5 Actionable Tips for Preventing Burnout
Updated: Feb 17, 2021
Being busy isn't all bad. But, there is a fine balance between being busy and being overworked. If you don't pay as much attention to self-care as you do to your hard work, you risk experiencing something called burnout.
Burnout is the term used to describe a state of long-term exhaustion and lack of interest in work. It tends to result from working too hard over a long period of consistent and excessive stress.
If left unaddressed, burnout can make it difficult for you to function well in your daily life. It can lower your energy levels, make you irritable, unproductive, and less creative. In severe cases, it can even cause health problems and affect your work-life balance.
In the book Peak Performance, authors Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness provide a battle plan to elevate your game, avoid burnout, and thrive.
Tip #1: Learn from the athletes
The best athletes usually focus on recovery as much as they focus on time on the track. They give their bodies time to rest, which allows them to push a little harder in the future.
In the world of exercise science, this cycle of stress and rest is often referred to as periodization. You isolate the muscle: you stress it, and then rest and allow for adaptation to occur.
It’s the same with any capability you’re trying to grow. Just as your muscles deplete and run out of energy, your mind does, too. That’s why it’s important to alternate between cycles of stress and rest. You can do that by using these techniques:
Insert short breaks throughout the day
Schedule off days or vacations right after periods of heavy stress
Determine which part of the day or week your energy starts depleting. Insert a recovery break right before that happens.
Tip #2: Engage in Deep work
Studies show that people are not effective at doing several different things at once. Multitasking reduces your ability to complete each task efficiently and productively, which can result in added stress.
So, instead of trying to grasp everything at once, try focusing on a single task by following these tactics:
Define a purpose and concrete objectives for each working session.
Identify what interrupts your deep focus and remove distractors. Remember that only out of sight leads to out of mind.
Divide your work into chunks of 50 to 90 minutes (this may vary by task).
Start even smaller if you find yourself struggling to maintain attention. As you develop “fitness” in whatever you are doing, you’ll likely find that you can work longer and harder.
For most activities and most situations, two hours should be the uppermost limit for a working block.
Protect the time during which you are most alert and use it for your most important work
Tip #3: Know when to pause
Remember the time when you were at your creative peak? What were you doing when the answers to challenging problems popped into your head? You probably weren't trying to solve them.
Taking a moment to relax and rewind can significantly impact your creativity and overall stress levels.
When you’re working on a demanding mental task and hit a dead end, stop.
Step away for at least five minutes. The more stressful the task, the longer your break should be.
For draining tasks, consider stepping away until the next morning.
During your breaks, perform activities that demand little to no effortful thinking.
For example: listening to music, going for a short walk, taking a shower, or doing the dishes.
You may have an “aha” moment of insight during your break, but even if you don’t, your subconscious mind is still at work. When you return to the task, you’ll be more likely to make progress.
Tip #4: Prioritize Sleep
While it might be tempting to skip a few hours of sleep and get the job done, it's important to prioritize rest.
During sleep, pathways form between nerve cells (neurons) in your brain that help you remember new information you’ve learned. When you’re sleep-deprived, your brain can’t perform its duties as well. And no matter how much work you've put in while you were awake, much of the value can be lost.
Follow these tips to establish healthy sleep habits:
Try going to bed and waking up at the same time at least five days a week.
If you feel tired in the afternoon, take a 20-minute power nap to help restore energy and focus.
Try to avoid working on stressful activities after dinner.
If you struggle with a racing mind, try inserting a brief mindfulness meditation session before going to bed.
Keep your room as dark as possible. If workable, consider black-out blinds.
Keep your smartphone out of the bedroom.
In one study, researchers invited three groups of people to immerse themselves in the computer game Tetris. They played for 7 hours a day, three days straight.
One group had played Tetris before, another group was familiar with the game, and a third group couldn’t remember whether they’d played before—they had severe amnesia.
During each of three nights, the study participants were woken repeatedly and asked to recall what they’d been dreaming about. Most of the time, the answer was Tetris.
Even the amnesiacs reported dreaming of Tetris. They couldn’t remember anything about the experiment the following day, but they remembered having dreamed of falling shapes and patterns.
This research demonstrates that during sleep, we process the experiences and information that we gather while we are awake at a very deep level. Our brain determines what to store in memory and whether the content will be available to conscious awareness.
That's why sleep is crucial for processing information from our experiences.
Tip #5: Unplug
Regardless of the work you do, take at least one off-day every week. It is crucial to truly disconnect from work and to unplug both physically and mentally and engage in activities that you find relaxing.
This doesn’t merely apply to your days off; every day counts.
You can use these techniques to avoid burnout and unplug successfully:
Write out your to-dos for tomorrow as the final task for today’s workday. It will put off tasks from your mind.