20 Dec. 2017 | Comments (0) Share Follow @Conferenceboard
You feel exhausted, ineffective, unaccomplished, and cynical. Maybe you feel like no matter how hard you work, you can never keep up. Or that you can’t make your boss happy no matter how hard you try. And you’re beginning to question your professional situation: Am I in the right job? The right company? The right career? I used to feel passionate about going into work but now I dread Monday and can’t wait until Friday. Will I ever feel excited about my life and work again?
These are classic signs that you’re feeling burned out. And in that state, you often feel like your circumstances are out of your control — as if everything around you is working against you. You might think: Everyone else is to blame for my burnout. But this victim mindset only blocks you from doing anything about your situation. While you’re complaining about other people, the days of your life are ticking by.
It’s far better to adopt an ownership mindset, that sounds like this: Others may have contributed to my situation, but I have the ability to make choices that can improve my present and future. Thinking in this way gives you the license to choose, even in small ways, to take action to recharge and build momentum. Realizing you have autonomy opens up hope for the future.
Next, you can choose to believe that the right actions will lead to the right feelings, rather than the other way around. When you’re in a burnout state, it’s easy to think that no matter what you do, it won’t make a difference. This is because of actual physiological changes to your brain that cause you to take less interest in activities that would otherwise make you happy. To fight against this negativity, remind yourself you don’t need to feel like taking action in order to do so. In fact, taking action leads to a higher desire to do more positive activities in the future.
Then, increase your attentiveness to your body’s physical and emotional needs. It could be as simple as getting up to stretch your legs when you’re feeling stiff, eating lunch with coworkers instead of at your desk, or going to bed when you’re tired. If you’re in a state of burnout, you will need more sleep than usual; it’s part of your body’s healing process. You also will need breaks throughout the day. Breaks are beneficial for anyone — they help restore your energy — but they’re especially important if you’re burned out, in part because making the choice to take them demonstrates to yourself that you have some level of control, even on a micro level.
Finally, question your assumptions about the way that your work life has to be and what you have to do. I really like how Jason Fried, co-founder and CEO of Basecamp, put it in this Hurry, Slowly podcast interview: “Just because a company pays you doesn’t mean they own you.”
Who says that you can’t leave work at work tonight? Or ask for a deadline extension? Can you take yourself off that committee, or take a real vacation? Often you have a lot more choice than you believe. You need to test the perceived limits to discover what could improve in your situation.
I recommend starting small, especially if you feel hesitant. For example, you could decide that at least one weeknight, you won’t take any work home. Or after a certain time each night, you’ll disconnect from your devices. Small steps like these lower the risk on your end and allows others to gradually adjust to your new relationship with work.
At first, you may not need to talk directly with your colleagues about the changes. But in time, you’ll likely want and need to open up. Perhaps you have a conversation with your boss to discuss which projects are the highest priority for this quarter and which can wait. Or you work with your colleagues on sharing responsibilities on a project or even bringing in more resources.
And if you’re in a professional position where people really do have unreasonable demands and you can’t set boundaries, think bigger. Consider looking for a new job, or even a new career. These changes likely will take time. But it’s good to remember that the choice is there. Life doesn’t have to be the way that it’s always been. Changing your mindset and taking small actions will help you begin the process of feeling less burned out and more hopeful about the future.
This blog first appeared on Harvard Business Review on 12/05/2017.
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