In this episode, I’m going to talk about what’s worked for me in managing, preventing and reducing burnout and its negative impact on your life – your mental health is important, so let’s talk about it.
I actually had a different episode planned for this one, but it’s end of October / early November and this time of year always reminds me to take care of my mental health. I lost a great friend to mental health problems in 2016 – and prolonged burnout definitely has a relationship with your mental health. On top of that, a few people that listen to this show asked me to cover the topic, so the episode I had originally planned was pushed back to make room for this one.
Don’t expect that I’m going to have some sort of magical band-aid solution for your burnout problem. Do expect to get some insight into the techniques I use to manage my own burnout which you can apply in your own life too.
Burnout is normal. Everyone burns out at some point. I’ve burned out plenty of times in the past until I got a handle on it.
The very first thing you have to understand is: it’s not bad to burn out. It’s normal and doesn’t make you any less of a competent person, nor does it mean that you’re mentally or emotionally weak. Anyone that tells you otherwise is a fucking moron that you need to get your of your life immediately. If that person is your boss for instance, I recommend looking for a new job because your boss has the emotional range of a tea spoon. Zero points for empathy, right there.
Burnout = physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.
Symptoms include (according to Psychology Today):
- physical and emotional exhaustion
- insomnia, forgetfulness, declining health, anxiety, depression
- cynicism and detachment
- loss of enjoyment
- feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment
- apathy, hopelessness
- lack of productivity
I have seen and experienced most of these symptoms myself, and it wasn’t until someone else pointed them out to me that I made myself aware of them. So if you’re suffering from burnout, are prone to burnout or know someone that’s burning out – this one’s for you.
What causes burnout & how do we solve it?
3 factors: managing yourself, managing your work environment and managing your support system.
- First and foremost – basic maintenance. A lot of your burnout symptoms are physical. You must eat, drink and sleep – period.
- I personally need somewhere between 6 and 7 hours to wake up energized. Some need more, some need less – whatever your number is, do whatever you need to sleep those hours.
- If you find yourself sleep deprived because you probably procrastinated during the day or you failed to prioritize the important tasks.
- I know for a fact that if I sleep less than 6 hours, I’m going to be a cranky asshole in the morning, slow to do anything and agonizing over the fact that I’m tired.
Burnout is often a result of poor time management
Poor time management causes stress. This often results in cramming. Cramming leads to subpar quality of work, then you get mad at yourself for leaving something important to the last minute and now you’re stuck in the feedback loop from hell.
There’s pressure on you to perform professionally or academically, and failure to-do so causes stress – and the reason most people fail is because they suck at managing your time. There’s many different time management techniques you can try – I personally use a combination of Google Calendar and a To-Do list.
Ask yourself: Have I been taking my work home with me?
I’ll only do work outside of office hours if it’s urgent or I failed to complete something major within working hours. Taking your work with you outside the office or your working hours is going to stress you out eventually.
Some of my colleagues leave their laptops at work – if they don’t, they’ll probably end up working from home at some point. No, when I go home, the only things I want to work on are the podcast or other personal projects, not my day job. This also creates the pressure on me to get shit done while at work instead of procrastinating. It stops me from telling myself: “oh, I’ll do it when I get home, I have time later.”
Burnout is often a result of poor energy management
I see this all the time in young people in their first job roles: You’re new and excited and feel you can take on the world – but you’re also feeling real pressure for the first time, constantly pushing you to work.
You’ll book yourself for 12-14 hour days and then suffer the consequences. You can work yourself to the bone if you’re aware you’re doing it and are taking appropriate measures to counteract the negative effects, but most young people don’t, so they burn out fast. I used to overbook and overwork myself all the damn time – back to back meetings, committing to deliverables within a day. I’d make the assumption that my work at 8pm would be of the same quality of my work at 10am – learned the hard way that this is almost impossible.
Ask yourself: Have I been working on the most important things?
I’ll do more episodes in the future to dive deeper into time and energy management, but here’s my approach to how I determine what I work on: I will list down all the things that are stressing me the fuck out first. If tasks are stressing me, then I should obviously get rid of them first. I use a pretty basic Impact-vs-Effort model that I learned about from AJ&Smart, where I’ll start my day by doing the easy things that’ll reduce stress, working my way up to the most stressful things.
So let’s say it’s Tuesday morning, I peek at my to-do list and I’m already stressed the fuck out – there’s so much to do. What a lot of people end up doing here is they get so caught up in the stress that they get nothing done. I draw up the Impact-Effort model, list all the stressful tasks on there and then work them one-by-one. Easy enough, right? I can’t recommend this technique enough.
Your work environment is a huge factor in burnout
You’re going to spend half your adult life working in some capacity, spending 8+ hours per day working on something. Obviously, the environment you spend those working hours in, is going to be critical in determining your well-being and what kind of burnout you’re going to potentially suffer from.
If you listened to episode 1 of this show, I’m a big proponent of getting into careers that allow you to do what you love doing and what you’re good at doing.
One technique that’s useful here is to list down everything that’s had a negative impact on you in the last few weeks: what’s been super stressful, what’s been demotivating, what’s been weighing heavy on your mind when it comes to work? By taking an inventory of these things, you should be able to identify some of the trends of things that stress you out.
The next thing is to take the biggest trend and work on it. A lot of my advice here is going to be rather straightforward – find what stresses you out and do something about it. Boss being a dick? Go talk to them. Didn’t work? Find a better boss.
Hate your job? Go find a job you like. Go listen to Episode 1 of this show and try what I explain there.
Your support system should be a stress-relief for you
Everyone has different support systems. For some, it’s a family, a pet, a group of friends. Your support system is the life you go to when you’re done working for the day.
I’m big on establishing support systems that’ll help you melt away stress. For me, that’s often a weekend with my girlfriend doing nothing work-related – we’ll eat, sleep, play games, work on the podcast or whatever – as long as it’s not work-related, it’ll do wonders for lowering our stress levels.
One thing I observe a lot in young people is that their support system is actually not a support system – it’s a dramatic group of friends that pull them down all the fucking time. If your friends constantly need you to support them but don’t do the same for you, then they’re not a support system, they’re emotional leeches. Get rid of them. Sounds harsh, but for the sake of managing your burnout and levels of mental health, you gotta put yourself first.