Top 10 Ways to Avoid Burnout in Government

It doesn’t matter how much you love your job – burnout can still be a real danger if you’re not careful.

I skirted the edge of it last week after a month of working quite a few more hours than normal, taking breaks only to hunt down something to eat, and dreaming about client work in my sleep.

The results? Tension headaches, exhaustion, trouble sleeping, and plenty of irritability – all because I was doing too much of the work I loved.

I managed to pull back just shy of the edge, but I’ve tumbled off it many times in the past. I’d bet you have, too.

So how do we both avoid burnout in the future?

1. Find your own pace

Remember, life is a marathon, not a sprint. You may have to pick up the pace from time to time, but you shouldn’t try to maintain too high a level for very long. You have to ensure that your pace is sustainable in the long run.

The hardest part is that everyone has a different pace! Your personality or health may require a slower pace than your coworker or your spouse, but you may still be trying to keep up with them – that’s what will cause you to burn out.

2. Check your priorities

Having a long-term strategy in place can help you avoid burnout. Are you where you want to be? Do you know where you’re going? If you’re feeling burned out, it could be that your priorities are off somewhere, and your body is trying to send you a message.

Schedule quarterly check-ins with your managers to make sure you’re still passionate about the work you’re doing, and still on track with where you want to go in your career. You may need to edit your priorities and learn when to say no to projects.

3. Take frequent breaks

As someone who works all day at a desk, I know how problematic wrist pain and eye strain can be after long computer sessions – not to mention the toll taken on our bodies by sedentary disease. It’s important to take regular breaks, not just for your physical health, but for your mental health, too.

Get up at least once an hour – set a timer If you need to – and take a 5-minute break to walk around the office. Along with taking breaks during the work day, be sure to actually take your lunch break. Use that time to read a good book on a park bench, catch up with a friend, or work on that novel. Your mental health will thank you.

4. Do things for yourself

One of the biggest causes of burnout is the feeling of being overwhelmed by everyone else’s demands. Keep that feeling at bay by setting aside time for yourself to work on your own passion projects and hobbies, or to hang out with your family.

When you’re busy, taking time out just for yourself may seem frivolous, but it’s vital if you want to stay sane on the job!

5. Get exercise

Getting regular exercise not only keeps you healthy, it can also lift your mood and keep you from burning out. A recent study recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, with 450 minutes seeming to do the most amount of good.

Even if you’re busy, try to find ways to fit exercise into your day. I normally exercise before work, but lately I’ve started setting a timer for 1:20 in the afternoon, and when it goes off, I stop what I’m doing and practice yoga for about 10 minutes in my office. It’s a good way to relax for a minute, and helps break me out of the food coma that tends to set in about that time.

Try holding walking meetings, go for a walk with a coworker on your lunch break, hit the gym on the way home from work, or start cycling to work to fit in extra exercise.

6. Build in detox days

When’s the last time you did whatever you wanted for an entire day? This could be hiking, hanging out with good friends, or spending the entire day playing video games – all those things that normally you would feel are a waste of time.

Even if you’re not working on the weekends, you probably still have chores, family obligations, and other things that don’t let you fully relax. Building in a few detox days every month will do wonders to your stress – and your productivity.

7. Do something fun every day

What are you looking forward to today? Maybe it’s happy hour with a friend you haven’t seen in ages, maybe it’s a visit to that antique shop you’ve been meaning to check out, or maybe it’s an aerial exercise class that makes you feel like you’re in the circus.

Whatever it is, try to add in at least one thing per day that gives you a boost of adventure and endorphins.

8. Build slack into your schedule

You know how things always take longer that you think they will?

Did you answer yes? Then why on earth do you still leave too little time to do things? (This is a rhetorical question directed at myself.)

To keep yourself from burning out, be realistic with your scheduling, and give yourself permission to say no.

9. Stop taking work home with you

You may still need to from time to time, but too many of us make it a habit to check email on the weekends, or take home reports to finish after dinner.

Letting work bleed too often into the other areas of your life is a recipe for burnout, however. Unless you’re in an emergency, leave the work for business hours.

10. Take a vacation

We really do need vacations in order to work productively – but all too often Americans leave unused vacation days on the table, or work through them. Take your vacation days, and use that time to truly unplug. Not only will you find yourself relaxed and refreshed, you may even be excited to get back to work. All it takes is a little preparation to help you get back in the groove smoothly.

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Olivia Jefferson

Great post Jessie! These are great tips regardless of the occupation. I think you’re absolutely right that it’s even more difficult in the digital age to separate work from home life, but it’s also essential to set aside down time. I know for me, exercise is so hard to work in, but so essential to de-stressing after a long day at work. I’ll have to try some of these other ideas!

Jessie Kwak

I normally exercise in the morning, but it sounds like a great idea to exercise after work and de-stress that way. I’ll have to give that a try!

Especially for me working from home, it’s hard to draw that boundary between work time and non-work time.

Olivia Jefferson

Oh I bet that is a real challenge! Having a physical change in space between the office and home definitely helps me separate things out. I’ve never been the morning person, but I’ve found that a good workout in the evening after work is a great no-think time for me where my brain can just reset to enjoy the evening and forget about the day’s stresses.

Patrick Fiorenza

Related a lot to this post – the hardest thing for me has always been #1. After some near-misses on being burned out, I learned, or maybe have improved, how to pace myself and spot my warning signs that I am getting burned out. Easy to get down in the weeds on a project/task, so need to always remember to pace yourself and come up for air. Thanks for sharing.


Yes, Yes, Yes! Thank you for the wonderful reminder. I will be sharing this with a staffer who has recently transitioned from part-time to full-time work.