Burnout is a sneaky foe: one day you’re energized and enthusiastic then suddenly you’re bored and restless or worse yet, apathetic and lazy. What happened to the joy you used to feel?
Why is the career that once made you feel like a superhero now hanging like an anchor around your neck, dragging you into an abyss?
The short answer is that you missed the signs. Burnout doesn’t really attack without warning. Signals of the trouble ahead were probably all around you, but you didn’t heed them. You were either so caught up in your day-to-day that you didn’t notice the red flags waving or you ignored them thinking, “It can’t happen to me.”
Most of us – myself included – experience the effects of burnout occasionally. (If you haven’t yet, it’s coming for you!) When you wake up and realize that your heart just isn’t in it, whatever your “it” is, you might think climbing out of the hole is impossible.
It is hard to beat burnout when the beast has you pinned down. Struggling to break the grasp of fatigue and disinterest feels like a losing battle. You can do it, but wouldn’t it be better to avoid that crisis in the first place?
Heed the Danger Signs
Watch for these danger signs of burnout. When see it looming on the horizon, take immediate steps to stay motivated and energized, and you won’t lose momentum.
- Procrastinating more than usual. Are you pushing aside the routine tasks that you used to do regularly? Is your once-empty inbox overflowing?
- Avoiding scheduled calls and meetings. Are you opting out of the mundane Monday morning meeting because you just can’t take another one?
- Dodging crucial conversations. Do you skip unpleasant interactions instead of confronting issues you used to deal with head-on?
- Tired of the tedium. Are you sleeping in, taking long lunches, or leaving early because you’ve “had enough” for the day?
- Losing your tempter. Do formerly minor irritants make you fly off the handle? Are simple conflicts escalating quickly?
- Creative juices all dried up. Is your font of ideas empty? Do you immediately shoot down opportunities you would have eagerly explored in the past?
- Cringing from customers. Have the client problems you used to thrive on solving morphed into pointless and picky complaints?
- Endless Daydreaming. Do you spend time you should be working dreaming of vacation, hobbies or other interests?
- Snacking indiscriminately. Passing up your usual healthy snack for chips, candy or an extra helping of cake? Are you eating from boredom, not hunger?
- Winging it. Is your trademark attention to detail gone out the window? Are you doing less to prepare and slacking on due diligence?
Any one of these warning signs suggests a change in mindset that merits attention. Odds are if you recognize yourself in a couple of these, you are probably just going through a little dip – maybe a bad week or a little too much stress.
Stop Burnout Before It Starts
If you read this list and nodded your head, “Yep, that’s me!” more than four or five times, you need to head off burnout fast. It’s encroaching and you won’t want to wait. What to do?
Try these little changes:
- Check your sleep hygiene. Are you getting enough quality sleep? If not, make it a priority to sleep 7-8 hours a night over the next week and see if your outlook improves. Can’t sleep? Skip evening alcohol and late night snacks, or try sleeping in a different room.
- Get moving. Go for an early morning walk, take a hike, go for swim. Aim for being outside where fresh air and sunshine help clear your head. If you already exercise regularly, mix up your routine. Try to new sport, take a class or do something more challenging.
- Freshen up your menu. Add some extras fruits and veggies, especially if you’re a fast food fan like me. Trim the carbs and sweets for a while; drink extra water. The shift will adjust your metabolism and signal your body that good things are coming.
- Delegate and take a break. Let someone else handle the things you can’t stand doing right now. (If you can’t let go, that’s a different issue.) Use the extra time to work on a passion project or something you’ve been putting off for too long.
- Change the scenery. Exit your office and work somewhere else, like a co-working space or even in a local park or library. Get on-site with a client if you can or tour a partner’s facility. Find inspiration by surrounding yourself with a different view.
- Accomplish something. If you’re spinning your wheels and feeling like nothing ever gets done, tackle something doable. Complete a short course, write an article or blog, or make a new recipe. Whatever you choose, be sure it has a clear end point, then celebrate your achievement.
- Plan a trip or sabbatical. Research shows that just planning a trip has as much mental restorative power as actually taking the vacation! Give yourself permission to plan that journey, even if the actual date is in the distant future.
These ideas are most helpful when you apply them with intention. Be mindful of how you feel from week to week and accept that it’s OK to take time to recharge. You’re not much use to anyone – especially yourself – when you’re burnt out. In fact, you could be harming your business if you left burnout to fester unchecked. So watch for the warning signs and outsmart that beast!
Note: There’s a difference between burnout and depression. If you’re not sure what you’re dealing with, take this test.