Life overflow and strategies to manage burnout
Updated: Jan 28
Most people will encounter burnout at some stage in their career. In this article, we look at some strategies to help you manage it.
Almost everyone will reach a stage in their career where they encounter burnout. According to a 2014 Beyond Blue report, 21 percent of Australians have taken time off work because they've felt stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy.
An overflowing, relentless workload is one of the most common causes. I know I’m guilty of saying yes to things before I really look if they're going to fit into my diary – and I’m sure you do this too. I often feel pressure to meet external expectations, or I simply want to help or be involved in another great thing, so I squeeze in another call or meeting, and I do a bit more work, when in reality I simply shouldn’t. We are all probably guilty of doing too much, and that's why such a large proportion of us are feeling overextended, overwhelmed and exhausted.
Fill your plate
One of the strategies I use to help curtail the habits that lead to burnout is to think of my life as a dinner plate. We all know if you’re at a food buffet and you go back several times to overload your plate, you end up overeating and then you feel sick and lethargic.
I try to think about all the things in my life as things that are either going to make it onto my dinner plate or not. My family are the meat, the big protein section that I try to build the dinner around. My big potato section is all the professional work that I do, which needs to complement my ‘protein’. Then I look at what else can realistically fit on the plate – philanthropic projects, volunteering, time for self – the smaller things that I truly find nourishing.
It's a very simple thing, but it forces me to work out exactly what my priorities are and determine what’s the appropriate balance of all those things in my life right now. Then, I can divide my time, energy and resources accordingly.
Manage your overflow
This begs the question, what do you do with all the stuff that you can’t fit on your plate? Anything that’s left is overflow, and I know that when I don’t manage this effectively, I begin to feel frustrated, stressed and headed towards burnout. So I came up with these four categories to help me work through and better manage the overflow:
Utilise your family and friends – maybe your partner is going to pick up some of your jobs or your oldest child can earn pocket money doing a chore. Perhaps you might trade services with someone. Or, you can pay someone to do something on your ‘to do list’, if that’s an option.
2. Put it on hold.
Remember, not everything needs to happen right now. I’d like to have a vegetable garden, but I don’t have time at the moment. It’s going to have to wait until the kids are older and more self sufficient. Don’t be afraid to hit pause and do it another time.
3. Change your expectations.
Your house cleaning doesn't have to be perfect. You don't need to have a gourmet meal every day of the week. My garden is not the tidiest one in our street. Look for those things that can be lowered to a B standard, rather than trying to do everything at A+. Ask yourself, what is good enough for right now?
4. Just stop.
If it doesn’t fit on the plate, and I can’t find a way to do it, then I’m going to stop. For example, no more wasting time folding face washers or kids socks and jocks, I’ve bought little boxes and I’m just throwing them in now – done! I’m also going to practise stopping other people putting things on my plate. Of course it’s my fault, I let it happen, so I’m now taking ownership by saying ”Thanks for thinking of me, I’d love to be involved/help but unfortunately it’s not something I can fit in right now, perhaps next time”. Stopping is a very practical way of managing workflow and overload.
Recognise the signs
When we talk about burnout, stress is something that we immediately think of. In a recent wellbeing survey, 72 percent of Australians said that stress affects their physical health and prolonged stress impacts every aspect of their wellbeing.
One step towards tackling this is to identify the factors that lead to you feeling stressed. Then break down what you can or can't control about those things. There might be some simple changes that you can make, like trying to have shorter meetings (I do 45 minutes instead of an hour) so you have some buffer time between them. Or perhaps call in support, draw on friends or colleagues to help tackle an issue - a problem shared is a problem halved.
If there are factors outside of your control, then it’s about offsetting that stress. Try using mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and breathing. Try going to bed an hour earlier on a week night or add a ‘walk n’ talk’ with a close friend into your week. It’s pennies in the bank – the more remediation you do, the better you’ll be for it.
Practise self care
Deprioritising yourself is a sure-fire way to experience burnout, and that’s particularly hard for working mothers. As a parent, wife and employer, I’m always at the bottom of my list. Which is wrong. I need to put myself first because if I don’t value me, then who will! It’s absolutely important for my overall health, as well as my identity and passion for life, and it’s something I need to remind myself of every day.
So not only do I need to get enough sleep, I also need to have non-work things to look forward to in life, like hobbies. I’ve got two – a monthly book club and a weekly piano lesson with my daughter. I prioritise those things by putting them in my diary, and that act of scheduling is crucial. These hobbies bring me joy, elevate my learning and connect me more deeply with important people in my life, and that’s invaluable to my attitude and ability to cope.
Value better habits
Until we understand the impact of burnout, we don't really make it a priority to address it. For example, when I was leading a large corporate team working exceptionally long hours, I was unhappy, over invested and caught way too deep in the detail. It wasn't until I took control of the situation that I discovered the benefits of doing a little less. Not working until midnight everynight meant that I was more refreshed and actually a better leader – I found greater clarity, more big picture thinking, a better coaching style, an elevated ability to influence and a higher level of trust in my team. It was a win-win for all.
When you discover the value in self care and better prioritisation, you will be more likely to protect it by commiting to regular proactive actions. This will drive better wellbeing habits that will go a long way in curtailing burnout. Don’t wait until you hit crisis point, make changes and if you feel stuck then always ask for help.
Originally published on www.onelife.aiavitality.com.au on July 26, 2018.
Alisa Camplin is an Olympic Gold Medalist, in-demand Keynote Speaker, Corporate Ambassador, and Human Performance Consultant who delivers results-driven Resilience and Human Performance Training and Development Programs. Connect with Alisa.