What are some signs job burnout is sneaking up behind you? They might not be what you’d expect… and they may not even happen at work. If you’re sleeping more than usual on weekends, feeling extra distracted or forgetful when it comes to everyday tasks, snapping at family and friends, or fantasizing about ditching your life for a quiet beach somewhere, you might be coming close to your breaking point at work. After all, you probably spend most of your week in the workplace; it makes sense that any pressure you feel would start bleeding into other parts of your life as well.
Once you’ve realized that you’re in the danger zone, there are small actions you can take before you explode.
1. Put your calendar on a diet.
Are you booked solid for the next five work days, breakfast to dinner? Are all of those meetings or appointments truly essential this week? Look at your work calendar for the next month. Try to find obligations you can move out a week or two, or even skip altogether. Whenever possible, slip in some blocks of time for yourself, even if it’s just an hour or two to clear your head and work on specific projects without interruption. When someone sends you a new meeting invite, ask yourself, “Is this really necessary? Could a quick phone call or email resolve this instead?”
2. Restructure your to-do list.
Time to take a hard look at what you do every day. How many of those tasks are absolutely necessary? How many are directly related to your work goals? What would happen if you changed some weekly tasks to every two weeks? Try to create some flexibility for yourself so that you have time for absolutely essential tasks.
It’s okay to say no to new requests and meetings if they would push you over the edge. Negotiate with your colleagues as necessary: “I don’t have the bandwidth to handle this on Monday, but how about we revisit this on Thursday afternoon?”
3. Speak up.
Be honest with your manager if you’re feeling crunched. Maybe he or she can help you come up with a game plan for easing your immediate workload or help you prioritize tasks. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help—it’s a sign that you’re seizing control of your work life and reorganizing before things start to slip too much. It’s so much better to stop and honestly re-evaluate early on, before deadlines have been missed or you’ve put in much less effort than you should have.]
4. Treat Yourself.
Maybe don’t run out and buy that gold Rolex (unless your budget allows for that, in which case go for it), but find small ways to reward yourself and distract your brain from what’s been going on at work. Have you been meaning to see that new movie before it leaves theaters? Take a night off and go… and don’t forget the popcorn. Feel three weeks of tension and poor sleep building up in your shoulders? Get a massage or take that yoga class you’ve been skipping because you’re so busy.
It doesn’t have to be a physical or costly treat—it can be as simple as scheduling time with family or friends to decompress. Laughter may not beat antibiotics when it comes to medicine, but it can work wonders for a frazzled state of mind.
5. Get out of town.
It can be so easy to get caught in the cycle of not taking vacation or personal days because things are too busy at work. In that mindset you may feel like you need to be there to get everything done, and then you can’t leave until the timing is right.
Sad secret: the timing will probably never be perfect. In most jobs, there’s never going to be a magic lull where everything will stand still for a few days. So pick a time to take off, and commit to it. Figure out what you can reschedule while you’re out, and work with your colleagues to get coverage for the things you can’t budge. Then flee to that beach/cabin/backyard lounge chair—and instead of running away permanently, come back refreshed and ready to start over.
I promise you that your workplace will survive without you during your brief absence, and your coworkers be jazzed to have a renewed, enthusiastic colleague back on Monday morning.
Some TLC is absolutely essential to keeping your work self sane and engaged. If you let stress get the best of you, you run the risk of damaging your professional life and even your personal life. It’s just not worth the risk, when you can take small (but effective!) steps to stop overwhelm before it happens.
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