Long-term strategies that work.
By Chelsea Berler
Stress. Non-stop decisions. Deadline after deadline. Demanding clients. Never-ending responsibilities. Burning the midnight oil staring at the haunting glow of a computer screen night after night. Do these sound familiar?
If you’re an entrepreneur, a small business owner, or someone working with these people, the unfortunate answer is probably an emphatic “Yes!” The consequences of burning the candle at both ends could be repeated, uncontrollable bouts of burnout.
I have firsthand experience with the crazy life of a start-up. While it often is very rewarding and satisfying taking care of clients, I learned that it’s vital to take care of myself as well.
Burnout is a combination of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that builds up over time and is harder to bounce back from than simple tiredness.
You can’t cure burnout with a cup of coffee, but you can cure it over time if you’re willing to slow down just a little and do some thinking in advance about how you work and what your body and brain need.
Over the years, I’ve explored the best strategies for coping with, treating, and preventing burnout. Here are eight of my favorites to help you create your own escape plan:
1. Stay social.
Many of us also work from home, especially as the virtual office becomes more popular. While the benefits of this setup are obvious, one of the major pitfalls is the loss of interpersonal relationships. Though the innocuous water cooler chat office workers engage in may not seem like such a big loss, it’s exactly those random discussions that lead to the feeling of community not found from working at home.
One thing you can do to avoid this isolation is to regularly take your work to a public place like a coffeehouse where you can rub elbows with other folks. Even if it’s just a nod and smile, it can make you feel connected to a world that exists outside your own domain.
2. Stay healthy.
Your body is a complex machine, and it functions more smoothly if you keep it well maintained. Don’t get up, gulp down a cup of coffee down, and expect to be doing very well once you get a few hours into the day. Give your body the fuel it needs to perform, and you’ll find you are much more able to respond to anything the workday can throw at you.
Don’t allow yourself to work for marathon sessions without giving yourself small breaks. Get up, walk around, go outside, and let the sun shine on your face. Make sure to break up larger projects into chunks and then give yourself a break between them. Be sure to also get enough sleep in a tech-free environment.
3. Stay organized.
When the work is coming in fast and furious, it can be easy to just focus in on the things directly in front of your face that need handling immediately. But the discombobulated mess you’ll become after working this way for any length of time is a surefire recipe for burnout. Instead, give yourself time before you dive in to get ready.
Sure, this prep time should include an overview of what you need to accomplish for the day, but it should also include a morning routine that is all about you. Once you establish a routine, it’ll be easy to make sure you get a little me time before work begins.
I’m able to be successful at this by time blocking my calendar every week. I block a chunk of time first thing in the morning to catch up, organize, and get my thoughts together, and I do the same thing in the later afternoon in preparation for the next day.
4. Stay positive.
Whenever you feel mired in negative emotions, create a little distance. Step away from your desk, focus on your breath, and feel the negative thoughts dissipate. Even if they don’t, you’ll feel a lot better.
I know this sounds a little fluffy, but any good leader knows you just have to not get tied up in the emotional part of what’s in front of you because you may say or do something that you’ll regret. When I find my blood pressure rising, I say some choice words in my head and then I get over it by taking a break. This has saved me time and time again. Before you think it’s a little fluffy to take a minute for a breathing exercise (or take all night), I promise you’ll thank me later!
5. Start saying “no.”
Every “yes” you say adds another thing on your plate and takes more energy away from you and your creativity. Cut back on the immediate commitments, and put some things on the back burner. Answer emails only at set times. Work specific hours (not 24/7/365). Switch your phone off occasionally. The world won’t end,
My mentor told me once that by saying, “yes” to something, you’re saying “no” to something else. Saying “no” more often will make room for the right kind of “yeses” you want in your life.
6. Be you own biggest fan.
Write yourself a note with positive affirmations and be sure you’re constantly patting yourself on the back for your accomplishments. Yes, this is another fluffy thing, you might be thinking, but Seth Godin, author, entrepreneur, marketer, and public speaker, recommends using self-fan mail as a way to keep motivated instead of burning out on a project that seems far from completion. I happen to think he’s right too. The reality is you have to recognize all the great you’ve done in order to continue doing great things in your life and your business.
7. Set realistic expectations.
When you go too long without seeing any measurable results, you’ll only see frustration, disappointment, and fatigue. Instead, break big projects, goals, hopes, tasks, and the like into smaller chunks. Then, you’ll see those chunks periodically completed, and your hard work will feel worth all the effort. You’ll be doing more high fives in your office, I promise.
8. Take real time off.
This is the most powerful way to avoid burnout, and the one most of us miss. Because you’re so passionate about your work and committed to your goals, you get sucked into a culture that forces you to work too many hours a day and too many days a week, so make sure you take vacations and get away.
This is my number one struggle, but I try. And I think that’s all that matters. I personally don’t think I could step away from my business for a couple weeks, but maybe that’s just fear talking.
All in all, to avoid burnout and stay happy and productive, the best suggestion is to love what you do, put your work into perspective, and be flexible. Every now and then, relax, kick back, and live your life! Can I get an “amen”?