This is Part II of a 2-part article. If you missed Part 1, click here.
This article is about what I did to turn my situation around to start my recovery from burnout.
Burnout, to me, was feeling ‘numb’ at the end of every day—I felt like I was suffocating under the weight of my work, my exhaustion, and the despair of thinking there was no end in sight.
In reflecting on that time in my life, I realized I didn’t have the reserves to experience life outside of work. …I only knew exhaustion, frustration, lack of control and feeling trapped by my circumstances. I was a high performer; I wanted to do my best for my customers, my company and my manager.
After Waking Up & Working Less…here is what I did next:
3. I chose the ‘right’ activities - Prioritization
Deciding to make an urgent change forced me to look at my work in a different way and get more critical. So what WAS important in my work-day? I pulled out my ‘to-do’ list and my calendar.
I made three lists:
A) MUST DO list (urgent & important)
B) Delegate List
C) Not URGENT but important
A) The MUST DO List:
I identified anything that fell into this category. What MUST be taken care of or completed - not what would be 'nice' to get done, but what MUST get done.
I scheduled these items into my calendar.
AND the time to get the work done.
The work time was important – just scheduling the presentation, the meeting or the phone call was one thing….but planning the preparation for this action was also important. It made sure the right thinking was done, the processing and preparation.
B) The DELEGATE List:
I looked at my projects & tasks and asked: Who on my team would be equipped to handle a given task or tasks like this? Would they learn something from taking this task on? Would they get more exposure, etc. Is it in their job scope to take this on?
I applied this line of questioning to any projects or tasks I was involved with. If I couldn’t delegate the whole project then I broke the project or task into parts – which of those could I delegate?
I transferred some of the responsibility for completing the sub-parts to team members and scheduled check-ins.
After identifying delegation opportunities I immediately set up the steps to start the delegation process.
C) NOT URGENT but IMPORTANT
For me, these were administrative tasks, paperwork, reviews etc. I booked a time in my week where it was typically slower.
In my case, it was Friday afternoons. My customers were already into their weekends, wrapping up their own weeks, so I took this as an opportunity to tackle the things that came up over the week and get them done.
For things that didn't need to be done right away - I moved them out in my calendar to the next two or three months to give myself more room in my scheduling.
If it didn't need to happen now and it wasn't mission critical, why was I trying to get it done right now?
Did I get it all done in the first week?
No, of course not, but week over week, this list got smaller and became more manageable as I managed my calendar in this way.
In conjunction with the above 3 lists:
I Looked ahead & worked backwards:
On Friday’s I dedicated the time to look ahead at the next - not ONE – but TWO-to-FOUR weeks.
This prepared me for what was to come and it was opportunity to make sure the advance preparation was scheduled. I worked backwards and made sure the right prep time was accounted for - or adjust for any changes that came up.
I also thought about who else needed to be involved or what steps needed addressing in the pre-work.
I made sure the right people were brought it when they needed to be.
This removed the feeling of rushing and last minute late-night work. I protected this time in my calendar and booked everything else around it, where possible.
Of course my calendar was already packed with STUFF before I started this exercise.
I looked at what was already in my calendar over the next two months. What was in there already that could be dealt with in another way – a phone call, postpone, remove outright OR could it be delegated?
Was the item even necessary?
In my experience people like to call meetings as a default without being crystal clear on WHY they are calling the meeting.
If you think about what really needs to be accomplished, there is sometimes another way to deal with the topic - Would a phone call work?
I got rid of what I could. I cancelled meetings. I declined many requests - I followed up with folks informally or they came back to me if there was anything important I needed to know.
I didn't need to be part of EVERY conversation.
I thought about where I could make the biggest impact in my role and focussed there. If there was anything important that others were working on that I needed to know the outcome of, then I booked regular short progress check-ins....or they sent me short email.
Was this plan perfect – NO WAY. Did it get de-railed at times – ABSOLUTELY. But, it gave me a framework to continue with – a way to prioritize anything NEW that came up. The majority of the time it worked.
4. I Prioritized “Me”
This is about HOW I worked during the day - changing the pace.
Here are examples of what I did:
- I scheduled more lunches – blocked it in my calendar.
- I also reached out to colleagues to catch up over lunch – especially colleagues in other departments that I didn’t see that often. It was a great way to connect and gave me a social break.
- I took it outside.
- I went for short walks where I could – 10 min here 15 mins there. THAT did a world of good. Fresh air, sunshine…worked much better than another coffee.
- I took mini-breaks every hour. A few minutes to stand up, breath, fill my water bottle, or listen to the radio for a minute in my car before going in to my next appointment (for those days when I was out of the office seeing customers). These sound small & basic, but these mini-breaks rejuvenated me, cleared my head and then I got back to it and was able to re-focus.
The constant racing from meeting to meeting, from task to task -- in an effort to fit it all it and get it all done -- had to stop!
I had to slow down and by taking these steps immediately and putting them into practice, I was able to put more control into my week, feel more energized and frankly, I was in a better mood.
I’m sure everyone around me was happier - I know I was.
These 4 ideas – in both Part 1 and Part II helped me turn around my Burned-out state into a much more productive and high-performing one.
There are many productivity books out there and lots of productivity strategies.
What I learned is this - find a framework or 1 or 2 strategies that could work for you and USE IT. Find a way to look at what you are doing Mindfully and critically rather than letting everyone else's agendas take priority over yours.
When it came down to it, I was desperate to get out of the state I was in and drew on what I knew to shift my situation quickly around. These strategies worked for me in the past and Iost sight of them. I thought I was in control but realized one day I wasn't. I wasn't following my own framework anymore.
If you are reading this and are dangerously close to Burn Out, in Burnout, or want to prevent yourself from going down that road, I hope there is an idea in here that helps you.
I would love to know: What has worked for you to keep you feeling 'in control' and able to push through challenging times or situations at work?