How can you recover from burnout once it’s set in? This is one of the top questions I get from people new to the Ridiculously Efficient methodology of proactively scheduling your week to prevent poor work-life balance.
The following are my favorite methods to restore a better balance in an always-on world.
1. Stop the Bleeding
Like dehydration, the moment you notice symptoms of burnout, you’re already there. Check out this classic 12-stage progression of burnout from Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North, circa the 70s:
If you see yourself above in anything past, say, Stage 3, it’s time to get serious about creating a better work-life balance.
Focus on Improving Sleep
It's much easier to make positive changes in your professional life when you're well rested.
Start with sleep. By hook or by crook, get a full night’s rest.
Stop working at least 2 hours before you go to bed, and ideally, take a break from technology.
If you can, use wearables to track your sleep quality. This can reduce stress all on its own because you'll be able to see data on your sleep cycle and how your day affects your health.
Create Free Time Away From Work
When your sleep rhythm starts improving, move your focus to increasing downtime.
What can you do to get some consecutive days off? Failing that, how can you carve out fully unplugged evenings and pieces of your morning? If you work a traditional job, can you take more small breaks during the day, or leave work early once or twice a week?
Think of the above practices — sleep, consecutive days off, and fully unplugged evenings and mornings — as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding when you feel overwhelmed.
Do nothing else on this list until you can at least say you’re well-rested and have some well-protected opportunities to recharge and reset.
2. Satisfice to Decrease Chronic Stress
“Satisficing,” a portmanteau of “satisfying” and “sufficing,” forces you to relax your perfectionist tendencies. Identified in a joint study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, so-called “maximizers” can feel more perfectionism, regret, and even depression if the options available to them increase.
We experience satisficing in our personal lives all the time, between family responsibilities and managing relationships in our community. It's impossible to do everything well.
Work-related satisficing can dramatically improve your mental health and help you right-size expectations in your work life.
To tap into the power of satisficing, psychologist Melody Wilding recommends that maximizers look for the most feasible solution, versus the optimal solution. This is a learned skill for high performers who feel a responsibility to be productive and achieve more, but it's well worth the practice.
Satisficing is a part of my DNA, so deeply ingrained that I didn’t think twice about how this approach might be novel. Back in 2011, I wrote about my emotional detachment to writing content, which has helped me publish over 10,000 articles (which got over 40 million views) between 2009 and 2013.
This ability also helps me in my work alongside visionary entrepreneurs and those who lead industry-transforming companies.
When a vision I’m given to execute is big, bold and unlike anything I’ve ever done before, as it often is, satisficing is the only way to transition from idea to live project.
It’s sometimes physically impossible to execute the vision as expressed — which means some level of mediation between the ideal and the real is required.
And satisficing is often the only way that I can personally resist the temptation of extending my work hours, compromising quality time with my husband and son.
3. Fire Up the Power Plant
Inside you is a power plant — a source of vital energy.
Now think about the activities you engage in and the people you interact with throughout the day. You may wish to consider activities during your work hours separately from the activities in your personal life.
For each activity, ask yourself this:
- Is this person or activity giving me energy or taking it away?
- Is this person or activity directly contributing to a healthier work life balance?
- Is this person or activity improving my work performance?
- Is this person or activity improving my growth?
Look for patterns, and use them to adjust your behavior and interactions.
In some cases, it’s an easy change: On a busy workday, don’t eat a heavy lunch if you want to feel energized in the afternoon.
In others, it isn’t as easy.
What if every interaction with your boss takes vital energy away?
You can’t stop talking to your boss… but you can start to add in activities that give you energy after a particularly stressful interaction.
It's also possible that finding a new job would be more supportive to your work life integration than staying in your current role.
In the spirit of satisficing, recognize that nothing will ever be perfect.
That fact doesn’t mean that all efforts to create a healthy work-life balance are futile.
Even the tiniest changes to your routine can have dramatic effects on your health, well-being and performance at work.
Good work-life balance starts with recognizing your unique needs for meaningful work, downtime for personal activities, and how you spend time alone and with others. Achieving the right balance isn't something you'll learn from a book or an expert -- it's something you'll discover through experimentation and iteration.