Meetings. Assignments. Deadlines. Email. Phone calls. Texts. Reports. Trips. Projects. Some days the demands of the job seem never-ending. A hectic day now and then is manageable. String too many together, though, and you risk burnout. How do you spot it? Burned-out employees dread going to work, and, once there, they have negative attitudes and interactions. Eyes are on the clock, watching the hands drag slowly toward quitting time.
Here’s a novel way to prevent burnout: plan for it. No, that doesn’t mean resigning yourself to its inevitability. Instead, see burnout as a potential consequence of your frenetic work schedule, and take steps to prevent it. Make changes both at home and in the workplace, and you can avoid that awful workplace dread.
Cut Yourself Some Slack
If you’re feeling close to burnout, one more assignment might just push you over the edge. Be fair to yourself, and ask others to be reasonable, as well. When your boss is about to pile more work one, point out what’s already on your plate. That could get you a reprieve, at least for the present.
When you’ve got too much to do, seek help. It’s not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of good time management skills. You shouldn’t have 10 things on your desk that all have to be done immediately. If you can’t accomplish that, you’re not a poor employee. You’re merely mortal. Finding a better workflow can help ease the burden.
Do some prioritizing. Since time is linear, you simply can’t finish everything at once. Identify what must absolutely, positively, unquestionably be completed first. Then work your way down the list. Accept that some tasks go the end of the queue, and stop worrying about them. You’ll get there.
Break It Up
When you face a large project, it can seem overwhelming. Don’t tackle it all at once, because, well, you can’t. That’s not the way complicated tasks get finished. Think about it: a chef doesn’t make a baked Alaska in one step. There are multiple phases, because the dessert has sponge cake, frozen ice cream and baked meringue. The recipe must be handled as a process, or you’ll end up with a sticky mess.
It’s the same at your job (minus the ice cream, probably). Each complex project consists of several small components. Before jumping in, identify those pieces and prioritize them. Then start at the beginning and work your way through. You won’t stress out as much about finishing. Each time you complete a segment, you’ll experience success and realize you’re that much closer to your endpoint.
Catch Your Breath
One sure way to accelerate burnout is to try to be on task every second. Humans aren’t made that way. You can actually be more productive if you build in short breaks throughout the day. Get away from your workstation to give your eyes and mind a rest. Move around to energize your body. Take a snack break, go for a short walk or get a drink of water. You’ll return refreshed and more focused.
If it’s possible, change your work location a few times during your shift. New surroundings are invigorating. Remember that old adage: “A change is as good as a rest.” While that’s probably not exactly true, it does help beat monotony. Moving to a different desk or a new room also provides a little rejuvenating physical activity.
You Can’t Take It With You
Don’t make a habit of regularly bringing work home. You need a life outside your job, or burnout is unavoidable. Do things that you actively enjoy and are good for you. Exercise. Spend time with family and friends. Eat non-fast food in a relaxed atmosphere. Meditate. Write in a journal. Read for pleasure. Unplug electronics. You know what brings you pleasure, and it’s not working 24/7. In the long run, you’ll be a better and happier employee.
Get Away From It All
Short breaks are great, but every once in a while you need a vacation. Use your time off to break free. Don’t contact your work, and make it clear you’re unavailable. As long as you maintain this boundary, you don’t have to travel far. The primary goal is to change your environment from workplace to anywhere else. A “staycation” is as effective as a trip, as long as you’re resting, relaxing and having fun.
If you realize burnout is your likely destination, take detours. Then you’ll never have to arrive at that undesirable endpoint. When you start feeling stressed, overworked, underappreciated and exhausted, steer in another direction. You now have a roadmap, so stick to a route that doesn’t lead to misery.
Kayla Matthews is a productivity blogger and calendar-planning enthusiast. Follow her on Google+ and Twitter to read all of her latest posts, or check out her blog, Productivity Theory for more productivity tips.