, try to step back. I’ve found it a helpful exercise to just say no to every other request for a week and see how many come back. In my experience, it is less than 50%.
2: Saying No
How many requests have you said no to in the last 30 days? If the answer is 0, then we may have a problem.
No one actually likes saying no to people when they ask for your help (in a normal work setting), so this can be hard.
Another way to think about it is this: is this task moving you towards your goals or away from them? If you have a clear vision of who you want to be or what you want to do, then this is very easy to tell.
An alternate approach to this is to reserve time for yourself first. There are several ways of applying this:
When you get home, spend your first 2 hours with family
When you get to work, spend your first hour working on things YOU think are important
Timebox requests for other people: I will spend 2 hours on this request
Even if you can only 15 minutes, this can go a long way to relieving frustration with your situation. As a person who has burned out a few times, trust me!
3: Is the problem part of the story you tell yourself? Is it part of your identity?
We all tell ourselves a story of who we are or who we want to be.
If you don’t, often the world will tell you. This story can be full of our successes, our failures, our lost loves, our wives and husbands and are usually the core things that define us.
For me, it’s changed a bit over time, but my progression looked like this:
Pre-College: I either want to be a programmer or band director. Ed, you’re nerdy, love to read, and love stories in tv, anime, and books. But you’re also incredibly shy and don’t think women like you at all. You pride yourself on learning as much and as quickly as possible. Oh, and you’re too sensitive and care too much, Ed. You have many feelings, but you don’t quite have words for them.
College Ed: Ed, you care the right amount and you are the sort of person who will do whatever it takes to get a job done regardless of the cost to your health or life. So, you study all the time! You don’t know everything, but you want to. You’re still pretty shy, but you can at least talk to people now. Still an uber nerd. Still learning how to say exactly how you feel.
Early Adult Ed: Ed, you love to help people. You like being the guy that knows everything. You have humility to remember you don’t know everything and you really love to learn. When people ask for something , you get back to them ASAP! You’re an introvert, but you’re not really shy anymore, but you prefer small groups of people.
Current Ed: You’re not the smartest guy in the room, but your pretty intelligent. You don’t have to know everything immediately, but you know where to find the information you need. You don’t respond to people immediately, but in a reasonable amount of time. You love sharing your knowledge with others and helping them as much as possible. You fully understand what you feel and often tell people you love that you love them. You’re still a nerd and love to play games still even as an adult.
You see the items I highlighted above? This is where I recognized my identity was causing my burnout. It doesn’t make sense for me to respond to everyone with a high sense of urgency. This would burn out ANY sensible person. But I’m willing to bet many of us have set our life metrics on things like this.
So, I changed the rules.
I told myself I didn’t have to always respond and it was ok if I’m not the smartest person ever. I still love to learn, but I don’t have to pursue it to the detriment of my relationships this way.
I still respond to people, but I don’t cut time out from my family in order to do so.
I strongly encourage you to take a little time and think about what your story is: are there ideas you are holding yourself to that make it really hard to not burn out? Why is that the case and can you do something about them?
Take some time in evaluating this because it can be incredibly valuable. I must admit, I have no regrets since I lowered my requirements a bit: it’s helped me to find balance as a highly-driven person. It’s honestly always a battle with me, but it IS possible to find balance.
So, now that you have a decent idea of what is causing your feeling of burnout, what other things can you do about it?
1: Timebox it!
As stated above, you can simply restrict how much time you’re willing to spend on the problem area. This one has been hard for me sometimes, since my identity would often swoop in and tell me what I should be doing.
But be diligent: if you say you will only work 8 hours each day, stick to it! The more you do those things, the more self-confidence and self-love you will accrue.
But what if timeboxing it does not work?
2: Determine Where You Are NOT Spending Time
I recommend ranking the areas of your life with how content you are with your time spent from 1-10. Here’s my example:
In my case my balance at work is doing quite well, but I could do a better time at spending time with my family. My finances isn’t quite where I want them to be (still saving for a house in Seattle!) and I often don’t adventure and play as much as I’d like. My health is so low because I got some scary notice from my doctor recently, so I’m working really hard on that area of my life.
When I see my numbers look like this, it’s time for something that restores my spirit.
I often will take a few days off to spend with my wife or stop working on all extra projects if I’m feeling like this. I’ll go to the things that are pure joy for me: banter with my wife, a day not thinking and watching movies, or one of those rpgs I haven’t picked up yet for the ps4.
I know sometimes you can’t do that. Even if you can spare 1 hour for yourself, it truly can make a world of difference. Remember, you are worth it!
Next, you can use this to reprioritize your time: Where are the areas where you are not spending enough time?
Here’s a recent example from my life: when my doctor told me I was 90% likely to get diabetes in 10 years if I didn’t lose significant weight, I was shocked.
So, I totally changed my priorities:
- Time with my family.
- Exercise and Weight Loss!
- Work things I must do.
- Anything Else.
That means after dinner, I’m often exercising for at least an hour each night.
It’s definitely been different since I started doing this, but I’m off to a good start: I’ve lost 3 lbs so far this week (and it’s week 1)!
So, what do you do if your work is a 10 and your family is a 2?
We’ve already discussed looking at your sense of urgency or themes in your story that may be making life difficult. But you can also talk to your Boss.
If your boss is a good one, they’ll support the discussion and want to help you. You could point them to this lovely article by harvard business review: https://hbr.org/2018/06/how-are-you-protecting-your-high-performers-from-burnout
Ask your boss for time for your own projects: point out that google does it! Talk about your frustrations that are leading to burnout and a good boss will help you sort it out.
If you don’t have that flexibility and your boss will not listen to you, it is time to plan your way out.
Look for a more supportive company and if it isn’t nearby, don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone: that’s how I moved from Texas to Seattle!
You can plan your steps out one at a time and look to your family to support you. No one should live with burnout: it’s miserable.
So, choose to heal yourself and find your way out!