March 25, 2019

Professional Development

What Successful People Do To Prevent Burn Out

By: Lyndsey Fifield

No matter how much you love your job and think you’ve locked down your work/life balance, at some point in your career you’ll feel yourself “burning your candle at both ends.” Hence the term burn out.

If you regularly become overwhelmed by stress or anxiety about your workload, burn out isn’t far behind. The good news is it can be prevented if you put these life hacks into practice.

Warning: If you wanted a buzzy post full of self-care hacks and tips for finding a yoga studio you’ve come to the wrong place.

Manage Expectations

When you take on a new role, it’s natural to come in riding a serious enthusiasm high — you’re eager to jump in and take on as much responsibility as possible because you want to impress your colleagues and show them how on top of things and reliable you are.

It seems like a solid plan, but it’s actually counterproductive.

While you definitely want to build strong, trusting relationships with your colleagues and show them how excited you are to be part of their team, you won’t accomplish that by hiding your flaws and pretending to be a superhuman. Eventually the new-job high will wane and expectations people have set for you won’t align with what you’re able to do sustainably.

So how do you set and manage expectations? First you should know what your role actually is.

If any part of your role is confusing, ask your boss for clarification. Simply knowing exactly what is expected of you should give you a sense of relief — and equip you to negotiate if you aren’t able to handle every part of the workload on your own. Far from being disappointed, your boss should be relieved to know you’re confident in your role and able to do what’s expected of you.

Communicate Well

Many years ago, a colleague presented a report full of typos and format errors that hadn’t even been in the drafts we’d been working on as a team. Our team was bewildered, because she was normally “so on top of it,” but after a heated meeting she finally confessed that her computer had crashed, and she’d lost the document, so she transcribed it from the last version she had printed.

It was 22 pages y’all — this poor girl had stayed up late into the night typing the whole thing. If she’d told us the night before what was going on, not only would we have been impressed and grateful for her work, we would have helped her (that’s what a team does!), but because she wanted us to think she had it all together, we were disappointed and upset — and so was she.

Your team will not be impressed if you fail to communicate about a problem until after it’s resolved. It creates distance — and that leads to unnecessary stress.

Learning to communicate regularly with your boss and coworkers builds critical trust and will help keep stress low. It took me a long time to figure this out — I assumed my team (and especially my boss) didn’t need me bothering them with updates, right? One of my first bosses often seemed bothered that I was popping into her office to tell her things, so I stopped — but eventually I figured out it wasn’t what I was communicating, it was how I was communicating.

Ask everyone on your team the mode of communication they prefer — Email? Texts? Slack? Get really specific and also let them know what you prefer as well — if you love emails to help keep you organized, say so!

Self-Audit and Stay Organized

It’s critical to realize that you are going to feel overwhelmed at work sometimes — everyone does — but the way you handle and learn from it is what really matters.

When you get home from work, don’t “reward yourself” by zoning out with Netflix or staying out late after happy hour — you might think you’re relaxing (surely a cure for burn out, right?) but you’re actually perpetuating your problem.

Instead of crashing, sit down with a notebook and take an audit of your stress. Every day (yes, every single day before you go to bed) make time to think about your day and prepare for the next day with these questions: How did your day begin and end? Are you proud of what you accomplished and the quality of your work? Were you well-prepared? Was your workload too great? Were you kind to your team and showed that you appreciate them? Did you feel well treated by your team? What small changes — like leaving the house earlier or packing a lunch — could have made it a better day?

Create a to do list for the following day (and make sure you’re at Inbox Zero) aligned with your schedule to make sure you’re not forgetting anything and that you’re not overscheduling yourself. If you see conflicts or potential problems, let your team know right away so you can work together on a solution.

Bonus: You’ll sleep better if you make a habit of going to bed knowing what to expect the following day — and sleep is vital burn out prevention.

When you’re stressed and feel overworked it’s tempting to use the weekend to get lazy — but again that’s counterproductive. Of course you should take time to enjoy yourself, but you should make it a habit to dedicate part of your weekend to plan everything for your week — cleaning your space, shopping for and preparing meals, scheduling workouts, checking the weather forecast and selecting outfits, packing for trips, lining up transportation — so you not only feel ready for the week but look forward to it.

Challenge Yourself

Some weeks at the office are going to be more intense than others — but there’s a huge difference between an random busy week and a workload that feels unsustainably stressful all the time.

It’s healthy to gradually take on more responsibility and take steps to grow in your role — but recognize when you’re taking on too much.

When I find myself overwhelmed with tasks and not enough time to finish them, instead of complaining about my workload and letting myself get stressed, I think of it as a challenge.

If you apply all of the above — managing expectations, communicating well, and setting habits to stay organized, you should be able to prevent burn out before it starts — but if you’ve done all of those things and still feel stretched too thin, it might be time to make some major changes.

The solution might be as simple as asking your boss for more resources — but you might also need to seek a role better suited for you.

Value Yourself and Live With Meaning

Nope, I’m still not going to give you any self-care hacks to keep the stress away — you can find plenty of ideas for that on Instagram.

Valuing yourself isn’t narcissistic — if you know that your existence matters, you’ll be much more likely to carry yourself with dignity and live a meaningful life. I promise, it’ll change the way people treat you — and the way you think about yourself.

If you treat others with the same gratitude, respect, and kindness you want to be shown, apologizing/acknowledging when you fall short, and taking time every day to be grateful for all the opportunities you have, you’ll not only make yourself burn-out-proof, you can help inspire others as well.

Burn out prevention isn’t something to do when you’re already at a breaking point — there are no quick fixes here — these are habits meant to be built into your daily routine and practiced throughout your whole career.