This is Part I of a two-part article.
There have been times in my career when I got very close to burnout but was able to re-set myself – even when I started new jobs and dove into each new learning curve and new set of challenges.
However, one senior role was very hectic.
There were many demands and many un-predictable challenges. My normal productivity strategies slipped away as I immersed myself in doing everything I could to embrace and tackle this new role. I got swept up in the busy-ness of the role and everyone else’s priorities.
I suffered real burnout and it was bad.
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.
I knew I was in real trouble when I remember one evening at home, my kids were excited and sharing their days with me and I couldn’t feel anything inside – I felt like my reserves were gone with all the hours I was putting in and I had absolutely nothing left.
And, I had the realization that I had been feeling this way for much too long.
I had just started to get up at 5am because there wasn’t enough time in the day to get everything done. This thinking – completely logical to me at the time - combined with the fact that I was getting sick more than I usually did, and I didn’t have anything left to give at home to my family, told me I was in dangerous territory.
Something had to give.
So, this is what I did right away, in the first several weeks, to begin to crawl my way out of burnout.
1. I Woke up
I decided to do something about it.
Without this shift in thinking, this realization, this moment where I thought…oh my gosh, what I am doing…It’s hard to have the motivation to change the situation.
There has to be a moment where one ‘wakes up’ and realizes what is happening. It’s the moment where I stepped back and asked myself how did I get to this place? How did I let work get to be THE most important thing above all else? Who was I doing this for?
Without this light bulb, realization, perspective – what ever you want to call it, I would still be swept up letting circumstances carry me away vs. taking control back.
Take a step back – put yourself in the shoes of someone else looking in on your life – what do you see?
2. I Worked Less.
I was working 5 days per week and several hours on the weekends and at least 4-5 evenings a week – with very few breaks during the days.
I know people work that schedule and are fine.
For me, this was a pace I couldn’t keep up with. I couldn’t keep going even if I wanted to. I wasn’t in a healthy head space and it was starting to take its toll on my health and my enjoyment of my relationships. And, I’m sure the quality of my work wasn’t at its best.
I decided then and there I was going to work less.
I limited myself to only 2 nights per week. This allowed me to get some much needed down time immediately. I hung out with my family, I rested, I read, I did yoga. Whatever I needed to do to start rejuvenating.
Another thing I did immediately, was plan a vacation day in the coming two weeks. It was a ½ day; I would’ve taken a full day if I could, but I couldn’t. I re-arranged my schedule, told my manager at the time and took an afternoon to disconnect.
I didn’t look at my email or my phone AT ALL during that afternoon. I needed to unplug. I booked time at the spa for a massage and then went home and sat outside and soaked up the sun – and didn’t think about anything.
What happened when I stopped working so much?
Well - my work and overall focus actually improved after this happened.
I thought I HAD to be working that much to keep my head above water and get it all done.
Well – I wasn’t getting it all done..... and I was suffocating under my efforts.
The funny thing was, NO ONE noticed that I was working less. My work didn’t suffer. In fact, it improved.
I was actually able to get MORE done.
It was gradual - but each week got better and better. As I started my recovery from burnout, I brought more enthusiasm and energy into my day. I was able to bring a fresh perspective to the challenges we were experiencing.
In my increased downtime, when I reflected on my work, I was able to take a different perspective, which allowed me to think more creatively about the challenges we were facing. I came up with new ideas and different approaches, which I was able to take back to my team.
Don't get me wrong....I didn’t spend my personal time thinking about work all the time (defeating the purpose of my personal time), but off and on my mind would wander and at times a thought would pop into my head shedding a different light on something I was working on.
My rejuvenated energy was a big contributing factor to the success of my new approach. But also the realization that I had to work differently - NOT MORE -to make the impact I wanted to make AND maintain my sanity.
I had to take care of myself first and have the energy to BE WITH my family. They gave me energy and purpose and were grounding for me. Feeling more grounded in WHO I was, allowed me to re-apply my energies more productively at work.
Yet, there was more to increasing my productivity than deciding to make a change and working less…
In Part II, I’ll share how I was able to get more done and be more focussed in the time I was working. I’ll share the strategies that worked for me to set myself up for being more productive and immediately get myself turned around from Burnout.
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