13 Ways To Prevent Burnout

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

In 2008 I wrote a series called "Lessons in Burnout" with insights gleaned from a previous experience of not just burning out, but burning to an unrecognizable crisp. Working in a high-touch, highly personalized industry like weddings  — where purchase decisions are driven more by emotion than in any other field — makes a person more susceptible to burnout. Burnout is a slippery slope and one we often don't see coming until it's too late.

Working to make the world a better place through change or celebration is admirable, but a savior complex is not. You can’t do everything and you aren’t meant to (that cheesy line, "We're meant to be human beings, not human doings" is true). Neglecting your own family to help other families isn't admirable and means you’re halfway down the slippery slope to burnout if not engulfed in the flames already.

I certainly don't have everything figured out, but here are some things I've learned as someone who has personally been through burnout before and who has worked hard to avoid it ever since. None of these insights are earth shattering, but there may be one or two you're currently avoiding that can help make 2015 better:

Take care of your brain. Your brain is in your body. Take care of your body.

Eat breakfast. Drink water. Take vitamins.

Eat well. I tend to follow Michael Pollan’s three rules: eat real food (aka pronounceable ingredients), mostly plants, not too much. At the same time, there is no "organic Oreo" that tastes as good as the real thing in all its processed chemical glory. For some people, "all or nothing" works well. For others, being stringent and then having a cheat day works. For me, a loose 80/20 rule of moderation is what works best.

Exercise. I typically do a mix of pilates, spin, hiking and yoga at home, but prefer the Ballet Beautiful workouts when traveling because they can be accessed from any device and done in a hotel room.

Live beyond the end of your driveway. Give to charities that are tackling issues you’re passionate about, not necessarily the ones that will bring you the best PR. Create a Kiva account for each of your kids and let them choose who should receive the investment and reinvestments each time. Get involved in something bigger than yourself and your family. (This may seem like it contradicts what I said about neglecting your own family to help other families, but it doesn’t. Becoming completely self-focused and insular doesn’t help you either.)

Plan your days, but hold those plans loosely. Productivity is great, turning productivity into an idol is not. There’s a quote by Alain de Botton that I love because it is true, true, true: “There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.” Set goals and make plans, for sure, but don’t delude yourself into thinking your fancy planner or high-tech app will control all the curveballs life throws your way.

Create financial margin. As much as possible, stay debt-free or work to get there. Put money in savings. This may not be easy, but it’s not impossible. Married or single, parent or childless, everyone has expenses you don’t know about. Comparing yourself to others in this area will poison your mindset and prevent you from accomplishing your goals.

Start liking Mondays. Mondays represent a clean slate and fresh start. We all have days we dislike our jobs, but for many people what we do is a dream job. If you dread going to work each week, consider what needs to happen in order to transition to something else and start working toward that.

If you're considering hiring a life coach, spend the money on a licensed therapist instead. (A side note: we all have issues — some we don't even know exist — and there is no shame in a commitment to living as a whole person. If this is a concept you're still wrapping your head around, start out with Brené Brown's books, The Gifts of Imperfection or Daring Greatly, which are both based on scientific research and not sketchy pop psychology.)

Keep a gratitude journal. Paper or phone app, doesn’t matter. If you’re glad for something, write it down, no matter how small or dumb it seems. I literally have “glitter” as an entry in mine because glitter is fun and cheerful and abundant this time of year so, yes, I am thankful for it.

Listen as if you’re wrong. This doesn’t mean compromising your values. It means leaning into the mystery of life and operating from a core belief that you may not have everything 100% figured out.

Use social media to expand your point of view, not to keep up with the Joneses (my friend Marcy calls this "compare and despair"). Twitter has exploded over the past twelve months with people who use it to share thought leadership rather than for self-promotion, so there's plenty to choose from in whatever subject you're interested in. Your brain processes social media as an in-person interaction, so if it's constantly draining you, change who you follow.

Take a real vacation. Easier said than done and probably the one I struggle with the most. Destination weddings and business fam trips or conferences are not vacations, even if they’re fun (work is supposed to be fun). A self-described workaholic friend of mine in his fifties once told me that he and his wife never regretted taking a vacation but there were several over the years that they regretted not taking.

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