Burnout is on the rise.
This syndrome which has recently become recognized as a medical condition has been plaguing both employees and business owners.
Research has shown that one out of five employees reported high burnout as well as high engagement at work. Similarly, 49% of entrepreneurs suffer from at least one type of mental health condition such as ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, and a number of other mental health issues during their lifetimes some of which are brought on by constant stress and overworking.
In both cases, the lack of proper work-life balance is responsible for these crippling conditions which prevent the affected people from living fulfilling lives.
It’s crucial to distinguish burnout from fatigue and stress – people who are suffering from this occupational phenomenon resulting from the unsuccessfully managed workplace stress, as the WHO defines it in their statement, show different symptoms including feeling drained most of the time, lack of motivation, cynicism and negativity towards work, and decreased satisfaction and sense of achievement.
So, burnout isn’t simply being stressed and tired. It’s a cumulative problem that can’t be cured by a two-week vacation.
Here’s what you can do to prevent and avoid this 21-century malady.
Know Your Limits
Being aware of your breaking point is of vital importance to keeping burnout at bay.
All of us cope with the workplace stress and exhaustion differently, which is why it’s important to take a day off from time to time to unwind and do something that makes you feel good and replenishes your energy levels.
A night out with your friends, a short hiking trip, or a day at a spa – whatever helps you forget about your meetings, tasks, and that checklist hanging over your head.
It might sound like something that’s easier said than done, but if you make a habit of these short breaks and if you don’t allow your stress and fatigue to build up and transform into full-fledged burnout, it will be possible for you to establish protective boundaries and cut yourself some slack when you notice that you’re about to reach your limits.
Schedule Some Free Time
The tip mentioned above can seem like something impossible, especially when you fall into a vicious circle of uncompleted tasks and falling behind your workload.
That’s why it’s a good idea to prevent it by scheduling some free time before hitting a critical stage in which all you do is racing against time and trying to meet your deadlines.
So, make sure to carve out some me time, even if it’s just 30 minutes a day.
Treat this as an important meeting that you can’t just cancel and always stick to it.
Take Good Care of Yourself
Sleep no less than 8 hours a night, eat healthy, drink a lot of water, and exercise regularly.
These common-sense tips that you’ve heard so many times in your life (and most probably shrugged them off) are of vital importance when it comes to staying healthy and sane at work.
Namely, many people aren’t even aware that they tend to sit for hours without standing up and at least stretching themselves.
A study which followed more than 150,000 initially healthy adults for 7 years showed that those who sat for more than 12 hours a day had a significantly higher mortality rate than those who sat for five hours and less.
And no, simply standing at your desk doesn’t qualify as physical activity.
Even when you’re too busy to go to the gym, you can always do some simple office exercises
The same goes for your meals – instead of wolfing down a burger and fries, pick healthier options and eat less processed foods and more fruits and vegetables. And make sure that your lunch break isn’t just the time during which you’re eating your meal at your desk while you’re reading reports and going through contracts.
And as the proverb says Mens sana in corpore sano – it’s much easier to deal with all the stress and fatigue at work if your body is healthy.
Learn to Let Go
No matter how much you prefer to do things on your own, this tendency can turn you into a control freak and push you on the road to burnout.
One of the most important things that will help you prevent burnout is understanding that asking for help is a smart move. It’s not admitting defeat or showing that you aren’t capable of handling your workload.
Quite the opposite, when you realize that there are other people who can perform a certain task as well as you do (or even better), you will allow you to reduce stress and focus on some really important aspects of your job.
And that makes you a great manager.
First of all, you need to identify low-value tasks and delegate or outsource them. This way you’ll have more time and energy for some high-value work, that is, activities which will help your business thrive and generate the highest returns.
You can start by outsourcing certain small, repetitive tasks, such as hiring people to take your calls or respond to your emails.
Another good idea is surrounding yourself with a team of people specializing in certain areas so that you can delegate important work and be sure that it will be completed successfully.
Working with a coach can be an excellent idea because you’ll have someone to help you navigate this process, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and make important business decisions. No matter how experienced you are in your field, there’s always room for improvement and learning how to deal with your workload, as well as how to improve your productivity and efficiency. This will not only help you develop professionally but also save you from burnout.
Start Saying No
The habit of always saying yes will send you on the burnout path in no time.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of accepting every meeting when you’re a go-getter – every time you turn somebody down you think that you’ve missed out on a potentially lucrative business opportunity. However, it’s crucial to be selective and assess your prospects based on whether they’re a good fit for your business, as well as how likely they are to turn into paying customers.
It’s counterproductive to waste your time with someone from whom you can’t benefit in any way.
Generously giving everybody even 15 minutes of your time will eventually exhaust you, meaning that you won’t have enough time and energy when a real opportunity comes along.
The same goes for different projects. You simply can’t and shouldn’t attend every conference, meetup, or trade show. Pick only those events and projects that can be valuable to you and your business.
Saying no can be a real challenge, but it’s also a skill that can be practiced and learned.
Disconnect and Unplug
Last but not least, this effective but often neglected tactic will help you recharge.
With all the technology that we have at our disposal, it’s almost impossible to really leave work. Even when you get home, different email and messenger notifications keep on reminding you about all the business stuff that you’ll have to deal with tomorrow.
And by overthinking and worrying about important deadlines, you’re not doing yourself any favors.
Instead of frantically checking your email or Slack for the latest messages from your boss or a potential client, simply turn off all the notifications and face all the music tomorrow.
If you don’t electronically disconnect from your work, it will be hard to do it mentally.
And being available 24/7 will expose you to tremendous stress.
If it’s not always possible to take an entire evening or weekend off and block business notifications, then at least limit your email time and check your messages at designated times – after dinner or on Saturday morning.
This way you won’t be completely unavailable, and yet you won’t jump and grab your phone whenever you hear you hear a notification.
Avoiding burnout means being aware that things can easily spiral out of control if you fail to recognize its symptoms. It can creep up on you, but by following these tips you can significantly reduce the likelihood of red flags going unnoticed and do something before it’s too late.
Michael Deane is one of the editors of Qeedle, a small business magazine. When not blogging (or working), he can usually be spotted on the track, doing his laps, or with his nose deep in the latest John Grisham.