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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Surviving Burnout


Originally uploaded by nodigio

One thing that can easily afflict anyone who is intense about a subject is burnout. This is particularly true of those who are deeply concerned about the environment, their work, survivalism, or are involved in charities or small focused groups, especially religious groups. Burnout is a state of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion that leads to feelings of helplessness, frustration, being trapped, and despair. Once you hit burnout, you can’t see any way to change things.

The most important step to surviving burnout is to avoid it. To avoid it, you have to know what it is and what creates it.

Agreeing to take on an increasing number of tasks you know you may not be able to do is one step in the journey to burnout. To prevent being overburdened with work, learn to prioritize the requests and agree only to the ones you know you can do. To assuage your possible guilt for saying “no”, suggest someone else who may be better suited to do the task. Then trust that the person(s) you recommended can do it. You may not be burdened by the tasks you are asked to do, you may have the time to do them, but if you don’t like the task you won’t do as good a job of it as someone else who might adore it. Isn’t it better to let someone who really wants to do it have a chance to do it than to grudgingly take it on yourself to get it done?

Trying to do everything yourself is a quick way to burnout. If you’ve got so many things to do that you habitually are late or forget a task or don’t get enough sleep because you’re constantly on the go, you are going to do things poorly and resent others for having the leisure to do the things you’d rather be doing. Stop and evaluate exactly what it is you are doing, and decide what really does have to be done – and by whom. Pretend, for this exercise, that you won’t be doing any of it. Who would then be doing it? Would they like doing it? If yes, delegate the task to them or the person they recommend. After you delegate, prioritize what’s left and consider either dropping what’s at the bottom of the list or scheduling them less often.

One of the things you should always keep at the top of your priorities is taking care of yourself. Eat well, get enough sleep, take breaks, and if you get sick, listen to your body and give it time to heal. If you are weak, sick, in pain, hungry, exhausted, sleep-deprived, hyped up on caffeine and sugar, you will not only not do your best, you might be doing the task so poorly it needs to be done again, and again, wasting your time and frustrating everyone. If you keep on ignoring your needs for others and shorting yourself to “get things done”; you’ll find yourself unable to do anything. You don’t drive a car on an empty tank with a low oil reservoir and no water in the radiator and expect it to make a 500 mile trip. Why would you expect to get through each day without adequate sleep or food or leisure time. A car doesn’t need to idle to rejuvenate itself, but people do need down time that isn’t specifically sleep. Short term abuses of yourself may be acceptable during times of actual disaster, but once the disaster is over and the after care sets in, start taking care of yourself again.

Trust that other people will do their chores. Even if you are the best person for the job, you aren’t the only one who can do it. Most tasks have a lot of leeway in doing them. Good enough is just that – good enough. There are jobs that require meticulous precision work but know that most tasks don’t need to meet rigid engineering specs. And if Nelson files the paperwork in a different order, the world won’t end. Ease up. Being convinced no one else can do the chore and only you can do it right is a large part of the trip to burnout.

Set a schedule, but don’t be obsessive about it. Leave room for leisure activities, time to relax with friends, and have some flex space for unexpected events. A schedule helps you determine if you can take on Smedley’s account when you’re already doing Bryson’s, Linder’s, Zhang’s, and Layne’s accounts, dealing with an elderly parent in an assisted living center, taking Junior to football, piano, and tae kwon do, remodeling the kitchen, doing all the lawn work, running the Fireman’s Charity Ball, sitting on the school board, coaching your daughter’s little league baseball team, and heading the neighborhood watch association or the home owner’s association. I know people with workloads like that and they wonder why they have no time and are always exhausted and snappy. Each of us only has 24 hours in a day – and at least 10 of those hours need to be set aside for sleep, personal hygiene, and eating (not cooking, mind, just eating). That leaves 14 hours for work, travel times, housekeeping essentials, household shopping, volunteer activities, and leisure. If you have a schedule, you are less likely to over schedule and double-book your time. You don’t like it when your doctor double-books you, imagine how others feel when you double-book them.

Take breaks and vacations. Smokers are not the only people who deserve breaks. Everyone deserves to sit back and break up their workload with short times away from the work – completely away. Get up and walk about, talk to others about non-work-related topics, leave the building, read a chapter in a book, play a game, something that isn’t work. It is not admirable to be a workaholic. Divert some of that energy into family, friends, and hobbies. It will make you a more efficient and productive worker if you’re not always working.

Spend time with family and friends. Real time, not just TV time, or fast food meals, or the trip to judo practice. Do things that aren’t part of the daily or weekly routine.

As vital as it is to apply these things to your daily life at work and home, these things are especially important in survival situations. You should do all you can to avoid burnout in yourself and those about you in survival situations because it’s not just your happiness and health depending on it, it could be your life and the lives of those depending upon you.

In short:

Take care of your physical needs
Maintain family and friendship ties
Take breaks and vacations
Prioritize your tasks
Say “no” more often
Trust others


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