What to do when you’re feeling burnt out

One thing that stood out in a recent light poll I did was just how many people mentioned ‘burnout’ at work. It’s a commonly used phrase, and at its heart it means we’re experiencing emotional, mental and physical exhaustion. 

It’s hardly surprising to hear so many people mention burnout. Even before pandemic pressure kicked in, 2 out of 3 of us were experiencing burnout sometimes. Feeling exhausted, unproductive, cynical, distant, hopeless and resentful are common signs. And it doesn’t just affect our work, it can touch every area of our life. 

It’s actually a huge myth that the cause of burnout is long hours. In fact in a poll carried out by Gallup, extensive working hours doesn’t even make it to the top five reasons. Instead Gallup’s research tells us that the most frequent causes are poor relationships at work, ineffective communication, lack of managerial support, unreasonable workloads and time pressure. All things that we will each experience during our working life and which can be intensified during this period of prolonged pandemic. 

So what can we do when we start to observe the early signs? Here’s three things to try.

  • Not all burn out is the same, so firstly pause and take stock. Think about what’s likely to be at the heart of your burnout. A simple technique like the Five Why’s can help. Here’s a short Burnout Self-Test too to check your level of stress on a 15–75 point scale. Getting to the root cause of your burnout will help a lot in determining what action to take. 
  • Start small and choose just one thing that could start to ease the pressure. Keep it simple; creating a huge list of ‘things to do to ease my burnout’ is likely going to do just the opposite. A quick internet search produces a stack of tried and tested tips such as this too. And if you’re open to thinking slightly differently, this quick read by Elizabeth Grace Saunders on HBR is thought provoking. 
  • Focussing on your mindset can be an incredibly powerful both short and long term too. If you can spare just three minutes whilst your laptop is closing down for the day, get in the habit of asking yourself:

What went well today? 

What could have been better?

What will I do differently tomorrow?

Taking tiny steps forward each day will go a long way to helping you feel less burned out. And a little bit more hopeful and embrace the future positively.

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