As business ebbs and flows, we all go through periods that require more energy and attention from us than we're used to giving. A problem arises when this period extends over the long term, requiring us to overwork ourselves with no end in sight. I like to think of burnout as the complete extinguishing of the candle within you that fuels your daily work. When we're exhausted and overworked, it's almost impossible to revive the same sense of creativity, productivity, and strategy that we have when we take care of ourselves.
Many realize that they've burned out when it's too late, because it's hard to know when the excessive work is starting to take a toll on us. There's no one-size-fits-all way to recover from burnout. So learning ways to get ahead of it and set up preventative measures in our work lives is key. This applies whether you feel that you're on the edge of exhaustion or if you're doing just fine at the moment--it's important in all phases of our work lives.
Pace your work days.
You've likely heard the Bill Gates quote, "Most people overestimate what they can do in one day and underestimate what they can do in one year." When we start our workdays and look at our to-do lists, it likely has a considerable number of items on it--all of which we feel we need to get done today. Kristin Thomas, CEO of Confident Marketing Code, urges entrepreneurs to consider that it simply doesn't all have to get done today.
"You can't win a marathon by sprinting out of the gate, and the same goes for entrepreneurs--take the pressure off, even just 10 percent, and relax into the knowing that it will all get done at the right time," Thomas says. And yes, tackling every single item on your to-do list is considered a sprint. "Pace yourself. There is so much time ahead of you," Thomas adds.
Lead by prioritizing.
Perhaps the reason behind the sprint is because we think if we don't get it all today, we'll return to our to-do list tomorrow to find the list has grown. There will always be more things to get done. So to truly pace, lead your work days by priorities. Leadership specialist and executive coach Suzi McAlpine says the chief way to avoid burnout is to "get super-duper clear on your top 2-3 priorities (and we're talking a MAXIMUM of 3) and ditch, delegate, or delay the rest."
If you just have a few key priorities, you're more likely to get them done with a hyper-focus that won't be achieved if you're knocking off every item on the to-do list. "If you're leading a team, communicate those top 2-3 priorities until you're blue in the face and you're sure you're all on the same page," McAlpine advises.
Make your time to sleep holy.
Many describe burnout as feeling exhausted. When the days are becoming longer to keep up with the to-do lists, it's easy to let work extend past your typical bedtime. The less deep sleep you get, the more likely you'll feel stressed the next day. We often don't know how much deep sleep we get, which is why Jarrod Conroy, CEO of Biohacking Australia, recommends tracking your sleep.
"There are a number of sleep trackers that can sense how many hours you had of deep sleep, light sleep, or periods of restlessness," Conroy notes. "I always check how I slept the next morning so I know how to structure my day, energy-wise. If I didn't sleep well the night before, maybe I'll push off some creative work to the following day, because I'm more tired than I feel at the moment. Then, I push my bedtime a bit earlier so I can recover."
To help yourself sleep more soundly, Arianna Huffington recommends creating a "sleep ritual." This consists of "escorting" your phone to a different room or a different area of your room so you're not as tempted to check it. She notes that this should ideally happen at the same time every day.
Help your brain do its best work.
Since our brain is the command center that controls how we feel and how much work we can do, it's important to give it plenty of brain food. Foods that can help you avoid burnout include dark leafy greens, herbal teas, and adaptogens like ginseng. "Notice how you feel after you put a certain type of food into your body," suggests Mau Pan, co-founder of Nuoptimal. "Do you have a productive and focused next couple of hours? Or are you yawning and exhausted?"
Strengthen your diet with some nutrient-heavy foods throughout the day and see how you feel. It's also a good idea to take out certain foods. Some say coffee can actually lead to burnout, but others swear by it for productivity. Whatever works best for you, your job is to make sure that your brain can do its best work by giving it the nutrients it needs.
Remember that burnout is a slippery slope. Pacing ourselves by prioritizing, taking care of our bodies, and paying attention to when we need to rest should ideally become habits we live by every day, rather than just in stressful times when we are the most prone to burnout.