By Travis Baird, Contributing Writer.
I muttered a string of expletives as the car to my left swerved into my lane. Slamming on the brakes, I narrowly avoided the impact.
Later that morning, an old friend asked if I had five minutes to talk with her about a major career move she was considering. But instead of smiling and taking a break to help like I normally would, I snapped at her, “I don’t have time!”
My to-do list was a mile long. I felt like I hadn’t accomplished anything of real value in weeks. I was frustrated. And in place of my normally hopeful and positive attitude, I exuded sarcasm and anger.
Burnout was closing in on me but I had no idea what to do. I felt like I couldn’t stop or slow down but I knew something had to change or I would crash.
That was 3 years ago and the beginning of my last major experience with burnout. For the next several months, my productivity plummeted and everything I did was tinged with negativity.
But good things can come from difficult situations. I spent those burnt-out months reading about self-care and mindset. I interviewed the most productive people I knew to find out how they kept their lives in balance.
When I finally emerged from burnout, I had discovered and integrated a set of four essential strategies that I now use any time I feel exhaustion creeping in.
1. Prioritize your needs
Often, we ignore the signs that our bodies are sending us. Instead of acknowledging the ever-present feeling that you need more sleep, you push through for another 15 hour work day.
And then when someone asks you to move up a deadline, you say yes because their needs come first.
But what do you need right now? f you can find one small way to prioritize your needs so that you’re taking care of yourself, you’ll become instantly more resilient and burnout-proof.
Start small. If you notice that you need a little more rest, then what would happen if you scheduled in an extra 10-minute break during the day? Or a short nap? Sometimes a lunchtime walk around the block can give you some much needed empty space.
What is one small way that you could prioritize your unique needs? Once you settle on something that might help, invest in your wellbeing and create a little space for whatever it is.
2. Say “No”
I really like to make other people happy. When someone asks me if I can help them with something, my natural response is nearly always an enthusiastic “Yes!”
If you’re like me and you find it difficult to say “No” to new opportunities, responsibilities, or additional work tasks, then you know how quickly your to-do list can spiral out of control.
Here’s my challenge to you: Find one opportunity to say “No” to something this week. It can be a new project that someone wants your support on. Or it might be an old client that you’ve been wanting to let go for months. It can be big or small. By saying “No” to one thing you’ll be saying “Yes” to the other things you need to accomplish. More importantly, you’ll be safeguarding yourself against burnout.
3. Create work boundaries
Work boundaries give us a sense of security in our professional lives. One of the most common causes of burnout is a lack of reasonable work-related boundaries
Everyone needs their own unique set of work boundaries. Some folks like having strict “work hours” so that they know exactly when they start and end each day. Others need specific “no phone and no email” time to do creative work. And one of my personal favorite work boundaries is that I do not interact with my business social media accounts on Sundays.
To bring a little fun into the process, you can make your work boundaries whimsical. One recent client chose to “tuck her phone into bed” each evening at 10pm and not “wake it up again” until after she’d had tea in the morning. This meant that she didn’t see work emails first thing in the morning or last thing before bed.
When you establish even one small work boundary, you create much needed security that allows you to stave off burnout, even in the busiest times.
4. Establish supportive routines
When you’re on the brink of burnout, everything feels unstable. That’s why this is a perfect time to establish one or two routines that support your self-care and ability to do your best work.
The possibilities are endless here, but one of the most valuable places to start is with a very simple morning routine.
The essential question is this: “What do I do right before I start working each morning to make sure that I’m focused and have a clear set of priorities?”
Here’s my favorite pre-work Mindful Morning Routine:
When you’re ready to start working for the day, give yourself 5 minutes to move through this quick routine. Download your copy (with bonus details) here.
1.) Centering Breathing
Allow your eyes to close and take a full, slow, deep breath in through the nose. Pause at the end of the inhale for a moment, then exhale equally slowly through the nose. Pause at the end of the exhale. That’s one round of Centering Breathing.
Continue with the next inhale and move through 5 rounds of Centering Breathing.
Feel your body move as you breathe.
2.) Mindfulness Meditation
Allow your breathing to return to normal and bring your full focus to your breath.
Notice what other thoughts pop up. When you notice your attention has left your breathing, gently acknowledge that and then bring your focus back to your breath.
Stay here for 10 breaths, building focus and observing what’s present for you today.
3.) Question Meditation:
“What do I need, right now?”
Let your focus move to this question: “What do I need, right now?”
Observe what comes up.
If you are able to honor that need, honor it. Or make a plan for when you will.
Any of these four strategies can make a big difference when you’re on the brink of burnout. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, start with whichever one of these feels like it would be most helpful for you right now.
Burnout is tough but you can get back to a burnout-free place. By prioritizing your needs and creating space for what’s most important for you, you can step back from the edge of burnout and do your best work.
Travis Baird is a mindful business coach, speaker, and founder of Mindful Productive where he helps ambitious professionals to get the clarity, confidence, and control they need to do their best work without burnout or overwhelm. He lives in San Antonio, Texas with his wife and four cats. When he’s not coaching, you can find him running on trails, baking bread, or playing the viola. Click here to get your copy of his 5-minute Mindful Morning Routine