Have you ever felt like you were drowning in work and struggling to keep up? Yeah, me too. That’s why I started looking for ways to improve my mental health and productivity. I read a ton of articles and books, and they all seemed to have the same advice: get more sleep, take breaks, exercise, eat healthy, and set boundaries. Don’t get me wrong, that stuff is all great, but when you’re already stretched thin and your manager is making everything seem like the most important task, it can be tough to suddenly start setting boundaries and finding extra time for yourself. And if you don’t have the resources to manage your workload, it’s even harder to ask for help or say no to extra assignments. Trust me, I’ve been there.
I’ve had to switch jobs a few times in my career, and lately it’s been because of burnout. My last two jobs were so demanding that I felt like I had no other choice but to leave. Each time, I thought I would do things differently and avoid burnout, but I ended up in the same place: overworked, cynical, and feeling like I was failing at life. I started to wonder if this was just how it was going to be at every job. That’s when I decided to take matters into my own hands and start developing my own strategies for avoiding burnout while still being productive.
Here are some tips that I’ve tried and found to be effective. I’ve rated them based on their difficulty to implement (Easy, Hard, Very Hard) and potential benefit (High, Medium, Low). Please note that some of these tips might not work for everyone:
- Change your work environment (Hard, High): One way to change your work environment is to find a new job where you can start fresh. While this option has always been my default, it’s not always feasible, and I don’t want to keep switching jobs all the time. Another option is to work in different locations, such as a coffee shop or co-working space. Personally, I’ve found that I get my best work done in three places: a Barnes & Noble bookstore, a local coffee shop and bakery, and my local library. I like the Barnes & Noble and library options because I can take breaks by browsing and reading books. If I lived closer to a co-working space, I would definitely consider joining one, as I find it motivating to watch other people work. Some people might argue that driving to a new location wastes valuable time and is full of distractions, but for me, it’s actually better than sitting in my home office and scrolling through social media, not getting much accomplished. When I go to these other locations, I set a specific number of hours and plan out exactly what I want to accomplish during that time. I don’t always get it all done, but it’s a start.
- Take a digital detox (Very Hard, High): I used to waste so much time procrastinating and scrolling through social media posts. I would often be on a work call while simultaneously checking my Instagram and Facebook feeds, and at the end of the call, I would have missed most of the conversation and felt even worse about myself because I was comparing myself to the fake lives being portrayed on social media. In my free time, I would watch YouTube videos hoping to find wisdom that would help me combat my burnout, only to end up wasting time and not feeling any smarter. So, I decided to go cold turkey and permanently delete all of my social media accounts. I knew that if I just took a break, I would fall back into my old patterns really easily. There were other factors that influenced my decision, but that’s a story for another blog post. Once I quit social media, I found myself more engaged and able to get things done much faster. And as a bonus, I started to feel happy again.
- Take up a new hobby (Easy, Medium): I know what you are thinking: I don’t have time for a hobby I’m barely surviving with my current workload. I thought the same way but decided to try it to see if it did help in anyway. I took up Pickleball. I figured if it just added to my stress, I can always stop and if nothing else, I’ll get a workout. I’ve never played any racquet sports in the past so I was going in blind. I took multiple lessons and just fell in love with the sport. It wasn’t too hard to take up and I found other people with similar ability to play with me. This new activity gave me a sense of accomplishment and a good break from work. Other activities and hobbies I considered were: Gardening, Baking, and Hiking but decided against those as two were very seasonal and cooking hasn’t really been my thing. My advice would be to find something social if you are an extrovert. Engaging with others who share a similar interest can be a positive and fulfilling way to spend your time. I know my new hobby gave me something to look forward to and became my outlet for stress relief.
- Doing the bare minimum at work (Easy, Medium): This last tip may be a little more controversial, as productivity experts often advise against doing the bare minimum as it can lead to subpar work, decreased productivity, and potentially negative consequences such as lost opportunities or job termination. However, if you’re a perfectionist like me, you may find that trying to go above and beyond on everything only adds to the stress and burnout you are already experiencing. In this case, it might be helpful to try a different approach. Instead of trying to excel at every single task, try to go above and beyond for a select number of projects or tasks, and do the bare minimum for others. This can help to reduce your workload and decrease stress, while still allowing you to maintain a level of quality in your work. This technique has helped me cut down my workload significantly while still showing up as someone who is reliable.
While these strategies have helped me cope with my burnout, they have not completely resolved it. It will likely take months, or even years, before I feel fully recovered. However, these strategies have been a helpful starting point in managing my burnout and finding ways to cope with stress. It’s important to remember that recovery from burnout is a journey, and it may take time to find the right strategies and techniques that work for you. It’s also important to be patient with yourself and not expect immediate results. If you have any tips or strategies that have helped you cope with burnout, I’d love to hear from you in the comments! Share your experiences and insights, and let me know if you have any questions or need support. Together, we can help each other find ways to manage burnout and improve our mental health and well-being.