In last week's article, Why does burnout happen? You do it to yourself, I covered what it means to be burnout and the role our choices play in causing our own burnout. This week I cover what you can do to recover from burnout and prevent it from happening in the future.
As I overworked and stretched my energy well beyond what I could sustain, I came to understand that this couldn’t go on. It wasn’t a sudden change, but one that crept up through several changes in how I thought about my energy and life:
The first change was realizing just how introverted I was. Not shy, not people-hating (at least not usually 😅), just drained by human interaction and recharged by being alone. I learned how vital it was for me to pay attention to how many meetings and events I had each day and week, the types of interactions I had, and how much recharge time I was prioritizing in my schedule.
The second change was getting more clarity on what I wanted out of my business and the type of life I wanted versus the narrative of what I should want as an entrepreneur. After my experience supporting my husband through cancer treatment and recovery, it eventually became clear that while I wanted my business to succeed and make money, there were other things that were more important to me. I wasn't willing to sacrifice any more for the business.
The third change, which was one of those things outside my control, was my Multiple Sclerosis (MS) diagnosis. If the other changes weren’t motivation enough, the consequences of stress and exhaustion on my body now came in the form of potential brain damage through MS relapses. This introduced very real consequences for not managing my energy and life.
These changes combined into significant adjustments in my expectations of myself, the things I prioritize, the boundaries I set and maintain, and the motivators for the decisions I make.
In last week's article, I posited that burnout is the result of the misalignment of expectations, priorities, and boundaries, combined with fear-based decision-making.
To recover from burnout and then prevent it from recurring you need to think about each one of the contributing factors and identify opportunities to:
- Set more realistic expectations for yourself
- Get clarity on your priorities
- Set and maintain boundaries
- Reduce fear-based decision-making
Let’s talk about how!
1. Set more realistic expectations for yourself
I know for a fact that you think you have waaaaaaaaaay more time available to you than you do.
The very first exercise I do with every single one of my clients is to work through their ideal week. The purpose of creating your ideal week is to create a visual of your actual time availability, given your normal routines and recurring commitments.
Once you have that visual, the amount of available time becomes (often startlingly) clear. It’s much easier to have more realistic expectations about what is actually possible to achieve in a day or week. The gist is:
- Brainstorm the activities/routines that you ACTUALLY spend time on.
- Brainstorm the top activities that you WANT to spend time on but maybe aren’t.
- Create a new calendar in Google Calendar or Outlook Calendar and map everything you brainstormed in Step 1. Use the week view.
- See where the gaps are and where the things in Step 2 fit, if anywhere.
- Evaluate when you WANT to be doing certain types of tasks or activities like deep work, meetings, fitness, family time, etc.
- Decide if anything needs to change.
Once you have created your ideal week, you use it as a guide for time-blocking your actual tasks. Overlay your ideal week with your actual week and tasks to help make more reasonable decisions (because you have more reasonable expectations) about what you are going to work on, when you will work on it (given that week’s schedule), and your energy requirements.
For the entire process in detail, check out, Time-Blocking and Imagining Your Ideal Week.
2. Get clarity on your priorities
We all want to believe that we prioritize the “right” things but we often get pulled into thinking that we can spend time on some priorities later.
Sometimes those “later” priorities end up being time with our family or friends while we focus on work. We defer the things that are important to us to some imagined future time when we can truly enjoy them or give those important things the attention they deserve.
But…sometimes you don’t get to have that time or you miss out on important things. Life can change fast and (though cliche) it's short.
The first step to paying closer attention to your priorities is to actually write them down. It's a way to acknowledge they are important and something you want to spend time on.
The second step is to reflect if you are spending time on them each day through a daily priority reflection.
Daily priority reflection
This simple, 2-minute exercise is a way to see the patterns of what you are ACTUALLY prioritizing, versus what you want to prioritize. Here’s the basic process:
- Brainstorm 5-8 priorities in your life that you want to make sure you are giving time, attention, and energy to.
- Consider the parameters for what “counts” as time, energy and attention on each priority.
- List your priorities in a notebook or spreadsheet.
- Reflect each day and mark what you did by asking: Did I spend any time, energy or attention on any of these things?
For examples and a full explanation of the daily priority reflection, read: You Don’t Need to Have a Near-Death Experience to Change Your Life.
3. Set and maintain boundaries
Boundaries are another way you set expectations, but this time for others.
Boundaries are about telling other people how available you are to them and under what circumstances. When people know when and how to best communicate with you, they are more likely to respect your time and you can give yourself more space.
Email, meetings, and general availability are all areas that most people don’t spend enough time being intentional about. These three articles outline specific tactics to set boundaries around each of email, meetings and availability:
- 7 Ways to Set Email Boundaries and Lift the Curse of Immediacy
- 8 Ways to Set Boundaries Around When You Schedule and Accept Meetings
- 7 Ways to Set Availability Boundaries and Reduce Interruptions
The central tenant of each tactic is this:
You have way more control over what, who and when you give your time, energy, and attention. You just have to flex that control!
4. Reduce fear-based decision-making
I have an entire article dedicated to how to stop fear-based decision-making.
My favourite strategy to overcome making decisions based on fearing the outcome decisions is flipping the script on what we think will happen (or not happen) when we agree to something.
Flipping the script is simply putting yourself on the other side of a conversation or situation that you are worried about.
We so often blow up situations in our minds, like how someone is going to react if we ask to delay a meeting or ask for an extension on a project. For example, we worry that if we say no to a request, we will lose an opportunity entirely. Instead of worrying…first, ask yourself:
How would I react if I was on the other side of this situation? Would I care? Would it be a big deal?
Most of the time the answer is a resounding no.
Then, instead of imagining the worst, be brave enough to find out. I think you will be pleasantly surprised and realize most people are pretty chill and you don’t have to sacrifice your time and health for them (nor do they want you to).
Reducing and preventing burnout is a competitive advantage
I often talk about how to reframe self-care as a competitive advantage and shift expectations, priorities, boundaries, and decision-making habits are huge parts of earning that competitive advantage.
When I talk about self-care, I mean:
- All of the tactics I listed above
- The trifecta of good sleep, good diet, and regular exercise
- Whatever you do to recharge your energy
Self-care is mind-body maintenance and fortification. It’s the basic things you need to do to feel good, stay healthy, and prepare yourself for when life inevitably gets hard for a while.
When you are burnt out, all parts of your life suffer and there is no space left to deal with life’s ups and downs. You’re not creative, you’re not inspired, it’s hard to make good decisions, and it’s hard to be present in your life.
Fortunately, you have the power to make different choices that will help you recover from burnout and reclaim your time, energy and attention. You just have to make those choices!
When you are burnt out, it’s hard to implement these changes on your own. That’s where I come in! If you need help to recover from burnout and set better habits to prevent it going forward, schedule a free consultation.