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Last Updated on August 19, 2019

How to Spot Job Burnout and Cope with It

How to Spot Job Burnout and Cope with It

Job burnout has become an epidemic in the last 10 years, and this shouldn’t be taken lightly. In the modern era, the pressure to measure up and lead a busy, jet-set lifestyle comes with a hefty fine.

The aftermath of burnout is a costly one and you don’t want to sweep it under the rug or mislabel it. I’ve been there—thinking I was managing well and slaying not one but two careers. I thought I had it all in the bag, not realizing it, in fact, had tipped upside down and in little time.

I’ve witnessed entrepreneurs, corporate workers and creative industry professionals run themselves into the ground. They overwork, over-commit and pack on the pressure to perform at their highest level. Countless times, I’ve heard, “I love my career, it fulfills me, but I think I’m developing stomach ulcers.”

If you dug a little deeper, you’d recognize that though you may love your work and what you do, it could also be draining you and putting your health at risk. I know people who work themselves until they collapse into bed or pull all nighters to catch up on deadlines.

Remember those college days when you had to complete eighteen or twenty credits and do so with flying colors while trying to balance a personal and social life? People with demanding careers are on the same boat—pulling all-nighters to add extra hours to their day to finish time-consuming projects and believing they can live like a twenty-something. Creative individuals are like 24/7 manufacturers cranking out whatever they’re making but, are neglecting self-care to an extreme degree.

I kid you not, I am guilty of doing the same thing: working myself to near death and not stopping to even use the washroom. On one occasion, I wound up sewing for 7 hours straight because a client changed the due date for her dress last minute. I had to do that for 2 clients in the same wedding party.

Punishing yourself and powering through without as much as stopping for a break is just one subtle sign of job burnout.

You get into a groove and are accomplishing mounds of projects each day unaware of the damage it’s doing to your health. Somewhere down the line, your sense of happiness, stability and enjoyment slowly fades. It’s a tragic down spiral, and burnout surely can strip the passion from your heart, leaving you drained and potentially ill.

Managing a career is stressful enough, and if you’re an entrepreneur, the stress can feel like a thousand-pound brick on your back if you’re constantly functioning on overdrive.

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Earliest Signs of Burnout

Whether you work at a corporation or are an entrepreneur working from home, burnout can be difficult to identify.

Groundhog Day Syndrome

Groundhog Day syndrome is just one subtle sign that you’re overtaxing yourself. I call it Groundhog Day syndrome because every day starts to feel the same, despite all the jobs you may be doing. That sense of dread dictates how much or little you accomplish.

Your enjoyment and fulfillment begin to dwindle. You start to ask yourself if you’re doing what you love or for all the wrong reasons. It’s a rough place to be.

When I was actively pursuing fashion, I didn’t even notice early on that my enjoyment for creating transitioned to immense pressure to ‘make it big.’ It landed me in a continuous state of exhaustion to the point where I couldn’t focus on one task. I started new projects before finishing others, engrossed in producing high quantities of garments.

Focusing on the Wrong Things

To spot the early signs of burnout, you need to pay attention to your mindset:

Are you about quality or quantity? Are you about money and accomplishing your wildest dreams or do you believe your work is also your calling?

It’s easy to confuse your true goals with dreams or unrealistic wants. Burnout can arise from the mindset of strenuous mass quantities, thus slipping into that Groundhog routine to reach that goal.

The worst thing to do is ignore or deny this vicious cycle in your pursuit of success. I did ignore these early signs of burnout and the consequences for me were substantial. I stopped loving my hours spent sewing. I stopped loving the creative process of which I’d devoted my 10,000 hours to.

It’s all right to want to be successful, but it’s not all right to neglect your mental, emotional and physical health.

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People were liking and seeing value in what I was creating and pushing me to achieve New York status in the fashion industry. I found myself pulling all-nighters to build inventory while simultaneously running a tailoring and alterations business. Even if you’re in a career you love, the demands may eventually spread you too thin.

Unusual Fatigue and Lost of Motivation

Early signs of burnout include unusual fatigue and gradually escalating exhaustion. This fatigue may then merge into lack of motivation. The consequences of ignoring the subtle signs might lead to an inability to focus or work as efficiently as you used to, dozing off in meetings or outings with colleagues. Lost hours and nights of sleep are another burnout warning sign.

At first, you might label this onset of exhaustion as stress, a rough patch or a creative block. You may be able to identify the extra effort and lack of endurance to complete your work. The daily hustle, overtime, derails your motivation, divides your attention, and causes restlessness.

If you are doing something for the wrong reasons, it will catch up to you. Burnout made me question why I had such a hot pursuit for fashion. And after much soul searching, I discovered it wasn’t my real passion.

When this extra push and effort feels strenuous and like you’re overexerting yourself, your mental health will be the first to warn you. Facing and accepting the earliest signs of burnout will prevent a full-blown, potentially career-ending or jeopardizing, crash.

Burnout Symptoms

Herbert Freudenberger first coined the term burnout in 1974 and defined it as:[1]

“the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.”

Now though, burnout has a new definition. We live in an era when measuring up and being a high achiever are vital for happiness. At the stage of burnout, the symptoms will be undeniable and have an intense grip on all facets of your health and life.

The symptoms, which are not widely talked about enough, lead to serious conditions after a period of 2 weeks. By the 2-week mark, the symptoms are chronic:[2]

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  • Hair loss or thinning
  • Suffering chronic skin rashes
  • Irregular heart beats and palpitations
  • Sinusitis or thickening of mucus
  • Decreasing function of the immune system

Severe cases, with sleep-deprivation, will take their toll. Burnout symptoms can be misread as stress. When your body has had enough, the symptoms become indicators that you’ve gone too far and are utterly burnt out.

Other symptoms, most identifiable, are cynicism and loss of motivation, therefore diminishing your job performance. You stop caring about how you perform in a professional environment, and it will show. Functioning in burnout mode depletes your ability to create or work at your level best.

In more serious cases, burnout has caused significant depressions and inability to cope with stress or laborious tasks effectively. It’s not your job that’s to blame; it’s how you navigate and juggle your workload and how you respond to overwhelm (when everything hits the fan or gets chaotic).

There is a balance, mentally and emotionally, you must learn to master to avoid burnout in the future.

Tips for Avoiding Burnout

Burnout is not inevitable and can be avoided. Anybody is at risk and should make avoiding burnout a priority as opposed to the opposite.

One lesson I learned when burnout reared its ugly head was the rule of quantity. By that, I mean, if you’re expected to take on a certain workload or tackle a ridiculous number of tasks in an hour, a day, or a week and it’s not truly feasible, it’s time to press pause or step back.

Granted, we pursue careers and put nearly impossible pressure on our shoulders to reach a destination of some kind—whether it be more money, a bigger promotion, writing more articles, more books, and being the ‘yes’ girl, or guy.

I’ll be honest and say that I was once the ‘yes’ girl, despite my full notebook of to-dos. People pleasing and the desire to stay ahead of the game doesn’t have to mean piling on more than you’re willing to legitimately handle. No matter how consumed with work I’d be, I didn’t realize how difficult I was making my own life by not saying no when necessary.

I was juggling a tailoring and alterations business whilst trying to establish myself as a designer. Additionally, I was managing a writing career and found myself operating in overdrive. Taking on too much has its consequences and it’s different for everyone, how burnout may impact others.

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To avoid burnout in the future, consider asking yourself these questions (before your workload swallows you whole like a snake):

  • Do I need to say yes to this, and if so, what will it cost me?
  • Is this opportunity worth my time and effort?
  • How will my overall well-being be affected if I say yes to this offer or opportunity?
  • What’s more important: working from morning until I collapse or strengthening relationships with family, friends and loved ones?

Final Thoughts

I’ll be honest again and tell you that when my burnout happened, I knew it was approaching and ignored the early warning signs and symptoms. The devastating truth of this was I had stopped enjoying a career I could immerse myself in for hours on end. It was once a hobby, something I didn’t feel the need to post all over social media.

Once I devoted to self-care and finding love in the work I was doing, the enjoyment returned without the added stress and pressure I afflicted upon myself. Engaging in activities such as yoga, swimming, bike riding, meditation and mindfulness gradually brought me back to loving my work again.

Burnout zaps motivation and inspiration, which for me, are major fuel injectors—what keeps me creating and connecting with my work on a deeper level of appreciation.

Mentally, try to look outside of yourself and work. Nothing is wrong with doing your best job, but it’s about how you perform and paying attention to your needs.

Spiritually, mentally, and emotionally exude goodness to others instead of bottling up and overworking. Burnout stems from all kinds of stressors, so it’s important to keep your mindset in the right place, especially in chaotic times.

If you’re not happy with your job, reflect and see what you could change to better cope with the stress and prevent burnout in the future.

Featured photo credit: Adrian Swancar via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Tessa Koller

Author, Motivational Public Speaker and Artist

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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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