Staying Motivated When You're on the Verge of Burnout
Maybe those other countries that work shorter hours and take five weeks of holiday a year know something we don't here in the United States. That's because numerous research studies have concluded that Americans are overworked and often don't take the time off allotted them.
The result? We tend to feel less enthused about going to work and putting the time in. In fact, 40 percent of U.S. and Canadian workers surveyed admitted that they felt burned out.
And burnout leads to a depletion in productivity. However, the good news is that there is a solution for staying motivated even amid conditions that might otherwise lead to burnout. Here's what you need to know:
Know the warning signs of burnout.
First, it's important to know the signs that you could be burning out on your work. According to William Lipovsky, personal finance expert and owner of First Quarter Finance, here are the four signs that you should be paying attention to that signal burnout:
1. Your health is taking a turn for the worse.
You may have a cold that you just can't shake, plus you always feel exhausted. While a typical cold may go on for a few days, you may have been sick for weeks and still be coughing. Even worse, you're eating junk food and haven't exercised in, like, forever, because you're too busy or stressed out. All of these signs lead to burnout or near-burnout.
2. You're having a hard time focusing.
The more a person works, the more he or she gets distracted. Too much of anything has that effect. Non-stop hours spent in front of a computer will dull your creativity and energy. Before you know it, you'll be passing too much time on a social media site or catching yourself staring blankly out the window. The day slips away and you realize you haven't accomplished half of what was on your list. This happens when you don't take a break and step away from what you're doing. Before you know it, you're burned out and don't want to do any more work.
3. Your lack of boundaries is making you feel resentful.
You can feel the level of frustration building inside of you because you realize that all you do is work while status updates from friends and family show them enjoying the weekend or diving into another adventure. Yet, there you are, stuck at your desk. Your situation then begins to affect your mood with other people. They sense anger and start running for cover. And you, meanwhile, are mad at yourself because you haven't learned that it is okay to say "no" to a client and actually take a few days off to recharge those mental batteries.
4. Work has become your entire life.
You are beginning to feel like a machine but are running on empty. There is more to life than working, but you aren't taking advantage of that fact. Yet, no one can keep going 24/7. Even a machine will break down. If you continue on this path of only working, you will break down on the side of the road and not be good to anyone, including yourself, family and friends, much less your clients or employer. As the famous late basketball coach John Wooden once put it, "Don't let making a living prevent you from making a life."
Achieve in increments.
"When you only focus on a big goal someday, it's easy to get burned out by the daily grind," Kristie Holden wrote on the Marketcircle blog. "It's like driving toward a mountain in the distance. You can drive for hours, but the mountain doesn't seem to get any closer. And spinning your wheels gets real tiring real fast."
The solution, according to Holden, is to look at your work and goals as small steps. Take one at a time and give yourself moments in between to embrace the feeling of achievement. Then, go on to the next step. It's just important to appreciate even the small things you've gotten done.
Also, write down your accomplishments in a journal, notebook or calendar. Track milestones. An online visual format for these milestones adds to your sense of accomplishment.
Burnout often comes from a "lack of understanding about what it takes to achieve peak workplace performance," author Ron Friedman, the founder of ignite80, told the Harvard Business Review.
Regular breaks are a must, Friedman, said. These breaks should happen throughout the day and require stepping away from your desk completely. A walk, a gym workout or lunching with a friend allows you to get a different perspective and gives your brain something entirely different to focus on. In these rest intervals, you can even discover the solution to a nagging problem. That's because your brain is no longer working overtime.
However, author and social psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson noted that you must know the right time to take these breaks. For example, focus on work and maximize your productivity when your mental energy is at its highest. When you feel that productivity starting to run down, you'll know a break is needed.
Have a life outside of work and unplug.
Importantly, cultivate a life outside of work. This could be a hobby, learning something new, volunteering or cultivating better relationships with friends or family. Whatever you decide, it should be an activity that doesn't involve your normal work and pallows you to unplug.
Constantly being interrupted because of a work-related notification takes away the time you set aside to focus on yourself. When that happens, you're allowing stress to build up and not giving yourself a chance to recharge. Worse, this weakens your interpersonal and personal relationships outside of work.
Something to note: This isn't just for younger enterpreneurs. It's for older entrepreneurs -- like me! I was working 70-plus hours a week after my divorce. Six months later, I faced severe burnout. Had it not been for sites like Our Time that allowed me to meet others my same age, I'm not sure how I would have gotten past it. Find what works for you and your schedule.
Ditch those bad habits.
We all have them, but we don't all get rid of them as we should: bad habits like constantly checking email and texts or hitting the snooze button instead of waking up earlier. You could be eating poorly, skipping that workout, trying to be perfect or procrastinating.
Identify these bad habits and start working on breaking them. More importantly, replace them with good habits that will keep you motivated and burnout free. While it's not easy to break them, you can make a conscious effort to write down those things you want to change, pick one to get started with, and create an action plan. A great place to start is The Ultimate Guide For Breaking Bad Habits.
Switch up your routine.
Switching up your routine is one of the simplest ways to spark your motivation. Start by changing your morning routine. For example, you could exercise first rather than wait until the end of the day. Or, you could take a different way to work in the morning. Rather than always working at home or in the office, take that laptop outdoors or to a favorite coffee shop. Maybe consider a co-working space.
When we change things up rather than go with our routine, our brains think more creatively. Suddenly, there are different visuals and sensory experiences that stimulate our cognition. Change also opens the door for new sources of motivation and inspiration. That means that we might begin to feel good again doing what we do. And, that's the best cure for burnout.