Soldier on. Suck it up and drive on. Hang in there.
I can’t tell you how many times these phrases zipped through my head as a busy, practicing lawyer. If I was sick, I went to work. If I was exhausted from working 14 days straight, I dug in and did more. If my clients made unreasonable demands, I’d fake a smile, nod my head and do whatever it took to make the deal close smoothly.
Those work growing pains were all part of the process, I told myself. To prove myself and make partner, I had to go through the wringer; after all, hadn’t every lawyer before me working in a firm done the same thing?
I convinced myself it was just a rite of passage. Then, seven years into practicing law, I hit a wall—I burned out. I had been so busy putting my head down and powering through that I completely ignored the warning signs that I needed to slow down.
Tuning in to burnout
Burnout is a process of chronic stress and disengagement typically related to work but can impact many areas of your life. The big three dimensions of burnout have been defined as: chronic exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy.
Burnout doesn’t have to be an inevitable consequence of ambition. Here are five proven ways to avoid burnout on the job:
1. Clear your mental clutter
Most go-getters I know run on some combination of guilt and anxiety. When you catch yourself feeling guilty, do a mental check to see whether in fact you have something to feel guilty about. Have you let someone down? Your bosses? Your children? More than likely, you are busy judging yourself for imagined crimes. Try to give yourself a break.
When you experience a stress-producing event at work, do you see where you have any control, influence or leverage, or do you fold?
Some people jump to conclusions while others maintain a flexible and accurate thinking style. Some people catastrophize—their worst-case scenario thinking gets the best of them, and it stops them from taking purposeful action. Resilient employees under stress track their thoughts, emotions and reactions to notice counterproductive patterns that might undercut success.
2. Let go of perfectionism
Perfectionists are notoriously hard-working, conscientious high achievers—traits frequently rewarded at work. Their stress and calls for help tend to go unnoticed by parents, significant others and bosses.
Perfectionists strive for “the best” even when “good enough” will do. As a result, they experience a lot of regret and anxiety about missed opportunities. You can minimize regret three ways: adopt a standard of “good enough;” reduce the number of options you consider before making a decision; and be grateful for the good decisions you make instead of focusing on disappointments.
3. Change your job without leaving your job
Job crafting has been shown to be an effective strategy to prevent burnout. Job crafting is the term for actively changing the content or design of your job by choosing tasks, negotiating different job content and assigning meaning to different components of your job.
One way to job craft is to re-order your day. What tasks are sources of energy and engagement for you? When do you do those tasks? Would you rather work on those most-engaging tasks in the morning or at the end of your day? Match the order to what works best for you.
4. Manage your energy, not your time
Getting adequate opportunities for recovery during your workday, after work and on the weekend is critical. Pick one or two 5-minute strategies you can do daily. I downloaded an App called 7 Second Meditation, which prompts me to take a break each day at 2 p.m.
5. Become more of a giver
Wharton professor Dr. Adam Grant has identified sub-sets of givers, two of which are “selfless” givers and “otherish” givers. Selfless givers give their time and energy without regard to their own needs (hey – it’s 3 p.m. and I haven’t eaten yet today!). Selfless giving, in the absence of recovery, becomes overwhelming and can drive burnout. Otherish givers, however, find a way to balance giving with their own self-interest and self-care. As you probably guessed, selfless givers are more likely to burn out. You can determine your giving style at www.giveandtake.com.
It is possible to have the life and career you want and avoid burnout. Choose a strategy that will help you move forward in a less crazy busy direction and embrace the perfectly imperfect journey.
Paula Davis-Laack, JD, MAPP, is a burnout prevention and resilience expert who helps companies and busy professionals prevent burnout and build resilience to stress and change. Paula is the author of the e-book, Addicted to Busy: Your Blueprint for Burnout Prevention, which you can download at her website, www.pauladavislaack.com.
To read more about happiness in the workplace, see the special section in the June, 2015 issue of Live Happy magazine.