Self-Care

12 Ways To Prevent Burnout

Lessons from my own mistakes.

Photo by    Cameron Clark

Photo by Cameron Clark

In 2008 I wrote a series here on Think Splendid called "Lessons in Burnout" with insights gleaned from a previous work experience of not just burning out, but burning to an unrecognizable crisp. It is still – 11 years later – one of the most popular topics I've ever covered.

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 in order to help other families isn't something to brag about and it usually means you’re halfway down the slippery slope to burnout, if not engulfed in 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 your current life better:

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

2. Eat breakfast. Drink water. Take vitamins.

3. Eat well. I tend to follow Michael Pollan’s three rules: eat real food (aka pronounceable ingredients your great grandmother would recognize), 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.

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

5. 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.

6. 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, but don’t delude yourself into thinking a fancy day planner or high-tech app will control all the curveballs life throws your way.

7. 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.

8. If you're considering hiring a life coach, spend the money on a licensed therapist instead. Don't just google one — get recommendations for a reputable professional who is committed to your wholeness, not to having you in therapy forever. (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.)

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

10. 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 and that everyone you meet knows something you don't.

11. Use social media to expand your point of view, not to keep up with the Joneses (my friend Marcy Blum refers to the latter as "compare and despair"). Twitter has exploded over the past few years with people who use it to share thought leadership rather than for self-promotion. Not coincidently, it is the number one social media platform that CEOs and business executives use. This means that there's plenty of people to learn from in whatever subject outside of weddings 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.

12. Take a real vacation. This one is easier said than done. Destination weddings and business FAM trips or conferences are not vacations, even if they’re in exotic locations and fun (work is supposed to be fun). You still have to be "on" for them. A self-described workaholic friend of mine in his 50s once told me that he and his wife never once regretted taking a vacation but there were several over the years that they regretted not taking. Give yourself a break and unplug.

5 Ways To Keep Your Sanity

It's easy, especially when the future seems uncertain, to become jaded, to let annoyances pile up, to react to the short-term instead of thinking through things strategically with the long-term in mind. It can also be difficult to focus on your work when the seemingly reactionary decisions of your competitors — such as doing work for a deep discount or as trade for "exposure" — affect the conversations your clients have with you.

If you can keep your mind and your energy in a space that is healthy, you'll be able to more clearly see the opportunities that are in front of you right now. Here are some tips on how to do that:

1. A Gratitude Journal

I've talked about these before, and I believe in them so much. Take time each day to jott down three things you are grateful for. You can do this with regular pen and paper, one of the many gratitude apps, or even Instagram. Yes, we all like to have our mini pity parties and no one is grateful 100% of time, but you can't keep that up 24/7. Spending a few minutes each day focusing on what you do have (and it doesn't need to be material) instead of what you don't have will help shape your outlook.

2. Watch What You Say (Or Write)

While you may take note of a few things you're thankful for, it sort of negates the entire process if you then turn around and use Instagram Stories, Facebook, or Twitter to vent about every little annoyance. No need to be a Pollyanna (those are just as annoying), but venting should make up a small percentage of what you share, not the majority.

Go through your social media posts from the past month and see how many are complaints. Set a goal to cut that number in half over the next month. Chances are you’ll start to notice a positive difference in your perspective.

3. Unsubscribe from the Dramacolypse

While you should have people in your life who are willing to be REAL and not fake happy-go-lucky 24/7, you should also be careful not to surround yourself with people who are cynical dream-stoppers. This also includes people you follow on social media. If someone gets under your skin or lives in your head "rent-free," unsubscribe, unfollow, or mute them. Real drama is your friend who is going through chemo or a divorce or taking care of a sick family member. Unnecessary drama is the inane gossip people make up because they are intimidated by someone else’s success.

4. Declutter and Streamline

The scientific law Occam's razor suggests that the simplest solution is usually the best one. Getting simple, however, is not always easy. It requires being willing to let things go. It also requires checking your ego at the door so that you can make things work for you without worrying about what everyone else is doing.

Take some time to evaluate what things or processes you can cut or simplify in your life or workflow. This isn't a license to be selfish, but it is a way to evaluate what you need to do to simplify your life and your business. What areas can you streamline?

5. Breathe

Create margin for your life. The easiest way to do this is to create boundaries around how you work and when you are available to people. There will be some days that require you to work late and reply to emails at 2:00 A.M., but if this is a daily occurrence, it's likely time to slow down.

Slowing down can be difficult because it often means giving up the facade of power. It is also easy to justify our propensity toward a frenetic pace by using the excuse that we love our work. You should love your work. You should also love yourself and your family enough to keep your mental, emotional, and physical health in check.

Slow down. Go to sleep. Get some exercise. Take a "sabbath" day or afternoon to renew your mind and spirit (it doesn't have to be Saturday or Sunday). As the saying goes, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Once you slow down, you’ll find that you think more clearly, focus better, and get more done when you sit down to work again.


Originally published April 2009

A Small Way to Make Your Day Run A Bit More Smoothly

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I picked up Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin at an airport bookshop while on a layover several years ago, back when the book was first released. I don't remember too much from it, but one thing that stuck with me is her recommendation to intentionally add small things to your daily routine that bring you joy. 

I decided there, on the plane during the next leg of my flight, that from then on fresh flowers would be included in my weekly grocery budget and that French-pressed coffee would be part of my morning routine. And, six years later, I can attest that both things continue to make my days a little brighter, even if the coffee is decaf these days. Plus, I truly feel that fresh flowers bring a room to life in a way nothing else can. The ten extra dollars added to my budget each week (I generally just pick up whatever is pretty, cheerful, and on sale at the supermarket) has been money well-spent. 

This principle – choosing to add something to your day that makes you a bit more happy, allowing the day to go a bit more smoothly – can apply to both home life and business life. And it doesn't have to cost much, if anything at all: your happiness addition could be starting the day reading the news old-school style with coffee on your front porch, or it could be unwinding in the evenings with Coltrane and a cup of chamomile tea. At work it could mean adding a favorite piece of artwork to your office wall that brings up a cherished memory whenever you look at it or setting aside 15 minutes a day to connect by phone with colleagues you haven't seen in a while (only talking to people when you need something from them is a terrible way to network). 

I find that many entrepreneurs are pro implementing these tiny life edits when it comes to others but tend to skip them when it comes to themselves. While the additions may feel frivolous, they lead to a better mood which boosts productivity and optimism – and staying optimistic, of course, helps keep you open to new ideas and opportunities.

The little things matter in life, and being intentional about adding good things that bring more joy to (and don't distract us from) our daily routines is both a practical and doable form of self-care.