I’ll admit that it took me a few weeks to put pen to paper and write this article.
Ironically, it’s because the last three months have been incredibly jam-packed with lots of exciting and challenging work – the downside, however, is that I’ve been running at full speed without any downtime.
So, why I am telling you this when attempting to give you advice on how to avoid burning out?
The truth is that we all experience imbalance at various times in our lives. There is no such thing as perfect balance and, even if we do achieve this for a while, things can very quickly change and bring that imbalance right back to the forefront – whether that’s in our work or personal lives.
There is, however, an art to achieving sustainable performance and optimal wellbeing. Here are three ways to successfully walk the tightrope of life whilst juggling a myriad of activities and responsibilities.
Insight #1: Awareness is the key to sustainable and healthy performance
Stop and reflect. Look for early warning signs of physical and mental burnout.
Think about your behaviour – are you irritable, short-tempered, impatient and easily agitated?
Do you sometimes see loved ones as obstacles preventing you from doing your work?
Are you constantly switched on? Studies show that we check our phones an average of 150 times a day (maybe more for some of us!). Can you relate to this?
Do you think about work whilst on holiday? Again, studies show that 50% of us assume that we will do some work when on holiday.
Then consider the physical signs of burnout that can emerge over time. Do you experience chest pains? Do you have tension in your neck, shoulders and upper back? Are you struggling to sleep or do you wake up worrying in the middle of the night? Are your energy levels low and do you crave caffeine or sugar to keep you going?
If you responded “Yes” to any of the above, you need a plan of action to diffuse these early burnout symptoms before they escalate. Great tools include mindfulness, an appropriate exercise regime, evening rituals, “emergency” healthy snack supplies and deep breathing techniques.
Insight #2: Your commitments are in your control
Easily said than done, but one of the biggest contributors to burnout is our inability to say no. Before adding more to your plate, take stock of what you are doing and why you’re doing it. Think about the value that each activity is adding to your life. Make informed decisions before committing by weighing up the costs and benefits. At work, be very clear about your capacity and the impact an excessive workload will have on the quality of your output.
If you are doing anything purely to please other people – and if you feel resentful about this – then reassess the situation.
What would happen if you suddenly stopped an activity? Could you put it on hold and revisit later on? Can someone else take over, even for a short time whilst you recharge your batteries?
Often it’s our own high (and often unrealistic) expectations or pride that push us on. Sometimes, we feel like we have to be superhuman or people will discover we are weak. The truth is that we can be our own worst enemy. Other people are too busy managing their own lives to worry about yours, so make sure you prioritise you!
Insight #3: Making time for you requires conscious effort
Take a few minutes at the end of each day or week to plan out the coming days. Add your task list to your calendar and plot in set times for YOU. This can be time for exercise, a break, a walk or a catch up with friends.
The benefit of scheduling your time is that your calendar doesn’t lie. There are a set number of hours in a day, and you can clearly see how much free time you have by simply mapping out all of the activities you want or need to get through in a day. Placing these into a calendar makes everything more tangible and you may even discover that you are being too ambitious with your output expectations.
Finally, scheduling in “me time” and then not sticking to this sends a signal to your brain that you haven’t achieved what you set out to do. It’s harder to remove a commitment from your calendar than to never add it in the first place, so incorporate your downtime and treat it like a meeting with a VIP (that’s you!).
We need to acknowledge that there are times in life when we need to work that little bit harder or longer, times when we have tight deadlines or times when unpredictable issues arise. However, this shouldn’t be an ongoing trend or we can slowly move towards burnout. Instead, we must be prepared, recognise our triggers and set up effective coping mechanisms. Most importantly, we must understand that looking after Number 1 allows us to thrive.
About the author
Abigail helps companies, executives and individuals enhance their performance and personal productivity.
She has developed a unique 360 degree approach that combines the world of business and wellness to boost concentration, focus, energy and performance both in work and in life.
To find out more about Abigail’s work visit her website www.abigailireland.com