How Time Management Can Help You Avoid Burnout
I'm burned out. You're burned out. Everyone's burned out, and it's not good to be burned out.
After all, Burnout can cause you to fall behind in your work, miss deadlines and deliver subpar work. You may even experience procrastination, become disengaged and hit a wall creatively. Even more troublesome, burnout can put a strain on your personal relationships, give you a lousy reputation professionally and put your health in jeopardy. Here is how time management can help you avoid burnout.
What exactly causes burnout?
The answer to what causes burnout can vary from person to person. For example, working in a toxic environment is a factor. If you’re being bullied, harassed or mismanaged frequently, then, of course, you’re going to be in a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion.
Other causes of burnout can be not having clear expectations or being recognized for your work. But, most often, burnout is the result of poor time management.
Think about it. Causes like focusing primarily on low-stimulating tasks, tackling excessive to-do-lists and overcommitting can all be resolved by managing your time more effectively. The same is true of factors like working in a chaotic work environment, responding to emails 24/7 and feeling like you never have a second to yourself.
Will time management solve all of your problems? Of course not. But, managing your time is an excellent start if you want to avoid the wrath and inertia of burnout.
Know your limitations.
Sometimes there’s an unhealthy obsession with workaholics like we seem to see in Elon Musk. Regardless of how you personally feel about him, he has done some good, like popularizing time blocking. However, working something like 60 to 80 hours per week is just insanity.
In case you haven’t gotten the memo yet, you’re not a robot. You don’t possess superpowers that make you impervious to fatigue. You’re a human being who needs time to rest and recharge.
With the robot in mind: Do you know how much you can realistically get done in a day? Do you know when you're reaching your breaking point? Do you have strategies ready for avoiding a breaking point? For instance, if you’re already at full capacity for the day, week or even month, do you understand that you can turn down incoming time requests (and likely should turn extra time constraints down)? When you’re off the clock, have you chosen ways to enjoy your downtime?
Prioritize your time.
Take a close look at everything you have to do. While everything may seem significant, the fact is, you’re dedicating a lot of time and energy to the wrong areas. As a result, you end up focusing on things that are tedious or less meaningful.
To counter the time-sucks of less essential tasks, you learn to prioritize your time. One of the easiest ways to do calculate timeframes would be making it a point to focus on no more than three things that you want to complete today. Ideally, these should be tasks that have a purpose or will push you closer to achieving a goal.
Of course, that strategy doesn’t work for everyone. Luckily, there are several ways to prioritize your time. Something that works right now, may not work later, so you'll always keep a lookout for beneficial ways to prioritize your time. Examples would include setting SMART goals, using a priority matrix and following the 80/20 rule.
Align your energy levels with the work you’re doing.
Find out what your specific ultradian rhythms are. Ultradian rhythms are biological cycles that occur throughout a 24-hour day. Biological cycles may not mean much to you. But, they do play an essential role in the ebb and flow of your energy throughout the day.
The ultradian rhythms mean you can focus for an hour on a task before taking a break, and they can help you plan your day for maximum productivity.
You should work on your most important or challenging tasks when you have the most energy. During energy lulls, take a break or focus on less critical objectives. It’s a more effective technique to knock out your most vital work when you're not fighting against yourself when you're fresh. Have you ever tried working when you’re exhausted? It’s more time-consuming and you make more errors.
Learn to delegate.
Remember when you were figuring out how to prioritize your time? I’m sure that you came across items that were important but not necessarily deserving of your time. Instead of trying to figure out how to fit these responsibilities into your schedule, assign them to someone else.
Now, this doesn’t mean passing off all of your obligations to someone else. Delegating is knowing which tasks should be worked on by the right person. Here are some common examples of daily tasks that should be delegated:
- Accounting and booking.
- Administrative tasks, such as managing your calendar.
- Customer service.
- Data entry.
- Maybe marketing.
- Packing and shipping.
- Tech and IT support.
- Website design and maintenance.
You’ll be surprised at how much more free time and less stress you’ll have when you delegate some of your less exciting tasks, and it's the simple way to reduce your workload.
Practice the KonMari method.
Become more familiar with Marie Kondo. She’s an organizing consultant who is known for her own organizational methods. Appropriately dubbed the KonMari method, Kondo has you ask if something sparks joy. There are a lot of gifs and jokes about sparking joy, but it's a great idea when you need to narrow down options and tune into things that will excite you.
Usually, sparking joy is applied to keeping your home or workspace free of clutter. For example, if a piece of clothing or furniture doesn’t bring you joy, then either throw it away or donate it. By keeping your life simple and organized, you’ll be less stressed.
The same concept can also be used to help prevent burnout. Go back through your list. What items don’t you enjoy doing? Does any list contain things that aren’t necessary? If so, delegate or delete them from your daily schedule.
You should also use this method to keep your digital life in order. That means if a newsletter no longer serves a purpose, unsubscribe from it to keep your inbox less overstuffed. If a social media account only makes you more anxious and distracted, delete the account.
Track your interruptions.
I track my interruptions a couple of times a year. You will be surprised what sneaks back in and onto your schedule in a short amount of time. You have to track all time-sucks to save yourself from burnout. Any method works, but I use a notebook and jot down whenever I get interrupted at work. Whether if it’s a notification on my smartphone, knock on my office door or my stomach grumbling in hunger, I note when and what distracted me so I can take measures to eliminate them.
For example, I noticed I would want to rummage around in the office kitchen at about 10:30 a.m. Too early to take lunch. But, I still needed something to eat. The solution? Keep healthy snacks in the office. As a bonus, I can stop by and check in on my team when I’m grabbing a snack, and the practice has reduced the number of knocks on my door.
Cut back on the meetings.
Without question, the leading time theft at work is meetings. While the exact time varies, it’s possible you’re spending anywhere from 35 percent to 50 percent of your time in meetings. Personally, I think that’s absurd, and we don't do it at my business. However, I realize meetings are necessary. So, what’s the compromise here?
For starters, be realistic on how many meetings you can realistically book in a day without interfering with your work. You may also want to either schedule all of your meetings on the same day or set aside one day per week where meetings aren’t allowed.
Secondly, ask yourself if the meeting is really needed or if there's an alternative? Sometimes a quick phone call, email or Slack thread will be enough. You could also use project management software to track everyone’s progress.
Make your calendar malleable.
Some people would tell you that you must schedule every minute of your day. In theory, I get it. Overscheduling and every minute-scheduling ensures that you aren’t wasting any of your valuable time. In reality, though, a chock-full calendar doesn’t work that way.
Rigid calendars can be overwhelming and cause burnout when you feel obligated to follow through with the schedule you created. Striving can become too intense with an overrun calendar, which doesn’t give you flexibility to address the unexpected or allow for spontaneity.
Throughout the day, leave an hour or two free. That doesn’t mean you can goof off, but it gives you the availability to handle an emergency or finish a task that took you longer to complete than you had planned. And if your day is drama-free, you can use that time to read, meditate, organize your work area, go for a walk or help someone on the team who may be behind.
Don’t plan every minute of your downtime, either. What if you don’t have plans this Saturday? You may wake up wanting to take a last-minute day trip. Because you don’t have anything else scheduled, you can take advantage of the break and enjoy this luxury.
Learn how to relax and blow off steam.
Finally, get over your guilt or ego to avoid burnout. You don’t have to be “on” every waking second. Take time away from work and enjoy yourself. Remember, there’s much more to life than work. Besides, we all need these breaks to relax, decompress and recharge the batteries.
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