Rock-bottom burnout isn't a pretty thing. Running your tank down to zero often results in rash decisions, strained relationships, months of being unproductive, and the physical toll of less-than-healthy coping strategies. That's why the best solution to burnout isn't the many tips out there for recovering from the condition, but to avoid reaching that point in the first place.
Preventing yourself from hitting the wall of burnout hard involves knowing the early-warning signs that you're coming close to a crash. By the time you're sure that burnout is imminent, it's often too late to avert it.
So what are these subtle signals that you're creeping along the path to exhaustion? In the course of a long and interesting post on the causes of and cure for burnout on Lifehacker, Alan Henry suggested several red flags.
1. More snark
Sure, science says sarcasm can be a mark of high intelligence and great creativity, but if you're cracking wise every 10 minutes, your sharp sense of humor is probably more a sign of impending burnout than mental strength. "If you catch yourself reacting poorly to things you would normally take in stride, or suddenly showing a ton of snark or contempt for even minor announcements around the office, you're suffering from the first, earliest signs of burnout," declares Henry.
No shock here. "If you're just dead tired from when you walk through the door to when you leave, and never feel like at any point during the day you're getting into 'the zone' and firing on all cylinders, you're probably getting burned out," warns Henry.
We tend to think of detachment as a symptom of our lackluster surroundings or uninspiring tasks, but boredom is actually more likely to be about your attitude than your environment (total donkey work obviously excepted). That's why Henry cautions that "being bored while you do the work is a bad sign."
4. More procrastination
The problem isn't procrastination, per se. The problem is when you procrastinate more than is normal for you. "If it's work you'd otherwise do easily, it's time to step back and take a breather," writes Henry.
5. Mysterious illnesses
Burnout can take a fairly hideous toll on your physical health. The first signs of that may be the creeping realization that your body really isn't performing at its peak. "If you find yourself coming down with mysterious, often stress-related illnesses, like stomach discomfort, insomnia, or headaches when you normally don't suffer from them, stress is probably getting to you," Henry insists.
6. Vacation starvation
What's a more objective tell that burnout is imminent? When you try to remember your last vacation and nothing immediately pops to mind. According to Henry, "If you've never taken a vacation from your job, or you have a ton of leave lying on the table you haven't taken, it's a sure sign that you're starting to get burned out, even if you don't feel like you are."
Henry isn't the only one offering a list of early signs of burnout. Business Insider posted a similar list a little while ago that overlaps with the Lifehacker one in many areas. But it did mention a few other tells that you're approaching burnout, including guilt. Here's the feeling you should watch out for: "You're constantly working, but can't seem to get all of your work done (maybe because your workload is too heavy or you can't concentrate), and you eventually feel guilty for not completing your work, which leads to working even more."
8. Increased drinking
Another red flag according to Business Insider is increased drinking. "The Mayo Clinic asks potentially burned out workers if they are using food, drugs, or alcohol," says the post, adding that "if not managed carefully, this stress reliever could turn into an addiction."
How to pull yourself back from the brink
So, what if you've read this list and are starting to feel a little bit worried? Fear not. There's plenty of advice available on how to reverse course and avoid a full-blown collapse.
Henry's post offers advice to nip burnout in the bud; others have suggested you borrow some of the principles used by athletes to avoid overstressing their bodies to restructure your work routine; and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer claims that burnout is completely avoidable. Last but not least, you could also try following one serial entrepreneur's step-by-step guide to making sure you never burn out again.
How many of these early signs of burnout are you exhibiting?