Don’t Get Burnt: 3 Tips for Avoiding Burnout

Don’t just embrace the suck. Here are a few tips to combat burnout when you’re starting to feel fried.

I tried coming up with a pithy intro to this post — something about riding the wave of summer break into the holidays — but nothing really came. Because this is a post about burnout. And burnout sucks.

So here’s something a little more personal.

I’ve encountered burnout on every single full-time job I’ve ever had professionally.

Burned the candle at both ends, dove in head-first, took an ownership mentality … insert any other cliche phrase here and it will most certainly fit.

The work consumed me to a point where I couldn’t enjoy, well, just about anything to the fullest. I’d play with my children, but my head would be elsewhere. Taking a vacation was more stress than it was worth. And Sunday Scaries were mainly just 24 hours of crippling anxiety.

Fortunately I have a great support system — both at home and at work — that helped me really sort things out and get a grip.

So, if you’re prone to burnout — or are already fried — here are a few things that might help walk it back.

Tips for preventing burnout

Find a hobby that challenges you

This turned it all around for me.

My wife and I have two young kids, one family-run business, and all the normal rigors that come with being a functional adult. So it’s not like life is boring. 

Yet nothing was enough to push work out of my head for too long. There were always problems to solve or something to ruminate on.

Then, on a lark, I bought a second-hand banjo and forced myself to start taking lessons. It forced me to learn something new and divert all the unhealthy obsessions with work.

So find a hobby that forces you to learn. Or to really stretch your brain. Maybe it’s puzzles. Or world history. Or gardening. Or cycling, writing, woodworking, calligraphy…

Feed your mind something to consume itself with other than work. Odds are, you’ll find this actually helps your performance — now you’ll be solving problems unconsciously rather than giving yourself an ulcer.

Vent with co-workers (who may also be dealing with burnout)

There’s a lot of research out there about venting. Enough to argue whichever side of the coin you’re on.

For me, there’s nothing better than a good vent sesh.

Within reason.

You shouldn’t lay waste to any and everyone in your department, but it is completely healthy to discuss inconsistencies. Odds are if you’re feeling a certain way, your teammate at least notices the same.

I’ve found that my burnout tends to sneak up out of nowhere. It’s not the major fire drills, but more  a compounding effect that eventually crumbles under the weight after some innocuous email or request.

The most productive way to go about your vent sessions is to walk away with actionable changes. Get everything out in the open, suss out the root of your problem, and collectively set goals to fix it. And don’t just try to fix the small problem, go for a systemic change; no point putting a band-aid on something larger.

If you’re doing it properly, these vent sessions will end up feeling like productive team-building exercises.

I’m also a big fan of gallows humor. It’s not for every office/coworker, but it’s a nice way to take the edge off and remind everyone that some aspects of the job are just silly.

Find deeper meaning in your work and ways to express it

What’s your job according to the job description?

Now what do you actually do?

Maybe you’re an analyst. Instead of focusing on the end result of how many people read your research; find your fulfillment in the research and learning and becoming an expert on your subject.

I’m in marketing, but what really gets me going is structuring operations that unite our teams. I also love training and being a resource to every new employee, investing in their success (and by proxy, the success of our entire company).

There’s a lot that happens between the lines in every role. Find it and harness it. And, if possible, find a way to share it.

That’s the reason I’m writing to you: The modern workforce is fascinating, and I enjoy sharing my POV.

Take the finer points of your gig and expound upon them. Hit the speaking trail; attend conferences; do lunch-and-learns; find a blog where you can write (thanks, GovLoop!), start exploring your expertise.

You might find that your enjoyment lies not in your job description or the title on your business card, but some weird niche that you’ve carved out for yourself.

Jonathan Bass is a jack-of-all-trades and master of some. His passions include building workplace culture, connecting teams through effective (and interpersonal) operations, and finding the most efficient paths to success. When he’s off the clock, you can find him introducing his children to the natural world, plowing through a Larry McMurtry novel, or practicing bluegrass standards on the banjo. Jonathan is currently the Director of Marketing at Urban SDK, a cloud based traffic management software based in Jacksonville, Florida.

Photo by Vasilis Caravitis on Unsplash

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