Are you Burned Out?
We all experience burnout at some point. I left a 17 year career because I sensed it creeping up on me.
At the time I left I had well over 15 years left before I could qualify for early retirement and I knew I could not last that long just for the full retirement benefits. So I left, and even though my income has been substantially less, I am less stressed, much happier in general, and able to actually encounter the world in a way I would not have been able to if I had stayed.
I am not recommending you all go out and quit your jobs by any means, but I do have some recommendations from what I observed in looking back at my career that might have helped me avoid the impending burnout: take vacations, observe a Sabbath day, and delegate more (read: do less).
First things first, take a vacation! Vacations (from the Latin vacare – “to be unoccupied”) are necessary to rejuvenate our mind, body and spirit. We weren’t meant to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
And take an “unoccupied” vacation – don’t plan out an itinerary that rivals your pace at work! Take a vacation where you unplug, spend time just reading, spend time outdoors just observing and soaking in the the fresh air and, hopefully, some natural sunlight.
Unplug from your phone, your TV and the internet, at least for the majority of the time.
If you are married, with or without children, enjoy the time with your family and spouse, allow yourselves all the flexibility in the world for that time. Linger longer somewhere that is enjoyable and leave the next destination for another time.
Be present for your spouse and family – don’t spend your vacation worrying about work. It will still be there when you get back.
Taste the food. I’m serious. When was the last time you can remember tasting your food?
Try something you have never tried before.
When you return from vacation and before the relaxed calm wears off, take a look at your schedule and set some clear work boundaries. Block out times for future vacations, family outings, time to read, time to spend outdoors, and set a specific time to end your work day, every day.
The Sabbath in the Judeo-Christian tradition has long been made out to be a day of restrictions, but it was meant to be a day of rest each week – a gift to us – a day that we did not have to toil under the curse but could trust that God would provide.
In New England sports vernacular, you might consider the Sabbath day as a “reverse the curse” day.
A Sabbath day is essential whether you are religious or not. It is also difficult for many of us to observe properly. Relaxation is an elusive concept for me, but as I continue to get older, I recognize its importance for my health more and more.
Think of your Sabbath day as the day you get to enjoy the fruits of your labors, spend time with family and friends, and experience the wonders of nature. It should be a day to recharge your emotional and spiritual batteries, and give your brain and body a rest.
Treat it like a weekly vacation – unplug, be present with those around you, take a break from technology, enjoy some nature or even yard work (yes work of this sort is fine, as long as it rejuvenates you)!
We can all find things to delegate. These are things that other people can do as well or even better than we can, and distract us from doing the one or two things that only we can do.
This is a lesson I didn’t learn until after I exited my previous career. I took on way too much and got stuck in the self destructive mode of continuing to do things myself because it was faster and easier than training someone else to do it.
The fallacy in this is that I was killing myself to get all these things done, while the things only I could do were not getting the full attention they deserved. One of these things was developing and leading my team. I didn’t know how to draw the line between being productive and helping others be productive.
The first thing to do is set limits on your work hours and prioritize your work schedule to get your work done in that time. This might mean clarifying with your boss whether the project you are working on takes priority over some status meeting, especially if you arrange for someone to brief you on anything important to your project.
Then take a hard look at the tasks you are still trying to cram into your schedule and ask yourself two questions. Can someone else do it? Is this task taking up time that could be better spent on those things that only I can do?
If you answered yes to both questions it is time to delegate.
Taste your food.
Be present in the moment with the people in your life.
Do nothing, on purpose, at least once a week.
…and just plain smile more.