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How to Recognize Burnout Before It’s Too Late

How to Recognize Burnout Before It’s Too Late

I thought I was invincible to burnout. But I soon realized how wrong I was. I thought what I was feeling was temporary, like stress. I didn’t know if I was suffering from a short-spurt of emotions or something more. I burnt out, and I don’t want you to go through that.

This article is meant to help you recognize if you’re burning out; or if you’re already burnt out. In the midst of everything you’ve got going on, burnout can sneak up out of nowhere.

Luckily, science provides us with a framework for identifying the root causes of burnout. I’m going to share this framework with you in this article. I’m also going to share my personal story of burnout to help you see it in action.

What Actually is Burnout?

Dr. Christina Maslach from University of California at Berkeley has devoted a significant chunk of her life studying burnout. Her research led to the creation of the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), which provides the framework for identifying burnout.

Essentially, the MBI defines burnout as a psychological syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who work with other people in some capacity.

Let’s look at each of these in closer detail.

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Emotional Exhaustion

People who are experiencing burnout, either in the beginning stages or otherwise, suffer from emotional exhaustion. This is the feeling of being emotionally overextended, emotionally drained and emotionally overwhelmed by one’s work. Dr. Maslach defines this feeling as no longer being able to give yourself to work or others at a psychological level.

Tangible examples of Emotional Exhaustion:

  • Blunted emotions
  • Loss of motivation, ideals and ambition

Depersonalization

Depersonalization is interesting and a bit frightening. Depersonalization is the development of negative and cynical attitudes towards one’s colleagues and clients. Dr. Maslach claims the development of depersonalization is related to the experience of emotional exhaustion. From my personal experience, I believe this to be true. More on that later.

Tangible examples of Depersonalization:

  • Detachment with one’s clients and colleagues
  • Feelings of anger towards one’s clients and colleagues

Reduced Personal Accomplishment

Reduced Personal Accomplishment in burnout is the development of negative feelings towards oneself. This looks like poor self-esteem, low self-efficacy, and an overall negative perception of your abilities. In spite of accomplishments on the job, you’re still dissatisfied with your performance.

Tangible examples of Reduced Personal Accomplishment:

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  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Decreased self-confidence related to one’s ability to perform

The difference between stress and burnout is that burnout is a chronic condition. While stress is fleeting, burnout is constant. When you’re experiencing the three components of the MBI ‒ emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment ‒ day in and day out, you’re experiencing burnout.

What Causes Burnout?

Dr. Maslach’s research has identified 6 risk factors for the development of burnout. When high levels of stress are sustained over time, the risk of falling victim to burnout increases. These 6 risk factors are the leading causes of stress-induced burnout. It’s important to note that not all 6 of these factors need to be present for burnout to occur. In my case, only 3 of these factors caused my burnout experience. Again, more on this later.

  1. Workload: Having too much work, with too little resources, in too short of time.
  2. Control: Being too micromanaged or not having enough influence within your work environment.
  3. Reward: Working for not enough pay, not receiving enough acknowledgement or feeling little satisfaction towards your work.
  4. Community: Working in isolation and experiencing conflict or disrespect with those around you.
  5. Fairness: Being discriminated against or falling on the short end of the stick in regards to favoritism.
  6. Values: Having ethical conflicts with the work or completing meaningless tasks (according to your own perception).

Not all of these factors need to be in play to experience burnout. The key takeaway is that if any of these factors are affecting you for a sustained period of time, the stress resulting from these conditions can lead to burnout.

It might be easier for you to understand this with a story. So, here’s my burnout story.

My Burnout Story

Note: I have nothing against the company described in this email. I was fortunate to work with very successful and smart businessmen, but the opportunity wasn’t for me.

I allude to this in my other work, but I was money-hungry at 21 years old. So money-hungry that I was willing to do what 99% of Americans don’t want to do: door-to-door sales.

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I began my short tenure with this company, which we’ll call The Sales Company (I hope this isn’t actually the name of a company), in May. I was done in August. In my case, the three burnout risk factors that caused my burnout experience were reward, community, and values.

Reward

Like most door-to-door sales positions, the pay with the Sales Company was commission only. Again, my main motivation was to make as much money as possible in the shortest amount of time. The commission structure was laid out very well, and I was convinced I was going to make five figures in less than a month.

The problem with a commision-only pay structure is if you’re not selling anything, you’re broke. When you’re broke, you’re worried about how you’re going to buy groceries. When you’re worried about how you’re going to buy groceries, you can’t sell. And so the cycle repeats itself. For some reason, I couldn’t sell squat. The result? I was worried about money, which only made my sales pitches even worse.

Austin’s Burnout Cause No.1: Working for not enough pay.

Community

The people in the Sales Company are awesome. Smart, caring, and intelligent. But, I was an outside sales representative. This means that for eight hours a day, Monday through Friday, I was by myself. Experiencing repeated failure in isolation made took a toll on my psyche. Ultimately, I began to dread leaving my home with 6 roommates for a lonely trek around San Diego.

Austin’s Burnout Cause No.2: Working in isolation.

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Values

The Sales Company product is truly innovative and one-of-a-kind for small business owners. Seriously, the value for the price is unparalleled in the marketplace. The only problem is that I wasn’t curious about the product, wasn’t passionate about the product. I didn’t really care about the product. The only thing I cared about was making money. So, after a couple of months without making any money, I became intensely disengaged.

Austin’s Burnout Cause No.3: Doing perceived meaningless work.

These three risk factors sustained over the course of four months led me to burnout’s doorstep. I will never forget the feeling of waking up in the morning legitimately depressed because I needed to knock on doors all day. I would drive to a location, walk around for an hour, and then go home early because I couldn’t stand approaching business owners anymore. When I did talk to an owner, I would literally give them reasons to not meet with me.

Here’s how these three risk factors morphed into the three characteristics of burnout mentioned above.

  • Emotional Exhaustion: I would passively update my supervisor on the day’s events without a hint of excitement.
  • Depersonalization: I began to view business owners as dumb people who couldn’t recognize a great offering.
  • Reduced Personal Accomplishment: When I was successful at setting appointments, I wouldn’t want to actually attend them.

The Sales Company took steps to fix the problems listed above, but it was too late. I was burnt out.

What about you?

The purpose of this post is to help you recognize if you’re at risk for burning out, or if you’re already burnt out. It was a strange, weird, and horrible feeling. I don’t want you to experience it. You took the time to read this article, so you might as well get something from it.

If you feel at risk for burning out, try to determine which of the 6 risk factors listed above are hurting you. If you’re in a work environment that can help you resolve these issues, then great, collaborate with your boss(es) or whoever to resolve these issues.

If you’re not lucky enough to work with people who are willing to help solve these issues, you may want to consider leaving the organization.

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Last Updated on March 13, 2019

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

1. Work on the small tasks.

When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

2. Take a break from your work desk.

Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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3. Upgrade yourself

Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

4. Talk to a friend.

Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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6. Paint a vision to work towards.

If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

7. Read a book (or blog).

The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

8. Have a quick nap.

If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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9. Remember why you are doing this.

Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

10. Find some competition.

Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

11. Go exercise.

Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

12. Take a good break.

Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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