This can happen to most of us by the end of the year. We look forward to the holidays and time off but we crawl or limp into December with our brains overworked and our bodies tired. Even if we enjoy our work and our teams, we can feel plum exhausted.
This year has felt especially grueling balancing the stressors created by our current circumstances along with keeping a job let alone being fulfilled by it. I never would have thought that working from home full-time would be so tiring. Others have done this for years while most of us are easing into it for the first time.
I actually found commuting to work stressful and a huge time waster but replacing that commute time with work time was a quick path to burnout. That commute provided down time from thinking, meetings, emails and barking dogs. I do miss it on some level but I have moved away from replacing that commute time with work. Instead, I have replaced it with journaling, listening to podcasts (like I used to do on my commute) or, sometimes, meditation.
I do start my work day earlier than ever before but I have spent the last few months setting boundaries for myself. Boundaries are key to preventing burnout. Knowing when to start and stop something, knowing what you will blow off or fight for, just knowing….knowing yourself and your values and what is outside of those values. Setting boundaries helps combat stress and balance your day.
Think about what boundaries you need to set. Do you need a start and stop time for your work day? Do you need a physical boundary between home and work even if it is in the same living space? Do you need to block off the noon hour to walk the dog, do yoga or have lunch with your kids? Do you need to set a boundary that you will not look at or answer emails past 7 pm? This is my personal favorite. I know many of us, especially if we have global teams, are getting email notifications all the way up until bedtime and after. When there is no separation, no down time for the brain to re-charge, this leads to burn out. Unless there is an emergency, emails can wait until the next morning.
Think about where the lines are getting blurry and add some clarity to those sections of your life. Outside of setting boundaries, there are other actions you can take to turn burnout into new energy again.
- Take your vacation.
How many of us are staring at weeks of vacation that we lose if we don’t take it by the end of the year? There should be many head nods and arms raised. Because we couldn’t travel, December will probably be the least productive December in most organizations this year. Everyone scrambling to take their vacation time all at once. Still, take your vacation. I took a few long weekends in the Summer but to have an entire week off has proven to be fabulous — a true break to re-charge, rest and spend time on other projects. I have a newfound energy to embrace work again. Vacation is critical. There should be no martyrs here. Everyone needs time off. The workplace will not fall apart without you. That shouldn’t make you nervous; it should make you feel good that the team in place can carry on without you for a week. It means, as a manager, you have done your job well.
- Engage in a side project or hobby.
I have written about side hustles and hobbies before to help find your purpose. Efforts outside of work can also help calm nerves and engage your brain in a different way. I write. I also like true crime podcasts and documentaries. I watched one this week that I had DVR’ed months ago. I also have a side hustle that I am working on along with working on a book (slowly but still in progress). We are rarely just our jobs. Careers are certainly a huge part of our lives and who we are but we are more than our work. Find other things you love to do and do them. I hear knitting is a great tactical way to feel a sense of accomplishment without too much thinking. Exercise is an awesome way to build energy without too much thinking. Volunteering, singing, drawing, playing with your kids, attending virtual church, whatever your area of personal satisfaction, make time for it.
- Write down your accomplishments for the year.
While this can be a bit of work, writing down your accomplishments for the year can be truly satisfying. This should include professional and personal. We often skip acknowledging personal achievements at work. I think celebrating both professional and personal accomplishments recognizes the whole person. After all, we usually bring our whole selves to work. When you document these, share them. Share them with your manager, your team; ask them to share theirs. Certainly performance conversations happen at the end of the year, but a great agenda for a team meeting is to share what people are most proud of and give them the choice of sharing professional or personal. Some of us may feel we don’t have a lot to be proud of this year. Maybe things went sideways or you lost a job. Focus on what did work. There is always something to be celebrated in our lives. Find those things, write them down and reflect.
- Set goals for next year early.
It isn’t too early to set goals for 2021. December is near and coupled with reflection, which should make you feel good, we should be looking forward at the possibilities for next year. In addition to our day-to-day responsibilities, find a project or efforts that you love that no one else is working on. I get the most satisfaction if I lead something to fix a problem or help someone with their career or lead to a direct result. Find something related but not only in your set of responsibilities as a growth goal. Set only a few goals for next year. Oftentimes, we set too many goals. Achieving 10 goals is tough. Our attention is splintered and we burn out. Pick 3-5 goals and work action plans underneath each to help you get there.
- Use a purpose planner.
A tool to help you look ahead into a new year is a planner. I am not talking about the planners of old where you record all of your daily appointments alongside your goals, tasks and activities. Today, there is a whole market of planners that help you reflect on the past year, think about the new year and really tie goals and actions to your purpose, your passion, your legacy you are trying to establish. I use a planner called Cultivate What Matters. This has revolutionized my day-to-day. I spend time every year and quarter thinking through my goals – Financial, Spiritual, Career, Community, Family, Relationships, Health, and hone in on what I want to achieve and how I will get there. These take work. A blank planner is a worthless planner. I highly recommend investing in a tool like this to help you think and take action on the things that are important to you. It holds you accountable if you review at the beginning and end of every month.
Finding energy in the midst of brain-fry can be difficult. It is important to recognize when we reach a point of fizzling out. Only when you recognize this, can you do something about it. If we are fried, do not continue forward. Don’t play the martyr; rest and re-charge. Turn your brain to something completely different to reset it. Take a break, take a walk; heck, take a vacation. We are not wired to go 24/7, 365. We need breaks and sleep to be productive.
There is always time for emails, work and career. Make time for other things in your life to find a balance that can be sustained. Be proactive in planning and recognize your accomplishments along the way. Both activities can be truly rewarding and help get us rebooted.