Burnout is real. People get tired, and sometimes, we don’t want to even look at the things we absolutely love. It can happen to the developer, the musician, the writer, or someone who worked their way up from part-time bagger to superstore general manager. Burnout doesn’t adhere to industry, but instead, it comes from driving on flat tires until the buffer between us and the rough asphalt is melted away.
When we’ve drained all of our motivation, willpower, and interest in our ONE Thing, and continue to press forward without reservation, we can cause some real damage to ourselves.
Burnout at its core is a state of exhaustion brought on by excessive and prolonged career-related stress. If you feel overwhelmed, drained, and unable to meet demands, you’re burned out, and a lot of aspects of your life will suffer. For instance, researchers have found that burnout is significant predictor of a number of health problems like:
- High cholesterol
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- Hospitalization caused by cardiovascular disorder
- Musculoskeletal pain
- Experiences with pain
- Prolonged fatigue
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Respiratory problems
- Severe injuries
- Mortality below the age of 45.
Clearly, burnout is something worth guarding against. However, most of us do a poor job of that.
61% of people are stressed out with their current jobs, according to the American Psychological Association. That stress has very real consequences. Over half of all people who responded to a survey conducted by Comparably in 2018 indicated that they felt burnt out at work. They even have a whole list of cities who experience the highest levels of burnout with people who are affected physically, emotionally, and mentally by job stresses. They dove down saying that of those same people, most who suffered from burnout weren’t just baby boomers, but millennials, too—everyone’s burnt out! Gallup recently disclosed that 28 percent of millennials and 21 percent of workers in older generations are burned out on their jobs.
If we want to stay focused on our ONE Thing, and give ourselves the best chance of success, we have to be careful about getting burned out. It’s not worth it.
Don’t Play with Fire
David Ballard, PsyD of the The American Psychological Association says burnout is “an extended period of time where someone experiences exhaustion and a lack of interest in things, resulting in a decline in their job performance.”
In our experience, it’s not so much the big things—the large commitments, the leaps and bounds—but the “little” things that add up and frankly, aren’t always sustainable. Burnout is a slow burn. It doesn’t start and end in a flash of spontaneous combustion. Stuff has to get done, you neglect sleep for getting that last hour of work in, to do more – even with less. If you’re going hard non-stop, it will catch up to you. Some of us are workaholics, we’re obsessed with moving up the ladder, or earning that spot at the table, and many times, we’ll put our health at risk to get there.
This kind of behavior works in small chunks, but without any break, it winds up eating away at us. It takes its toll on our relationships, our health, our family, and the jobs we work hard to make happen in the first place.
So what can you do besides sleep more and work less? First, it’s important to know the warning signs of burnout. You may keep trying to fight through some rough patches, taking out your frustrations on the world, but realistically, if you don’t know what to look for, you don’t know when you need to take action. The closer we can get to identifying the source of the problem, the clearer the remedy will be.
The Signs of Burnout
There are a lot of tell-tale signs of burnout. Instead of walking you through all of the possible signs, instead, here are six example that we’ve found to be common in the workplace through our own experience—either personally or with someone we’ve worked with.
- Problems at Home and at Work
Are you moody and taking it out on your wife and kids? Are you cutting yourself off from co-workers you once talked to all of the time? Are you finding spaces to work, away from everyone else? Do just want to be left alone? Even if you’re in the same room as your family, are you tuned out? If you’re arguing about little things or finding ways to nitpick your job or relationships, it’s a red flag.
- Absolute Exhaustion
Tired constantly? Physically, emotionally, and mentally spent? If you’re wiped out, and nothing but sleep sounds fantastic, you might be burned out. Generally exhaustion might be a symptom of burnout if your normal work day leaves you feeling wiped out when it normally doesn’t or logically shouldn’t.
- Letting Our Health Go
When drowning in a sea of burnout, people have a knack at finding ways to cope with all of their unpleasant feelings:
- Drugs and alcohol
- Eating like garbage
- Skipping exercises
If someone is unhappy, and there’s no end in sight, that’s an open door for abuse. Burnout can turn into addiction fast, and if not kept under control, can go sideways, very quickly. Coping with unhappiness with a crutch is a terrible idea, and by no means should be how people decompress instead of finding actual rest and relaxation.
Burnout also has the characteristic of causing us to push away the things that will help us. It really creates a Catch-22. For example, a healthy diet and regular routine of exercise–activities known to increase our energy–sound like such a chore when burnt out that we instead opt for activities that will further decrease our energy like binging shows and scarfing down junk food.
- No Motivation or Willpower
Willpower is never on will call, but in a healthy situation you should still find it regularly. Was there a time when you couldn’t wait to get to work, but now you dread getting out of bed? If you don’t feel pumped up about anything, let alone work, this is another telltale sign of burnout.
- Overt Cynicism
You might have a cynical attitude to begin with, but if you’re in one of “those” moods all of the time, it’s probably a warning sign that you need a break. If you feel like nothing matters, or that whatever work you do isn’t valuable, that’s a problem. If you’re usually an optimistic person, this shouldn’t be swept under the rug.
- Lack of Concentration
Burnout and stress interfere with our ability to pay attention and causes us to focus on the negative things we’re going through. We’re built to handle stress, as it’s a part of life, but prolonged stress that doesn’t let up wreaks havoc on our bodies.
These are some of the warning signs and red flags to look for. What can you do to come out on the other end? There’s plenty you can do for your mental and emotional health. The first thing, though, is wanting to see that change in your life. Burnout can lead to some disastrous results, so finding that inner peace is critical for moving forward.
According to researchers at Deakin University in Australia, you can suffer from any of these symptoms all at the same time, or just one by one. It really depends on the person’s situation.
Carol Ross, a career and life coach burned out, was a wreck after starting her new consulting business, she was broken and tired, the business was drilling her down into the ground.
“For me, a mentor gave me the reality check I needed. After telling her of my woes with the business, I asked her: “Do I sound confused?” She replied: “No, you sound tired.” At that point, I broke down in tears. In my gut, I knew that if I didn’t stop, my health would suffer.
It took nearly two months to completely shut down the business because I was stubborn. Initially, I thought if I stopped for a month, things would be better. They weren’t. Then, I thought if someone I trusted could carry on my duties, I could keep the business going. That didn’t work either.”
Treating burnout should be taken seriously. It’s your life, and your career should be making you unhappy. You have to take control of the situation. Things will only improve if you begin making decisions that will make them improve.
So, what can you do to get back on track? Studies have shown that you have to get real with yourself, but more importantly, you need to treat the issue or it will get worse. There are many methods of how to deal with issues, but these are what we think could help you de-stress your life.
Talk About It
If we feel like we belong on the bottom of someone’s sneaker, then we need some help. One of the easiest ways to help ourselves is to vocalize the problem.
Engaging in a conversation is often the first step into creating resolution, but sometimes it’s all we need to experience resolution to begin with. Talk to co-workers, friends, your spouse, and eventually your boss. If you’re honest and take the issue head-on, you can create dialogue around the problem. Maybe a co-worker feels the same, or the boss understands and is willing to help you scale your job back for a little bit. You won’t know till you speak out.
Learn to Say No
A problem typical of someone who suffers from burnout is the inability to say “no”. Our lack of energy leads us to become tireless people-pleasers, and we take on additional work for the sake of looking we’re an asset to the team. This creates a vicious cycle that we need to break if we want to get better.
Like we talk about in The One Thing and this blog, there are a number of strategies that you can employ to help you say no that you can implement no matter your situation. The most important thing to remember, however, is that when we say no, it has to stick. Dancing around the word will only leave doors you want closed, open.
You don’t have to do everything yourself. There are co-workers, interns, and new hires who would love to take some of your projects off your plate. Start farming out the work you don’t specifically have to do, but you’re doing because you need your fingerprint on all aspects of the business. Like we talk about in some of our other books and a little bit in The One Thing–leverage others to your advantage!
Get Some Sleep
Burning the candle at both ends isn’t healthy. Anything less than seven hours of sleep a night is a problematic behavior that will catch up to you. If you’re getting four and five hours only, poor sleep will have adverse effects on your life, both on the job and with daily productivity. According to Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter, a lack of sleep messes with all of our gears:
“Stress is a leading cause of sleep problems. Worries related to work, marriage, children, and any other stressful experiences that intrude in our day to day lives are going to interfere in our ability to get good sleep. That’s why insomnia is one of the most common symptoms reported by high-achieving women.”
If you’re generally in bed by midnight or later, scale it back at least two hours. Get off your phone, and quit thinking about all of the stuff you didn’t do. It can wait. The most important thing you can do is get rest; your brain and body will thank you for the full, recommended seven to eight hours.
There’s more than one kind of rest.
Go for a walk, read, nap, listen to your favorite records, or lay in a hammock in the yard. Whatever you can do to not think about work or work-related stress, you need to invest your time and energy into that. Set aside real time in your schedule for you and yourself only.
Put Your Phone Away
We don’t need our iPhone at the dinner table. Texts can wait. We don’t need to take meetings at 8PM on a whim. Close down Slack. Have some time scheduled in just for you and your family. Put the laptop and the phone away. Stay away from social media, and open a book, or talk to real, live people, in person. Unplug from the digital world ASAP.
Constantly being reminded or sucked into the activities that cause us burnout do nothing but perpetuate the problem.
Stop Taking Work Home
Set limits on what you’re willing to do at home. Family time is essential. We can’t spend all of our available hours locked away, trying to get work done. Set specific times on your calendar aside for some personal time, and block off when you’re available for meetings. Stop working all hours of the night. The business will survive, your mental health will not.
One thing to consider with burnout is your mental health. If we’re feeling down in the dumps and the world feels like it’s just too much, it might not be just our gig–it could be depression. Millions of people around the world struggle with anxiety and depression, so couple those feelings of personal insecurity, with career stress and many times, it can be a toxic mess.
Look up a professional who will understand your feelings, your dread, the burnout, and they’ll be able to help you navigate those mental health water than merely just trying to “get through it.”
Get a Hobby
If you had to make your career your life, to dedicate yourself to getting good at one thing, it could be hard to divert your focus away from that ecosystem. Find something you’re passionate about, and turn your brain off. Dive into your passion headfirst, and change your focus. Diverting your mind away from your regular gig can be a fantastic way to give your way to take the mental laser beams off the stuff you’re stressed about.
Take up hiking, art, cooking, or a new instrument. Finding a creative outlet is an excellent way to combat the blah you feel, and by energizing yourself, you could have breakthroughs in ways you never expected.
Instead of worrying if you’re not getting something done, get software like Trello. Learn to work agile. (There are whole principles and a framework dedicated to the methodology) Agile is a great way for people to see their work moving from “planning” to “in progress” to “done” and for some brains, witnessing the work move along makes a significant difference. Put everything in on your Trello boards, even your everyday life stuff, and because you’ll see tasks getting handled, it’ll make a difference.
Fighting burnout takes work, but with some patience and good practices, you’ll be able to get over the hump and back to a happy place. Don’t let burnout take over your life, find a hobby, set some boundaries, and make the best of whatever situation you’re in. Right now, it’s about being strong and finding new ways to fight through a rough patch. Get some sleep, and take time for yourself. You’ll thank us later!