This is a work in progress, but some thoughts about burn out…
1. Acknowledge it’s a thing, a really dangerous thing
I have had so many conversations from people who have gone through severe burnout, so severe they weren’t able to work for months or years, or completely change careers.
If you don’t take burnout seriously you might become another statistic. And how much would that eat into your savings? What if you couldn’t work effectively for three years?
Say the words, “I think I might be burning out.”
2. The zeroth step is to look after yourself
If you have any experience with depression (as I do) then you should have a good toolbox of tricks, techniques and ideas. Bring them out. Bring them ALL out. Remember that none of them are guaranteed to work, and that you’ll probably find one or two new ideas, but you’re in crisis; make sure you are healthy and well, first.
For me, this was:
- Be super digilent about taking my medication
- Don’t neglect to exercise
- Get as much sun as you can
- Eat good, healthy meals, and don’t have meetings over lunch
- Set up your sun lamp and get two hours of light therapy a day
- Don’t get tempted by overeating or drinking, you know they won’t help in the long run
- Doing a lot of writing
- Setting up time with a counsellor or EAP to get a third-party opinion (and remember they’re trained for this sort of thing)
- Going for regular hikes and walks to process and think
You’re not going to make progress if you’re not setting up a good foundation.
3. The first step is to make space
If your work calendar is packed (like mine was), you’re not going to be able to start to recover. It takes time, effort, and the support of others to get through burnout.
It’s likely your workplace has had to deal with this problem, and many of your colleagues will understand. Make it clear that you want to clear out a bit of your calendar. Be honest; decline meetings with “I need focus time”. Remember that your job is not to attend pointless meetings.
Find out what you’re accountable for, and focus only on those things. Decline anything that you’re not directly accountable for.
4. Reach out
Tell your manager. They should acknowledge how serious it is. However they will not directly be able to get you out of it; if you’re a self-motivated worker, you’re the only person that can truly get yourself out of this. But you need to know you have the support of your manager.
Tell some close, deeply trusted contacts. They’ll be there to support you, too. Remember that you’d be there to support them if they were going through a similar thing (and it’s very likely you’ve already done that for them too).
5. Learn from others
Do lots and lots of searching and reading.
Have a look on any internal work communication networks. There may be others who have gone through similar struggles, and they can offer some insights with a lens specific to your own workplace.
Read these posts:
- Your Burnout Is Unique. Your Recovery Will Be, Too.
- Recovering from burnout
- Burnout: My struggle with Imposter Syndrome
6. Don’t jump back into the fire too early
Once you’ve made some space, you might feel like you’re out of the woods. Nope. It will take longer than you expect, and longer than you’d hope, to get out. At the very least, expect to be out of commission for a couple of months.
7. Rediscover your joy
There are many different types of burnout but for my current bout, I think it stems from a lack of intrinsic motivation. I am a deeply creative person and I need to have intrinsic motivation to do my creative work (I struggle to do work unless I know why doing it will empower or improve something or somebody). A big part of intrinsic motivation comes from joy.
If you are burning out from lack of instrinsic motivation, it’s likely the work you are doing right now does not innately give you joy. Fill your new space with opportunities to try new things, or old things, or nothings; and observe what you naturally gravitate towards.
For me, I gave myself some time to code, to game, to work in the garden, to meet up with others, to read, to blob. I followed my nose and I found out that:
- I find joy in programming
- I find joy in empowering and supporting others
8. Look at other options
Even if your current workplace has no faults, it’s worth spending some time thinking about other options. Is your burnout secretly a sign that you want to leave? Is the grass really greener, or are you just looking for an exit for the work you’re doing now?
If you’re stuck in the mindset of “I have to do this job because”, this shows you there are other options, but more importantly, gives you the headspace to critically review where you are right now, what your role is, and objectively evaluate the importance of things.
9. FFS don’t jump back into the fire too early
Take your time. You’ll have good days. That isn’t a sign you’re cured. Keep on acknowledging it will take months to get out of this rut.