Put down your phone. Stop focusing on the tasks you have to do. Think about why you’re here. Breathe.
It sounds simple. But… I’m really bad at taking that advice, even for just a minute. Or any advice about my workload. And that’s a problem. Advice about work is important because it helps avoid burn-out.
Burn-out is not a sudden explosion, like the name suggests. It’s not an abrupt halt where you can’t keep going. Burn-out grows slowly. It doesn’t feel overwhelming until it does. And then your work feels like a drag and you struggle to get tasks done or motivate yourself. Noticing burn-out before it gets to that stage is difficult, so preventative measures are key.
Preventing burn-out means thinking about your work habits. You skip a break once, sure, that’s fine. You work until midnight, sure, you’ll catch up on sleep. Those individual occasions don’t matter too much until they become a habit. It’s when you forget about the recovery period that burn-out hits.
When I Google ‘how to avoid burn-out’, one of the insightful tips that the search engine comes back with is ‘learn how to manage your stress’. Thanks, Google, but that’s not useful. Other advice was along the lines of ‘take a month-long holiday to your beach house in the Bahamas’. I wish, but also not helpful. So with that in mind, here are a few actually workable tips for avoiding burn-out.
1. Set realistic goals (or no goals at all)
You can’t do everything at once. No one can. If you aim to do everything at once, you will end up disappointed in yourself, no matter how much you’ve achieved. Set goals for the day that you think you can achieve. If you’re not feeling productive, don’t set goals at all. On an off-day ‘as much as I can do today’ is an appropriate target. Whatever gets done, gets done.
2. Nap/meditate/zone out
Personally, I can’t nap (it’s a sad life) and I don’t find meditation helpful. But even then, listening to music for a few minutes and taking a proper break where I don’t check my phone is helpful. When you feel tired or overwhelmed, stop thinking about work. Do something to take a short break where nothing interferes. Refreshing your mind is not wasted time, it’s self-care.
3. Work in a way that suits you
There’s no perfect way to work. Your friends and colleagues will do things completely differently to you, and that’s fine. Don’t try to fit into someone else’s model of how hard work should look – you know yourself best and can support your own working style. Trying to match someone else’s pace will drag you down.
4. Acknowledge that you have off-days
Those days when you feel unhappy about going to work or where you don’t get much done are not fun. By acknowledging that they exist, you will feel better about them. As difficult as it can be, remember that the mistake you made the other day won’t matter in the long run. That day where you didn’t achieve any of your goals will not have any impact on your life. Put those off-days in perspective by thinking about the bigger picture.
5. Reconsider your work
If you’re increasingly unhappy with your work, sometimes burn-out is not the issue. Rethinking where you are and what you’re doing is important to gain perspective and also to remember why you’re doing your work in the first place.
Between my high workload and tendency towards tunnel vision, I’m at risk for burn-out. If you work a stressful job or have a heavy study load, you’re probably at risk too. And that’s scary, but burn-out can be prevented by taking care of yourself. Avoiding burn-out doesn’t mean that you can’t be busy. What it does mean is rethinking your work and the way that it fits into your life. Don’t get caught in an unhealthy cycle, thinking that it’ll just be okay if you can get to the light at the end of the tunnel. Crack that tunnel open and let the sunlight in today.Support Villainesse