Don’t Let Burnout Stall Your Career: The 5 Best Tips for Preventing Burnout

‘Burnout.’ We’ve all heard of it. But, what does it mean to be burned out? And why should you care?

Well, burnout is not a matter to be taken lightly; and can pose a severe threat to your career. In her book The Power of Slow: 101 Ways to Save Time in Our 24/7 World, Christine Louise Hohlbaum describes burnout as:

…a ‘silent condition’ induced by chronic stress that is characterized by emotional [or] physical exhaustion, cynicism and a lack of professional efficacy,

HelpGuide offers additional insight, saying:

Burnout reduces productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.

Burnout can leave you feeling defeated, trapped, detached, and unmotivated. It’s no small wonder, then, that the phenomenon negatively impacts work performance as well. Procrastination, delay, and avoidance of responsibilities are all linked with on-the-job burnout. Burnout can even affect you physically, leading to constant feelings of fatigue, loss of appetite, and frequent illness.

Those afflicted may suffer silently, but burnout isn’t just a personal issue; it directly impacts your business. The American Institute of Stress estimates that stress costs US Industry roughly $300 billion annually as a result of reduced productivity, missed work, and employee turnover, and related training costs, among other factors.

Burnout can even be contagious in the workplace as other employees are forced to pick up the slack of their less productive counterparts. And sadly, burnout can be hard to kick. One study found that burnout is likely to continue once it becomes entrenched. It was found to persist, in some cases, as long as fifteen years!

But, you’ve got a business to run. And you’re not going to let burnout stall your career. So what can you do? Remind yourself that running a business is a marathon, not a sprint. And, prepare yourself for the long run with these five tips for preventing burnout.

Be honest with yourself

Most definitions of burnout include mentions of cynicism.

Cynicism is defined as “the feeling of distrust or that something isn’t going to work out well.” A cynical outlook encourages disengagement- because it’s not going to work out anyway, right? And, if it’s not going to work out, then why try?

Arnold Bakker and Patricia Costa explain:

Cynicism is a negative or excessively detached response to the work itself and/or to the individuals with whom employees’ interact while performing their job.

In other words, burnout sufferers mentally disengage and as a result, job satisfaction and productivity suffer.

The key to preventing cynicism (and disengagement) is to reconnect with the source- you. Taking the time to really know yourself and your goals will allow you to stay connected with the things that really matter to you, keeping cynicism at bay.

What do you want from life? Is your career aligned with those desires? If not, you may find yourself headed for disillusionment down the road. So, make the changes now that will align your business with your personal passions.  And, among other things, consider career development courses to help you master the critical skills you need to build a successful business.

Are bad habits holding you back? What changes can you make to establish habits that serve you better? Eliminate the friction that negative habits bring to your life and free yourself up for a smoother, more pleasant work experience.

In order to understand your own strengths and weaknesses and to know what you truly want, you first have to be willing to spend some quality time with those issues. Stress and resilience expert Paula Davis-Laack calls this process of being honest with yourself “getting real”. She says,

Getting real isn’t always pretty (which is probably why you’re avoiding it), but true happiness and burnout prevention depend on it.

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Know how you work best

Are you a morning person or a night owl? Are you most productive settling in for long, uninterrupted sessions? Or do you thrive when you take regular breaks to refresh your mind? Working within your ideal circumstances will ensure that you are as productive as possible with as little effort as possible.

So, take the time to figure out what the most productive version of you looks like and schedule your days accordingly. Set yourself up for success by working with your natural productivity cycle and style.

Each of us has a unique circadian rhythm that helps determine when we are most productive. This is called our chronotype.

Scientists are still working to determine how many different chronotypes there are. But, at least three chronotypes are commonly accepted- the standard chronotype (which follows the cycle of the sun), the early-bird or “Lark” chronotype, and the night owl chronotype.

Each person’s day is broken down into cycles of energy and focus. Your chronotype dictates when the peaks and valleys of your cycles will occur. To learn more about chronotypes and how to use them to plan your most productive day, check out this article in the Harvard Business Review.

Also, be aware of how you work best. There is no one-size-fits-all answer for how to maximize productivity. Each of us is unique. So, take the time to find out what works best for you.

Productivity guru Carspm Tate jas pinpointed 4 different productivity styles – the Planner, the Arranger, the Prioritizer, and the Visualizer. Each of these has its own communication style, decision-making style, and thrives with its own unique set of tools. You can learn your productivity personality by taking her Productivity Assessment.

As GI Joe used to tell us, “Knowing is half the battle.” Once you know your style you can implement your own set of productivity best practices. Combine your most productive habits with your most productive schedule and you’ll set yourself up for success; reducing stress and preventing burnout along the way.

Recognize and show gratitude for success

Burnout is often associated with the feeling that nothing you do matters. A great way to counteract that feeling is to acknowledge your victories. Focusing on your successes reminds you that your work really does make an impact, leading you to embrace the meaning behind your efforts.

To achieve the most positive impact, take acknowledgment one step further by cultivating a practice of gratitude. Simply taking the time to be grateful for your work achievements can have a tremendous impact on your overall well-being.

Studies by UC Davis gratitude expert Robert Emmons have shown that gratitude improves sleep quality, overall immune function, and lowers blood pressure. Beyond physical benefits, gratitude also reduces a person’s risk of anxiety, substance abuse, or depression over the course of their lifetime. UC Davis Health reports,

Practicing gratitude also affects behavior. Studies have shown that grateful people engage in more exercise, have better dietary behaviors, are less likely to smoke and abuse alcohol, and have higher rates of medication adherence – factors that translate into a healthier and happier life.

The simple act of gratitude can provide a powerful reconnecting force, helping to battle disengagement and cynicism- two key symptoms of burnout.

Find your work/life balance

With the weight of their business resting solely on their shoulders, it’s remarkably tempting for an entrepreneur to take their work home. But, doing so may do more harm than good. There are truly compelling reasons to establish a healthy work/life balance. Mental Health America reminds us,

In our rush to “get it all done” at the office and at home, it’s easy to forget that as our stress levels spike, our productivity plummets. Stress can zap our concentration, make us irritable or depressed, and harm our personal and professional relationships.

It can also lead to burnout. But, the social connection provided by your family or friends and the relaxation provided by regular breaks and vacations is invaluable.

Vacations provide time for much-needed physical rest and mental/emotional relaxation, not to mention the opportunity to reconnect with family and friends. And, yet approximately 40% of American workers don’t take full advantage of their available vacation time. If you want to avoid burnout, use those vacation days.

Maintaining meaningful social relationships outside of the office gives life purpose and richness. But not only that, a strong emotional support network makes you more resilient to work stresses.

In fact, high social connection has been discovered to lower anxiety and depression, support stable emotional regulation, and maintain emotional and mental well-being. All of these positive benefits help to make you burnout-proof.

So, make time for your friends and family, secure in the knowledge that doing so is a responsible choice. You might even have some fun.

Practice self-care

Entrepreneurs are used to thinking about the big picture. With so much on their plate – including the well-being of every single employee –  it can be easy to overlook their own needs. In fact, some people view self-care as a selfish act. I know. I used to be one of them.

However, self-care is a responsible and necessary act. Think about it… How long will your car run if you ignore regular maintenance and don’t fill your tank? Self-care isn’t necessarily about indulging yourself. It’s about providing yourself with the regular maintenance and fuel to keep going for the long haul.

In her book Nurturing the Soul of Your Family: 10 Ways to Reconnect and Find Peace in Everyday Life, Renee Petersen Trudeau says that self-care can lead us to “…feel more generous and… avoid building resentments toward others who demand our energy and time.”

Considering how many employees, friends, and family members demand an entrepreneur’s energy and time… that’s a pretty compelling argument.

So what does self-care actually look like? Each person is unique, so there is no one right answer for how to perform self-care. But, embracing healthy habits such as exercising, getting enough sleep, and practicing mindfulness is a great place to start.

Aerobic exercises such as running, biking, or kick-boxing are not only excellent for increasing heart health (The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes, 5 days a week), they also lead to the release of “feel-good” neurotransmitters in the brain. Endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine are produced while performing aerobic exercise.  These chemicals help to regulate your moods. Ryan Collins of Healthline shares,

Regular exercise also helps balance your body’s level of stress hormones, such as adrenaline. Adrenaline plays a crucial role in your fight-or-flight response, but too much of it can damage your health.

Good sleep habits have been shown to increase productivity at work by reducing mistakes and allowing you to refocus more quickly from distractions. Not to mention that sleeping less than 6 hours a night is one of the best predictors of professional burnout according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Developing a mindfulness practice has been linked with decreased anxiety and depression, among a host of other benefits (including improved cognition!) The American Psychological Association defines mindfulness as,“…a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment.” Practices such as meditation and yoga are rooted in mindfulness. 

The APA reveals that making the time to establish a meditation or yoga practice has been shown to reduce stress, negative rumination, and emotional reactivity. Reduced rumination and stress in particular help to decrease the likelihood of developing burnout. Mindfulness also boosts focus, working memory, and cognitive flexibility.

The combined effects of good sleep habits, regular exercise, and a mindful perspective can do wonders to ward off stress and burnout. To learn more about wellness and some useful tips, check out our article “Wellness Tips from Successful Entrepreneurs and Health Experts“.

Prevention is key

Burnout can strike anyone in a state of prolonged chronic stress. But, now that you know the danger is lurking, you’re in a position to do something about it. Following these five tips will ensure that you prevent burnout before it can take hold.

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