Like many people, I was facing significant challenges and burnout last year. It was so bad that I told my team in September that I was going to take a 3-6 month sabbatical starting in December. However, by the time January rolled around, and after just a few weeks' holiday, I was ready to go again and felt re-energized. Here are some things you can do if you are facing burnout but can’t afford to take a sabbatical.
1. Identify what’s bugging you: Burnout is typically caused by prolonged periods of stress which may or may not be related to your work. Identifying what is the underlying cause of your burnout and stress can be more difficult than it seems. We often want to point our fingers to the challenges we are facing in our jobs without recognizing that there may be an elephant in the room that we are not giving enough attention to. In my case, while I felt like I was stressed about my work, the reality was that I was stressed about the factors that were outside of my control that were affecting my clients. In this particular case, I was able to identify that I was overwhelmed at the thought of trying to continue to support business owners who were struggling with the effects of Covid lockdowns, as well as my particular struggle with vaccine mandates. Once I was able to verbalize my challenges and make some decisions around how to deal with those issues, my stress levels declined. Identifying the underlying issues that are sapping your energy are the first thing you need to do to re-energize.
2. Change your focus: Once you are able to identify the issues that are paramount to your internal struggle and can resolve those issues or at least acknowledge that there may be no apparent solution to these challenges, you allow yourself to move on. Changing your focus both at work and at home so that you give yourself new things to think about that break your internal mental cycle of self talk are critical to re-energizing. This may mean that you might need to take up a new project at work, change up your desks or work area, reorganize your job, take on new clients or responsibilities. If changes at work are not a viable option, try a new hobby, meet some new people, get a new pet. Resetting our brains can enable us to look at our lives from a different perspective.
3. Look outside of yourself and your work: There is a saying that “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” So often we wallow in our self pity without realizing how good we actually have it. Look around at your co-workers, your friends, those people in your community and start counting your blessings. One of the best ways to re-energize is to focus on others more and less on ourselves. Volunteering or supporting those people in our community or families that need our help, our presence, and our energy can give us new life and distract us from our self awareness of our personal issues.
4. Be present at work: Many times as individuals we dwell on our failures. Recently I was given some feedback that one of my presentations didn’t go as well as I hoped. To be honest I was humbled, I was bummed out and I let something that happened months before, that was now out of my control affect my whole week. This is not uncommon, as humans we dwell on our past mistakes and errors and events that are now long past affect the way we think and feel today. Unfortunately in most cases there is nothing we can do to change them and we need to move forward. Moving forward starts right here and right now. We can only control what is happening to us in the present. If we are at work we need to focus on the tasks at hand, and do those tasks with the care and attention they deserve. As they say, time stands still for no one, no matter how great we think we are. How many opportunities for joy and fulfillment are wasted on a daily basis because we are not present because we are dwelling on past failures or we are distracted by our envy for others and their social media posts?
5. Leave work at work: I realized early in my career that nobody is really all that interested about what happened to me at work and the best thing I could do was to leave my work at work. The same goes for you. When you enter your home, you should be able to focus on those things that are important to you at home, those people you love, your hobbies, pets, chore list, friends and family. Setting clear boundaries around your work and not focusing on it when you are not at work can be revitalizing in itself. This means turning off your phone, laptop, and not responding to text and emails outside of reasonable work hours. You might be surprised when you realize how much energy your thoughts about work were taking from your time off and how re-energized you feel going back into the office after a weekend truly without work.
My burnout didn’t go away after one weekend but through a process of identifying the underlying issues, leaving my work at work, and changing my focus, over a period of months. Through this process I was able to re-energize and reestablish my passion for making a difference for my clients. My hope is that if you are going through a similar struggle that you too will become revitalized and come to love what you do again.
Dave Fuller, MBA, is an award winning Business Coach and the author of the books Profit Yourself Healthy and Pivotal Performance. Email firstname.lastname@example.org before you burnout.