In a word dominated by the 24-hour clock, it is hard to avoid exhaustion at work. There are always a thousand things to do, a thousand tasks to complete and a thousand meetings to attend. It is difficult to learn to say no, and rest often seems more like a dream than a reality. Even if we do actually enjoy doing what we do, it is hard to be excited about getting out of bed in the morning if we do not feel able to handle the stress that the average workday entails.
Yet taking the time to say no and find respite during the week is essential to our mental and physical health, and, indeed, our ability to be “on our game” when we are faced with a thousand tasks that need to be completed. If we are constantly on the go, the quality of our thinking suffers, and thus the quality of our work. As I note in my new book, Think, Learn and Succeed, if we do not give ourselves a break, we do not allow our minds to daydream and wander, the DMN (default mode network) of the brain, which keeps the internal networks of the brain running smoothly allowing them to connect and reboot, will not operate properly—this will put our brains and bodies into toxic stress. And, if we continue to push ourselves too hard, we can find ourselves facing the b-word: burnout.
So how can we avoid burnout at work?
- Make stress work for you and not against you. Let’s face it, work can be stressful, and trying to avoid stress will just make us more stressed! The best way to handle a tough or demanding situation is to face it head on with a “I can do this” attitude. Like everything in life, the way we view stressful situations can affect the way we deal with those situations. Life can be incredibly stressful (this I know well!), yet the way you view stress can either make a difficult situation - and your brain and body - work for you or against you. Next time you find yourself feeling stressed and overwhelmed, see stress as something that enhances, rather than diminishes, your performance. Visualize those blood vessels around your heart dilating and pumping blood and oxygen into your brain. Visualize neurotransmitters being released and see it all working together to help you focus and think with clarity to react in the best and most efficient way. See the situation you are facing as something you can handle versus something you can’t handle; just changing your perception can make stress - which is actually good for you- work for you and not against you.
- Change your expectations. It is important to remember that our mindsets can catapult us forward, allowing us to achieve our dreams, or put us in reverse drive if we are not careful. Next time you find yourself in a tough place at the office, change what you expect from your situation. Rather than expecting things to go bad or thinking that you just can’t do something and you will fail (which will make it happen because mind changes matter) , change your expectations: catch yourself if you have a negative mindset about the task and hand, and choose to expect that things will go well. Observe your thinking, perhaps writing down your expectations in a journal, and reminding yourself to choose to have a positive outlook at work.
- Boost your willpower. We all have moments when we don’t feel like completing a task or we just feel so tired and exhausted that we do not feel like meeting a deadline or finishing something important. At times like these it is imperative that we have a mental arsenal at hand to boost our willpower. Think of how you plug something into a wall to get it started. Now think of ways you can build up your willpower to do things you do not always feel like doing. What are your “plugs”? How can you motivate yourself to start, or finish, a task? Remember, this is a choice.
Want to learn more? Check out a talk I recently did at Catalyst in Atlanta on avoiding burnout in the workplace.
Are you and your colleagues battling with burnout? Come to our annual conference this year in Dallas, where you will learn how to protect yourself, mentally and physically, in the work environment and boost your productivity at the office! Group discounts are available.