burn out


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My job is one where the busiest time of our year is the holidays. I work for a nonprofit and (in case you didn’t know), most donations are made just before the end of the year. It leads to a super busy period for everyone in the office, not just me, and it tends to make me a little insane.

After the holidays, I try to use the new year as a time to reset and recharge after all this craziness. This year, I’ve struggled. A lot. Two weeks in and I was still unable to focus, definitely not reaching my full productive potential. For a person who lives and dies by her to do list and calendar, this has been abnormal. With the prospect of my annual evaluation looming, I had to take drastic measures to get things back in order. Here are a few things I’ve learned.

  • Don’t beat yourself up. Life can be hard. Being a grown up can be hard. All you can do is take a deep breath and do your best.
  • Take a break. Find a way to step back for a bit. Whether that’s taking a half day away from work, a weekend away, or just a night at home with a glass of wine and a bubble bath, think about what recharges your batteries. Then do it.
  • Ask yourself why. Why do you get up and go to work every morning? Consider the payoff. When I’m feeling particularly unenergized, I think about the people our nonprofit is helping. Maybe it’s because you’re changing the world or maybe it’s because you’re paying your rent, but think about your reason for going in to work every day and kicking ass.
  • Get it all out of your head. When I was in college and super stressed before finals, my mom told me I should just write everything I had to do down on one monster list and then go from there. It turns out, this is a pretty well known productivity strategy. The more things you try to keep in your head, the more stressed you’re (probably) going to be. Dump everything out of your brain and onto a piece of paper (or computer) and then start checking things off.
  • Prioritize. I used to work with someone who was incapable of prioritization. She was always so stressed out because she treated every project as if it had to be done immediately and her entire job depended on it. That usually isn’t the case. Think about whether something is urgent and whether it’s important. Prioritize accordingly.
  • Ask yourself if it needs to be done. The answer isn’t always yes. For each thing on your to do list, you have four options: do it (now), defer it (later), delegate it, or delete it. Don’t be afraid to remove things from your list.
  • Just start. At some point, after you’ve figured out what’s on your list, prioritized everything, and decided when or if you’re going to tackle something, you just have to get going. Some people like to start with something small and easy so you can start checking things off. Some people like to dive into a big project. Whatever works for you, just go. If you’re having trouble, try working in smaller increments of time at first. And don’t forget to keep taking breaks! Your brain can only be productive for so long.
  • Shut it down at night. I don’t check my emails after I leave work for the day. (Assuming that you aren’t in France, this may or may not be possible for your job). Rest assured, I still get emails on my phone – but I don’t have alerts set up and I turned off the little red notification icon so that it doesn’t drive me crazy. My assistant and my boss (and most other people on my team) know that if there’s an emergency or an urgent question, they can call or text me.
  • …and during the day. For the most part, I turn my phone on do not disturb when I’m at work. My friends don’t love it, but I’m not a robot so I naturally check my phone every few hours (before a meeting, during lunch, or in the afternoon when my productivity naturally starts to wane). But, without the constant chiming or vibrating, I feel less of a need to and I can get more done. I’ve also used this app which encourages you to stay off your phone for however long you’ve set the timer to run.
  • Take care of yourself first. This is my all encompassing recommendation – get enough sleep, drink lots of water, eat well, exercise, meditate, practice self care, whatever else you need to do to take care of you. I’m a firm believer that you can’t take care of anyone else until you take care of yourself. There’s a reason that you put on your own oxygen mask in an emergency before you put one on your child. This doesn’t just apply in your personal life – it matters at work too. Don’t forget about you.

One thought on “burn out”

  1. Thanks for sharing these really helpful ideas. I am on a week of leave that I always take in the third week of January. I return to work straight after New Year when most people are on their summer holiday (Southern Hemisphere) and use that time to finish outstanding pieces of work, do some research and generally get ready for the year. Then I take this week off to spend time re calibrating my personal goals and preparing for the year ahead. Next week work starts in earnest, school goes back, and I will feel focussed and ready to jump into it. And I will be using your ideas about the mobile phone. Thanks again. margaret


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