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Are You Too Busy? How to Avoid the Perils of Burnout?

Burnout Victim

As a consultant, I work across a number of industries ranging from education to finance and med-tech, and oddly enough most people regardless of industry, are all facing similar challenges. Constant change, threats to autonomy, a whole lot of uncertainty and ambiguity, combined with a relentless volume of work and responsibilities. All of this equates to experiencing a tremendous amount of stress and very little (if any) balance. What can you do to manage all of the challenges you encounter each day and garner the resources to flourish during those challenges?

The perception is, most of us are finding it hard to keep up with the gruelling pace of work & life and the reality is that as individuals, WE have control over that pace. Many of us don't realise this and get caught up in the trap of being 'busy'. Life is unapologetically busy and unless WE do something to manage that busyness, we're all headed for the big B....Burnout.

Researchers have found that there are 3 phases of burnout which individuals progress through when they perceive workplace demands exceed workplace resources and personal traits: [1]

1. Emotional exhaustion: manifested through extreme mental or physical fatigue

2. Cynicism: critical of workplace environment and disengaged

3. Reduced professional efficacy: perception of inability to successfully complete tasks

Burnout often happens as a result of long-term stress combined with the depletion of personal resources. Technology and being constantly 'on' are exacerbating factors that put individuals at higher risk for burnout, yet it's possible to take control of your life back and make some positive changes to negate these factors and correspondingly decrease your risk for burnout.

Take Control of Your Life Back

1. Prioritise Your Priorities: if you haven't done so, sit down and reflect on what you want, what your ideal future looks like, and what your goals are. Establish what is most important, what takes precedence? Rank what matters most and when faced with a decision or task, ask yourself what action or response will be supportive of your big picture. Use your 'why' as a compass to do what is in your best interest.

2. Put Systems in Place: a recent article shifted the way I look at and organise my goals and I am now in favour of 'systems'. The article claimed that winners and losers start with the same goals, but that it's the individuals' systems that determine their success or failure. Systems incorporate discipline and offer you a framework for behaviour. Think of the non-negotiables you must do in order to achieve what you want to achieve ~ it's not merely one behaviour, but a system of behaviours that ultimately lead you to achievement.

3. Say No: a frequent piece of advice, our time is a precious commodity and if you say yes to everyone and everything you'll be left with no time for yourself. This includes use of technology ~ we're all guilty of wasting much of our time scanning our emails and/or social media which depletes our mental capacity and destroys our focus along with our ability to make decisions, plan and organise. Have the 'one touch' rule for emails and limit your social media time to once daily or even weekly. Get selfish with your time and only say yes to the things aligned with your values and priorities.

4. Manage Your Energy: this is where diet, exercise and managing your schedule come into play. Provide your brain with performance fuel and avoid performance draining fillers. Think of anything from a mediterranean diet as premium petrol and stay clear of sugar, pastries and complex carbohydrates. If you don't have time to exercise in your day, get up 30 minutes earlier and fit it in then. Add 15 minute blocks of time into your day for both reflection and planning. Take regular 'brain breaks' to give yourself time to rest and rejuvenate. Connect with others, it will give you a mental and physical boost. Meditate.

5. Create Your New Normal: monitor your energy and how you're spending your time and make some positive changes. What priorities are getting pushed aside and what aren't you doing that you should be doing? On a piece of paper, write out your best day at work and ask yourself, when is the last time you had a 'best day' and if those 'best days' are rare, what can you do to experience them more often? What strengths do you have that can make 'best days' the norm and not the exception?

Burnout often leads to other psychological and physical ailments and increases your risk for unhealthy behaviours such as excessive drinking, drug taking and poor decision making. If you're not checking in with yourself regularly, you may miss the signs and place yourself in a precarious position that becomes extremely difficult to recover from.

At the end of the day we're all busy, by taking control of your energy and your time and pressing the pause button regularly to check in with yourself, you can manage the busyness and become a happier, healthier version of you!

To take the Burnout Self-Test click HERE.

[1] Taylor, N. Z., & Millear, P. M. R. (2016). The contribution of mindfulness to predicting burnout in the workplace. Personality and Individual Differences, 89, 123-128.

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