Burnout Cause #1: Overwork
Imagine training for a marathon. Every day for months, you check your online training schedule, you map out your running course, you lace up your sneakers, and you hit the road. Rain or shine, you put in the miles – 3 miles, 13 miles, 23 miles. Over time, the mileage builds until it’s the big day. With literally thousands of miles under your belt, you line up with hundreds of other runners, adrenaline pumping and sweat already starting to form on your forehead. It’s time.
Three or four (or five!) hours later, depending on your pace, you cross the finish line. You did it. You’re a marathoner. You grab your medal and finisher’s t-shirt and hobble to your car, probably with the help of a friend or two.
The LAST thing you feel like doing is to run another mile or two. You’re done. Spent. Exhausted. In fact, it may be a few weeks before you feel ready to run again. It’s to be expected; you trained for months, you ran for hours, and you left it all on the course. Your reserves are empty and you’re ready for a nice, long break.
Do you see an analogy here with work? Maybe you’ve been pushing hard for a specific project or goal, day in and day out for an extended period of time. You’ve pulled a few all-nighters, and you don’t even recognize your kids because you haven’t been home before their bedtime. You’ve been aiming for a product launch or some other hard deadline, and now it’s done. You’re exhausted, and rightfully so. Just like the marathoner, you’ve left it all on the course.
Constant Pressure that never abates
Some of us may be lucky enough to have more predictable jobs where the highs and lows are minimal. You show up, do the work in front of you, and go home. There aren’t big pushes around holidays or product launches, and your days are pretty even-keeled. If we should all be so lucky! Chances are, your job – whether you’re in retail sales or software development – has large fluctuations due to external events. You have tax season, holiday season, or inventory season, and that makes your life crazy at times. Don’t worry; that’s normal. And it’s normal to want a break after it’s done, just like in the marathoner scenario above.
What isn’t so normal, though, is a constant pressure that never abates. If you are always under the gun, always faced with a seemingly insurmountable deadline, always running at record-breaking pace, you’re not going to last.
So here’s the deal; if you’re facing a natural downtime as the result of a big push, relax and enjoy the break. You’ll soon feel like working again. But if you find yourself unable to relax due to internal or external pressures, you need to evaluate. You’re on the brink of total breakdown. How do you change? Well, that leads us to our first solution…
Burnout Solution #1: Pace Yourself
If you’re a car racing fan, you know that in some races, it’s common for the driver to pull over for a pitstop. During this brief intermission, tires are changed, fuel is added, and other diagnostics are performed to insure the car and driver continue to operate at maximum potential. You can probably see where I’m going here: If a professional race car driver needs to pace him- or herself, it’s natural to assume that people in other areas of life should think about pacing as well.
Even if your business or career requires constant push-push-push (and with 24/7 technology, almost everyone considers themselves to be always “on”), you have to find ways to pace yourself. Maybe it means taking a yoga class during lunch one day a week, or using every Sunday as a complete day of rest away from cell phone, pager, fax, email, and iPad.
Sound crazy? Well, the crazier it sounds, the more necessary it is. To quote Eleanor Roosevelt, “We must do the thing we think we cannot do.” If you think you just can’t take a week vacation each year, that means you need to do it!
“Yeah,” you might be saying. “That sounds good. But you don’t know MY customers or MY boss or MY industry.” You’re right, I don’t. But I do know that virtually every industry and every market has someone at the top who manages to take time off. Heck, even the President goes golfing and to Martha’s Vineyard! If the head of the free world can scrape together enough time to take a break, you can, too.
Find a Life-Balance Mentor
In fact, that’s a great place to start. Find someone in your field who seems to have managed a workable pace and is still seen as a success. Then ask them how they do it. Do they take lunches off? Leave the cell phone at work? Or maybe they just schedule five minutes of breathing room in every hour?
After you’ve found a life-balance mentor, set a small goal. Maybe this week it’s just to walk to pick the kids up from school instead of driving, and to not use your cell phone during meals. These small cushions of blank space let your emotions and brain – and body! – start to recover.
And speaking of your body, don’t forget to work out. Exercising not only brings much-needed oxygen to your entire body, it also relieves a lot of the stress that gets pent up in us over long periods of work. As if that weren’t enough, exercising regularly also builds your stamina so that you can work for more extended periods of time.
You don’t have to be a professional athlete to benefit from regular breaks. In fact, anyone in any field will find their productivity improves when they pace themselves.
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Also, return tomorrow to find out about Burnout Cause and Solution #2.
Yours in success,