In my last post, I talked about the best way to avoid burnout without slowing down. I have been reading more since and have found out there are actually 3 distinct types of burnout, that have different causes and different remedies. In this post I will describe each one and the recommended ways to prevent them.
This is burnout classic. The most familiar type of burnout and the one I described last post. Overload Burnout is caused by working too hard for too long. The human mind can only focus for so long, focusing is best in short sprints, not marathon sessions. Imagine what trying to sprint for 8 hours straight, 6 days a week for several years would feel like, this is what your brain would be going through, if you worked relentlessly for the same amount of time.
Prolonged burnout, essentially stress, has been linked to serious health issues both mental (depression and anxiety ) and physiological (heart disease, tension, headaches) the list goes on. So preventing burnout, isn’t just something that feels good, it could save your life!
The usual way to deal with Overload Burnout is exercise and taking breaks. Taking a break allows your mind to rest and recuperate. Rest allows your mind to recover, you can approach tasks feeling refreshed and ready to go.
Exercise releases endorphins that are natural stress relievers and feel-good hormones. A repetitive exercise like running allows your mind to focus on something other than work, giving you that contrast between work and non-work that your mind craves.
Ever had the feeling that you aren’t utilising all your skills at work? That you’re just going through the motions and the challenge isn’t there anymore, or maybe it never was. As humans we crave challenge, that’s why we create, why we solve problems, why we compete. Take away our challenges or our creative pursuits and we start to deflate. Life loses its colour, its flavour, you get bored and lose motivation.
If you haven’t learnt anything new at work in the past couple of months (or ever) you may start to feel Under-Challenged Burnout. You’ll notice yourself procrastinating more, not because you are scared of the workload but because it simply bores you, your mind is searching for distraction from the drudgery. You can’t bare to comb through the same set of files, write the same document, or whatever it is you find dull and easy at your job. If this goes on long enough you will start feeling cynical, disengaged and just plain moody at work. You will be less pleasant to be around, you will be rude to your friends and snap at people who don’t deserve it.
Taking breaks or exercising isn’t going to fix this, you need to speed up, not slow down. You need your mojo back. If you want to be inspired at work again (or for the first time), reflect on what drives you as a person. Do you thrive on solving problems others give up on? Do you get a little warm feeling when you make a customer’s day? Think about how you could do more of this at work.
If you love to be creative, find the creativity in your projects, if you get a rush from solving huge complicated problems, find more complex problems to solve. Ask your boss for more challenging projects, no company is short on problems and your boss will probably love to unload some of their problems on to you.
If you can’t find your inspiration at work, consider doing something creative or exciting in your free time, start woodworking, learn to repair bikes, write a blog…
What if you haven’t been slaving away for too long, you haven’t been doing easy, dull tasks for too long, but you still feel burnt out. Maybe you struggle to juggle, all your work and social commitments. You just don’t have the hours in the day to complete all your tasks. You’re putting out fires all day and when you go home, you don’t feel you’ve accomplished anything meaningful. In fact, you swear your task list is longer than when you got in. You feel the responsibilities growing, the pressure rising, the weight of your task list crushing you. It’s hard to breathe and getting harder – you may just have Neglect Burnout.
Neglect burnout is caused by having too much work and/or too difficult work for the level you are currently able to handle. Many people believe asking for help will make them look weak and turning down extra tasks will anger their bosses. So they keep going, saying yes to everything and plugging away. Struggling more and more every day, making no progress, so the work keeps piling on.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to do every task you are assigned. Your boss is (probably) human. Talk to them. Humans love talking. Tell your boss you are struggling with the workload or that you are insufficiently trained to deal with certain types of work and you want to learn how to better achieve those tasks. Together you can work out a training plan to be better prepared for such projects or reduce the number of projects you have going, so you can focus on a more narrow set of objectives, allowing you to make significant progress.
This seems so simple. That’s because it is. I have had a situation where I had more projects than I could meaningfully progress with at work. I was stressed out, because I just didn’t seem to be able to please everyone and as a result I wasn’t pleasing anyone. I couldn’t go on like this. I plucked up the courage to tell my boss, expecting her to tell me that I just needed to work harder and figure it out, only for her to say that while being challenged is good, she didn’t want me to feel overwhelmed. As a result, she prioritised my work for me, delayed some work or passed tasks on to other team members and left me with fewer, more urgent and important tasks to deal with. My stress levels decreased overnight. Try it with your boss, I bet they will react the same way.
If you have any more tips for preventing the three types of burnout or even know of some I wasn’t aware of, please feel free to tell me in the comments below! This post was inspired by Melody Wilding’s post on inc.com