T.S. Eliot may have believed April the cruelest month, but for American workers, February and March are right there with them. The weather is bone chilling, holiday festivities are a memory, and spring is still months away. Add the emotional challenges of the dreary season to the time-crunched, overbooked, technology-fueled frenzy that our work lives have become and it’s no wonder so many of us are on the verge of that 21st century malady—burnout.
“No matter what you do for a living, it’s hard to cope in today’s world,” says Mike Staver, consultant and CEO of The Staver Group. “Stress is taking a toll on today’s employees and everyone pays the price. Businesses suffer because overstressed workers are far less productive than they would be if they were fresh and inspired. Obviously, the employees themselves suffer most of all–and because they can’t ‘turn off’ the stress at the end of the day, their partners and families are affected, too.”
So what can we stressed-out workplace warriors do to avoid careening into total meltdown? Staver doesn’t have a single be all, end all solution. He does, however, have a list of practical Burnout Busters that we can turn to when it all gets to be too much:
· Start your day with powerful, high energy music. Whether it’s rock or country or jazz or pop, listen to music that “pumps you up” and makes you feel great about yourself. Research has shown that people who use high energy music to start their day and before they face challenging situations have increased productivity by as much as 200%. Your morning infusion of music creates a sense of positive energy and enthusiasm that will help you tackle any challenges that you might encounter with minimal frustration.
· Set aside blocks of time to complete various tasks. During those blocks of time, do not allow yourself to be interrupted for other things. (For example, the hour from 2 p.m. until 3 p.m. might be set aside for reading and responding to e-mails.) Sure, you’ve heard about this technique–but have you really tried it? “This will increase your efficiency and reduce the anxiety caused by trying to do 20 things at once,” promises Staver.
· Make “Fix it, then forget it” your mistake mantra. Do not allow mistakes to ruin you. Do everything you can to fix a problem with a client or associate in order to make them happy. After that, do not dwell on what went wrong. If you find yourself obsessing over something that went wrong in your life, remember this quote: Do not blame yourself for past errors. You are no longer the same person who made them and you cannot blame a person who does not exist.
· Get an accountability partner to help you stay focused. Ask someone other than your spouse or romantic partner to fill this role. Make sure it’s someone you trust and feel comfortable with to just be yourself. You should meet with this person at least once a week to talk about your goals, progress, setbacks, and thoughts on your personal and professional life. “Your accountability partner keeps you on track and moving forward in all aspects of your development,” says Staver. “The discussions you share with this person will help you to look at things objectively, understand yourself better, and be more well-rounded.”
· Use “comic memos” to ease anxiety at work. The comic memo technique involves attaching a funny cartoon to routine, boring paperwork that has to be distributed at the office. It’s just one way you can use humor to ease stress and bring mountains back down to molehills where they belong. You might also consider putting a “humor board” in your office where people can post cartoons, jokes, or funny pictures–it’s a reminder to everyone that a good hearty laugh is the best stress releaser of all. (Well . . . the best stress releaser that’s appropriate for the workplace, anyway!) Don’t forget about FacilityBlog’s Friday Funny!
· Take a non-working lunch now and then–with others or by yourself. When you feel overwhelmed, go out to lunch with friends or associates. Make it a point to not talk about business. Talk about your hobbies, sports, or whatever you enjoy. This gives you a release from the pressure cooker of stress. If you feel burned out on people, eat lunch by yourself a couple times a week. This gives you the chance to just enjoy quiet time and not have to talk if you do not feel like engaging in conversation. There can be tremendous power in silence.
· Take a power nap. If you feel tired and unable to concentrate, a 15- or 20-minute nap will work wonders. First, elevate your feet. This will allow blood to more readily flow to your brain, increasing the oxygen levels you need to feel well rested and alert. Second, set a “low-tech alarm clock”: hold a pen or a set of keys in one hand, keeping the arm holding the object slightly raised (but obviously comfortable). When your body reaches a complete state of relaxation, your grip on the object will release, causing it to fall to the floor and startle you awake. “These few minutes will give you almost the same benefit as a long, luxurious sleep,” says Staver. “Amazing, but true.”
· Walk it off . . . exercise! Even if you do not have time to go to the gym, you can take a walk around the block a few times each evening or work out with a fitness video at home. Exercise makes you feel good about yourself, helps dissipate built-up stress, and allows for more refreshing sleep. It takes discipline to work out on a regular basis but the benefits far outweigh the little push it might take to get you going. (Consult your physician to find out what kind of exercise would be best for you.)
· Take a vacation. Really! Even if you have to plan weeks or months ahead, make the effort to give yourself a break. Too many people believe that if they take a break from the rat race of life, their jobs will leave them behind. The opposite is true: If you don’t make time to relax away from work, you will become bitter and unproductive even when you are there. “Ultimately, your job will overwhelm you, not because you took a few days off, but because you burned yourself out so badly that you experienced emotional meltdown,” notes Staver. “The most productive workers take time to relax–guilt-free.”
· Practice saying NO. “When you are already booked or have all the commitments you can handle, say no to anyone who asks you to take on even more work or social obligations,” says Staver. “Spreading yourself too thin can lead to dangerous stress and anxiety. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the world is not going to end if you say no. If you really think it could cost you your job or a friendship, it might be time to re-evaluate your career or your friends.”
Ultimately, says Staver, goals should never be set in stone and neither should careers. Sometimes circumstances change in your life and they put you on a different road. If you find that something is not working for you, it’s okay to change directions without feeling guilty or ashamed.
“Changing the path you’re on is not failing,” he asserts. “Rather, it is being mature about your future happiness and what you now know is right for you. To avoid bitterness and eventual burnout, understand that whatever you choose to do with your career and your life has to lead to your own well being. No outside influence can tell you what is best for you–only you can decide that.”