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Burnout

Burnout

Burnout is one of the hottest organizational topics (sorry about the pun). What causes it? More importantly what can you do to prevent it?

According to New York psychologist Herbert J. Freudenberger, PhD., who coined the term, burnout is a state of fatigue or frustration brought about by excessive devotion to a cause, a way of life, or a relationship that fails to produce the expected reward. Put more simply, it’s what happens when you work flat out and find you’re getting nothing back to make all that effort worthwhile. Hard work itself isn’t the problem; many people work extremely hard—top athletes for example—and do it willingly because it allows them to enjoy success and fame. It’s the combination of unrelenting hard work and limited (or no) reward that brings people to their knees.

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Symptoms of Burnout
The onset of burnout is usually quite slow. Early symptoms include a sense of emotional and physical exhaustion, followed by feelings of alienation, cynicism, impatience, or negativism. This develops into profound a sense of detachment, with a growing resentment of work and the people who are a part of that work. In the final stages, people insulate themselves to the point they no longer care about much at all. Those who suffer burnout are no longer angry; they’ve stopped even trying; they’ve become so exhausted they’ve lost their capacity for feeling anything beyond numbness. The irony of burnout is that it often happens to the very people who were most enthusiastic and full of energy and new ideas at the start. It’s a problem born of good intention, when people try harder and harder to reach unclear or unrealistic goals and deplete all their energy reserves in the process.

Organizations Are Causing Burnout
People usually think of burnout as an individual problem, maybe due to an excessively demanding schedule, too high a drive for achievement, or an individual boss who expects too much for too long. But organizations cause endemic burnout by imposing impossible targets, faulty structures and poorly defined roles. Burnout starts when people lose their belief objectives are attainable, regardless of how hard they work; when effort and outcome aren’t linked in any rational and understandable way; or when they feel their work is misjudged and they no longer understand clearly what is expected of them.

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These are the most common organizational factors leading to burnout:

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  • Role Conflict: Someone trying to cope with conflicting responsibilities quickly becomes disheartened. They feel they’re working against themselves. The longer the conflict persists, the less possible it is to achieve anything worthwhile. The result will be the feelings of hopelessness and exhaustion associated with burnout.
  • Role Ambiguity: It’s impossible to do a good job if you don’t know clearly what’s expected of you and your role; or if your understanding of the job isn’t the same as the one held by your boss. It’s even worse if neither boss nor subordinate is aware of the problem. Each thinks the other sees the role as they do. The boss sees lack of progress as incompetence. The subordinate sees the boss’s judgment as arbitrary and unfair. As a result, neither is capable of accomplishing anything worthwhile.
  • Role Overload: A major cause of burnout is faulty performance expectations. Often the boss doesn’t bother to understand the subordinate’s abilities or circumstances, so adds extra responsibilities in the belief they can be easily handled . Or there’s a boss (or an individual) who can’t say no and so keeps taking on more responsibility. Tasks then pile up to the point where dealing with them becomes impossible. Many jobs have long since lost any resemblance to what’s set down in the job description; and it’s surprising how often neither the boss nor the subordinate is able to provide a clear rationale for current workload and expectations. When this happens, the only possible results are resentment, frustration and either burnout or an acrimonious parting.

If you’re starting to experience any of the symptoms of burnout, the first priority is to slow down and take a long, objective look at your working life and what’s causing the problem. Here are some postings that can help:

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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Last Updated on November 18, 2020

I’m Feeling Bored: 10 Ways to Conquer Boredom (and Busyness)

I’m Feeling Bored: 10 Ways to Conquer Boredom (and Busyness)

If you’re saying “I’m feeling bored,” it’s important to realize that boredom and feeling too busy are the same problem. Some people claim I’m being too ambitious trying to strike down chronic boredom and busyness at the same time. I’d argue that the only way to take them out is simultaneously.

The problem stems from how you manage your attention. Both boredom and busyness stem from feeling there is a lack of quality in how you focus your attention.

Boredom is feeling that there are too few high-quality ways to spend attention. Busyness is forced boredom. This means that you feel there are high quality ways to spend attention, but your attention is being stolen from you before you can use it.

I’m Feeling Bored: It’s in Your Mind

Feelings of boredom and busyness are subjective. You can’t look out in the world and claim it is busy or boring. To say these feelings are subjective is obvious, but that misses a key point. The real problem is quality.

Being engaged, neither busy or bored, happens when your attention is focused on high-quality activities.

You can probably remember times when you were completely engaged. This could have been working on a project you were passionate about, spending time with your family, sky diving or vacationing under the sun. Why were you engaged in these moments and not in others?

A likely reason was because those experiences had a higher quality. They allowed you to enter into an immersive flow state, in which your entire consciousness was devoted to the activity.[1]

In the best cases your entire reality revolves around what you are doing. You’ll understand what I mean if you’ve read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (which, I must admit, inspired most of these ideas).

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Improving the Quality of Your Activities

So how do you improve quality in your experiences when you’re saying “I’m feeling bored”? I believe there are two major ways you can do it: externally and internally. If you are chronically busy (and actively disliking the busyness) or bored, then you’ll need to tackle external and internal factors that contribute to these negative feelings.

Here are some ways to consider improving quality in your experiences:

Externally

1. Plan Ahead

Schedule your life to ensure there aren’t huge gaps or work overflows later. This can mean scheduling high-quality experiences if you find yourself frequently bored. It can also mean dividing large projects if you find yourself chronically busy.

  • Plan weekend activities for next month now. This not only gives you something to look forward to, but it also forces you to stay productive instead of just busy.
  • Map out what is placing demands on your time. Can you consolidate all your “busy work” (such as responding to emails) into one block of time instead of allowing it to cause constant interruptions in your day?

2. Win-Win

If you must perform an activity you think has low quality, you’re going to feel bored. Find ways to reorganize your life so that jobs, chores, and duties can become interesting, high-quality experiences.

Turn mind-numbing chores into opportunities for growth and learning. For example, listen to an audio book or lecture on the commute to work or while you’re cleaning your house.

3. Prioritize

If you don’t manage time, you’ll never have enough of it. There are always more things to do than you have time for. Get your values straight so that the highest priorities are handled first and your life doesn’t get overtaken by the unimportant.

Set a vision for your life, and determine how everything you do either contributes or detracts from that vision. Chances are, the things that don’t align with your vision are some of the same things that bore you. After you identify low-priority activities, you can try to make them more meaningful, or you can find ways to eliminate them.

4. Put Quality of Experience First

It is easy to get caught up in external goals that don’t fulfill their promises. Focus on goals that will give you a greater quality, not just a bigger paycheck or more status to brag about.

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Set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goals that align with your life’s vision.[2]

5. Escape the Motions

Habits are a part of your life, but don’t let them become the only thing. Break out of your patterns if they aren’t giving you what you need. Instead of staying in, go out and meet new people on a Friday night. Just do something to get away from doing the same old thing.

Schedule times to break from your routines. I thrive on having a routine most days, but I also give myself opportunities to break from sameness.

Say “yes” to trying something new. Nothing spices up your day like trying something new.

Internally

Most of the ways to improve your quality of experience and conquer boredom are internal. Remember, it’s not just what you do, but also how you do it.

1. Build an Inner World

I’m not suggesting you create a complete rift between yourself and reality when you find yourself thinking “I’m feeling bored,” but also realize that if you can’t find quality in your immediate surroundings, you can find it within yourself.

Solving internal problems, reviewing knowledge, coming up with new ideas, creating stories, or even planning for the future are all areas you can explore in the mind without any external stimuli.

Use “boring” moments as opportunities to brainstorm. It’s a lot easier to cope with a humdrum reality if you’re able to use the time to explore possibilities within your mind.

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If you’re really at a loss, you can imagine a story about 2-3 of the people and objects in your vicinity. This is a great way to exercise your creativity and sharpen your observation skills.

2. Seek Quality in the Now

Try starting small with some simple questions. What are you doing right now? What can you find that has value for you? Seeking quality right now allows you to find it even if your environment is bare or overloaded.

Activities like waiting in line can be turned into moments of self-reflection or times to remind yourself of your vision.

3. Don’t Resist

Busyness and boredom could also be described as symptoms of resisting what is. Fully accepting whatever situation you are in and making the most of it is one way to conquer feeling bored.

Resistance is something that can’t be done half-way. Either completely push away and seek quality elsewhere, or accept your surroundings and find it here.

4. Unchain Yourself

A lot of mental unease is caused because you feel forced to do something. You have to go to work, study for your test, do this or that. Realize that you don’t have to do anything, just accept different results. Freedom is in your mind.

Weigh whether the activity causing your discomfort is essential or expendable. For example, paying your bills is non-negotiable, but you can opt to live a more modest lifestyle or actively search for a job you enjoy.

Use a mantra to remind yourself of your freedom. “I am free” and “I have the power to change my circumstances” can reinforce the notion that you have choices.

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5. Stop

Boredom and feeling overloaded are both patterns. They are mental spirals you run on yourself that loop back on each other. If you just interrupt yourself for a few minutes and think more deeply about the problem, you can often come up with a good answer independent of these suggestions.

Meditate your way out of boredom. Sometimes boredom and busyness are caused by feeling disconnected from what you are doing. Use meditation to ground yourself in the present.

You can learn how to meditate here.

Take up a gratitude practice. Whenever you’re feeling too bored or too busy, stop to think about all the things that are going well. Being able to simply say, “I got out of bed this morning,” and “I have food to eat,” help you take stock of your blessings.

The Bottom Line

As boredom and busyness arise from the same source, the same strategies can be used to tackle them and find a sweet spot of a balanced mindset. Find high-quality activities when you start saying “I’m feeling bored,” and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can turn things around.

More Tips on Tackling Boredom

Featured photo credit: Siddharth Bhogra via unsplash.com

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