It’s easy to get intense about your work. Most people, deep down, believe what they do is valuable and important. They care about it. The employees most likely to feel burnout are the ones who put more of themselves into their job, spend more time at work, and take work more personally. But it’s a major step from there to treating your job with such intensity it starts to take over nearly all of your life.

Are you working harder and harder and feel like you’re getting nothing done? The problem may lie in your mind, not in your ability to organize your schedule. Piling on the intensity is the typical response of a potential workaholic to increased job demands. It’s also likely to be a major part of the cause of the increase. Overwork and frenetic intensity are great ways to lower productivity and increase mistakes and reworking. The employee who is approaching burnout is likely to be the last to see it. Until then, he or she will probably try methods of coping that make the problem worse — like increasing the hours spent at work, becoming even more personally involved in work problems and trying to drive away the blues by increased effort and concentration. You may be able to outperform your colleagues, but you can’t outperform your own limits.

Surviving Burnout

Don’t just shrug off burnout as superstition or think you’re immune. It’s a serious issue that can wreck lives and produce problems for other people as well. The good news is burnout is entirely survivable. And your teammates and coworkers are more likely to be part of the solution that the cause of the problem.

In most cases, they’ll already know there’s something wrong. They’ll have sensed the difference in your behavior and seen the change in your mood. If they’re keeping their distance, you’ve probably been growling every time they came near you. Any good manager will already have started to investigate to find out what’s wrong. It’s their job. But not every manager is good; and some see the problem and apply James Thurber’s classic remedy of “don’t think about it and it will go away.”

In the end, it’s up to you. Your health and well-being is more your concern than anyone’s. Change comes best from within. Slow down. Take time out to think and reflect on your needs. Break problems down into smaller pieces. Start with the most obvious bit and ignore all the rest. Then take the next piece. Never try to drive ahead and work your way out of the problem by making still more effort.

As long as you take on tough assignments and push yourself you run the risk of going to far. What you need it to learn where your limits lie and stay this side of them. Pay attention to what works and doesn’t work for you. Forget the macho nonsense that you can take whatever the world throws at you. You can’t and nor can anyone else. If they say they can, they’re fools. The sooner you slow down and allow your own best ways of coping with life to guide your actions, the better off you’ll be.

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Adrian Savage is an Englishman and a retired business executive who lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his serious thoughts most days at Slow Leadership, the site for anyone who wants to bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership; and his crazier ones at The Coyote Within.

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