We have a lot of balls in the air at any time. Sometimes the amount of work just gets overwhelming. It’s a hop skip and a jump from overwhelmed to burned out. So how do we avoid stepping over that line to burnout?
Let’s be honest we all have busy lives. I am no exception. Besides maintaining and posting on this site I currently hold down a full-time job, have 3 kids at home (who do multiple activities and one of which is a foster child), and also find time to spend with my wife/relax. I feel exhausted just typing that all out.
I Tend to Plow Over the Hurdles, Which Adds to My Burnout Risk
In fact in some ways it’s even worse. I am a type-A extrovert who is conditioned to be the leader. Which means I have a tendency to just plow forward and get it done. To a point that’s not a bad thing. This attitude has taken my career far. But on the other hand we all have a breaking point. This makes me more susceptible to stepping over that breaking point.
The Stages of Burnout
I recently read a post on Chief Mom Officer about her recent battle with burnout. In it she outlined 4 phases of burnout. For those that don’t go look they are: Exhaustion, Shame and Doubt, Cynicism or Callousness, and finally Crisis. I’ll be honest, I’ve conditioned myself to push past exhaustion and shame and doubt. Damn the torpedos those aren’t happening here.
I am sure I am not alone here. I blame engineering school where I sat at the brink nearly all day long every day for 4 years. My alma mater was ranked while I was there most unhappy students. The reason was probably that everyone sat at the brink of burn out daily. Somehow my school managed to sit me just at the brink but never really actually push me over.
No One is Immune to Burnout
As much as I can tell you I’ve mastered the first 2 phases, I’d be lying if I told you I am immune to burnout. No one is. I have been pushed to the Cynicism phase twice in my career.
I am generally a fun and light person to converse with. But during those periods my burn out came out in conversations. I am told by my wife I stopped being a fun person to be around during that period. I would snap at my family for no reason.
Short on fuse and very negative. In essence, my burn out impacted my family and friends. Worse it was driven by work. So not even something that important to my home life. It took my wife bonking me over the head and pointing it out for me to do something about it.
Sometimes You Are the Last to Know
Which I guess brings me to the first point. Sometimes it is not so obvious that you are burned out. You need to take note of your interactions of others in addition to your relationship with work. A major change in those interactions might mean you take another look. Burnout might be the driver.
Different Causes of Burnout
My two events also indicate there may be different causes of burn out. The obvious one is overwork. Take on too much and eventually you get to the brink. In one of my cases, my work pet project was going live and my project was deprived of resources. I picked up the slack by myself which overworked me to the point of impacting my life. But honestly overwork only defined one of my burnout events.
The other time it was a perceived poor treatment and neglect from my manager. I had a manager that would berate me regularly for things outside my team’s control. Then when I escalated items that could solve these issues he’d give me lip service in resolving them and then disappear. I ended up disconnected from my work and being a bear to be around. Essentially, burned out.
Liz indicated one more situation that might cause burnout in her post, insufficient challenge. Historically I have never had this issue as I have gone searching for challenges when they are not present. Blame that on working at a place with a culture that encourages you to get involved in areas beyond your responsibility. That being said the impacts on burn out are similar. You become unengaged and again burned out.
I am Again at the Brink of Burnout
Now that I have explained what burn out is and the causes we arrive at today or rather the story of how I got to today. I have noticed I am on the edge of shifting back into the cynicism phase. In this case, the cause is more a combination of the explanations you see above then any single one.
When I started my current position I did so to join a group that had the best of the best. I was tired of being one of maybe 2-3 people on a project doing all the work despite it being staffed with 20 people. I wanted to find a group of people where I could truly learn something new. Where I could count on my coworkers to pull their weight.
The Job Doesn’t Go as Planned, and Yet I Made It Happen
And then that group imploded. All the experts left for new jobs surrounding me with newbies. The project I was given as my first opportunity was one of the hardest projects the company has ever seen. And yet, I didn’t burnout. My old training from college came through. I stepped up and mentored the new folks while leading the project to success. My wife says I was happier then I have been in a few years. I was right at the point I’d been trained to sit without detriment.
From Hard to Easy, No Challenge
But then the next project showed up. Arguably the easiest one of this type the company has seen in a decade. There is a hard one on the horizon but it is delayed until next year. Meanwhile, I am not challenged, at all. Quite literally my biggest challenge right now is keeping an overzealous set of newbies from another organization from going over budget. Everything else I could practically go to sleep during and still succeed.
Outside Work is Super Hectic
Conversely, my non-work environment has taken off like a rocket. Between the blogs, kids activities, foster care, and just general life I barely have time to breathe during non-working hours. I can see myself getting a bit more confrontational at work, more tired at the end of day, and being less excited about non-work activities like writing posts. In other words, I am heading towards that cynicism again.
So How Do You Solve Burnout?
Once you recognize an upcoming problem like I do, how do you resolve the issue? Well I have found the answer depends on the situation. If I were to distill the solution down to a few terms I’d say: change and rest.
Often times my cynicism and attitude are heavily influenced by a lack of sleep or down-time. In the case of an overworked situation, like with my pet project at work, the answer is to say no to less important activities. Automate where possible and take time for myself to both actually sleep and also to just do nothing. This addressed the root cause of the problem and I quickly returned to my old self, or so says my wife.
The second solution is not quite as easy. That is change the situation. In the case of my bad boss the only way I was going to return to my happy self was to find a new job. People leave bad bosses because quite literally they can ruin your life. I left that boss as quickly as I could for a new position. That has been a handful of years ago now. Needless to say I couldn’t just click my fingers and leave, it took time. So in the interim I leveraged rest above.
Dealing with My Current Burnout
In my more recent example, the solution is even harder. I actually have two drivers of burnout present in different factors of my life. Lack of challenge at work and overwhelmed at home. Solving this needs a two-pronged approach.
How do you Change Not Being Challenged?
Well in my case my lack of challenge has to do with 2 things.
- A push by my management to stop the perception that I will solve every problem for the world. This means I have to say no to special requests more often. This also means I have less to do then I normally do, but probably is the right answer in the long run.
- An easy project.
My solution is to continue to pursue things that are a challenge in my work. Mentoring others. Working on personal development. And prepping things to make the next difficult project easier. None are required for me to succeed in my job in the short run. But there are still plenty of challenging opportunities there that hold value to both me and the company. So far that renewed focus is helping.
How Do I Alleviate my Non-Working Time?
Separately, how do I reduce the overworked aspect of my non-work life? Well, in this case, it means dropping a few things from my day to give me more time and make me feel like there is less I have to do. Which brings me to an important announcement.
No, I am not like others taking a few months off from posting. I enjoy writing. In a way it is part of my rest to layout a post for the site. But I also know it’s becoming harder and harder to tap out a post for this site and still get the rest I need. IE writing a post is in danger of becoming yet another overworked task in my evenings.
We Are Moving to a Weekly Posting Schedule
So effective immediately I am cutting this site down to one post a week on Mondays. We have 365 prior posts on personal finance, so there is plenty of content already. I don’t do this to make money, just for the enjoyment. So honestly 2 posts a week is just a requirement stuck in my head rather than something I have to do.
Coming to grips that I don’t have to do 2 posts a week will allow me to adjust my life as I need too. I can’t tell you if I will return to 2 posts once this burnout lifts. Honestly, when we went from 3 to 2 I swore I’d go back to 2 after a summer. I never did with no detriment.
Multiple Small Tweaks, Not All Burnout requires Massive Changes
Note not written here but I am also making a few other minor adjustments to my non-work life. Things like going to bed earlier and automating/outsourcing some tasks. Together they are making my day to day much less hectic.
Which really brings me to the crux of the change concept. You don’t need to burn the world down to solve burnout. Some small changes will also do the trick. Just enough to stop the root cause and get some much-needed rest.
Have you ever had to deal with burnout? How did you do so?