It’s a refrain I’ve heard more than once in the past few weeks. I live near a university and New England’s winter has been so bad that the very idea of ‘spring’ seems magical, but it’s more than that. In the routine of work, we often forget to recharge and can find ourselves feeling burnt out and exhausted. “Burnout syndrome” is characterized by fatigue, cynicism and inefficiency. And it’s common – no matter how much you love your job most of us feel it from time to time. Maybe you’ve just finished a big project, maybe something outside of work is distracting you, maybe you’re stuck in your routine.
Then you see a bunch of college kids pack up for a week of vacation and think, “that’s what I need!” I’m all for vacation, but managing our days in such a way that we’re able to remain engaged and productive at work is just as important. So what are some ways we can “refill our tanks” and avoid the mental and physical exhaustion of burnout?
Take a Break During the Day
We tend to assume that working more means working better. But our brains aren’t wired that way and stepping away from work for a few moments not only gives us a chance to refill, but gives us the opportunity to gain new insight into work we have been tackling. According to Ron Friedman, founder of the consulting firm Ignite80, “It’s often in the intervals between thinking really hard about a problem and then stepping away that solutions become apparent.”
Make a ritual of your break; if you can do it at about the same time each day. Ritualizing behavior not only means that you’re more likely to do it (when was the last time you forgot your morning coffee or to brush your teeth), but that other people will respect the it. If you can, physically step away: eat lunch away from your desk, take a walk, go outside and stretch. Movement and a change in scenery can help hit the reset button when you’re feeling drained. If you can’t leave where you are, take a few minutes to be mindful. Whether you meditate, read something not work related, or simply focus on your breathing for a bit, taking a short break will serve as a “creative pause” and help energize the rest of your day.
Down time can be hard to adjust to. Our brains love distraction and it’s easy to find with our smart phones in our pocket. So whatever kind of break works for you, make sure it’s an actual break and not a time to check your personal email or catch up on older work.
Step Away From the Devices
Wanting to stay connected is completely normal. People have always craved it; staying connected makes us feel needed and important. Only in the past few years have we really had the ability to be connected 24/7 and we’re all struggling to learn how to manage that. What feels most efficient – answering an email as soon as we get it – is actually making us less productive and more tired.
Create rituals around unplugging as well. It’s likely not realistic to say you’re never going to look at emails or answer calls outside of work hours. Set goals that are within reach and, slowly, unplugging will become a habit. Maybe it’s during dinner and in the hour before your kids go to bed. Maybe it’s on your lunch break. Maybe it’s the whole day Saturday. You’ll be surprised how quickly unplugging will not only make your down time better, but your work time as well.
Talk to Yourself
Nope, it doesn’t need be out loud. But it does need to be intentional. By reminding ourselves of why work matters to us, and why we matter to work, we can reconnect to our jobs and our motivation. I love Seth Godin’s suggestion that you write yourself some fan mail. Success is motivating, but when we’re in the middle of a project, it’s much more likely that we’re thinking of all the things that can go wrong instead of all the things that will go right.
So, create your success. According to Godin, “writing yourself fan mil in advance and picturing the change you’ve announced you’re trying to make is an effective way to push yourself to build something that actually generates that action.”
If you don’t take off for spring break this year, do make sure that you’re giving yourself the opportunity to manage your workdays so that you don’t end up feeling burnt out.