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A Simple Exercise for Burnout Recovery
Last summer Charlie and I led a webinar to help leaders identify and scale back burnout on their teams. The experience, and gathering so much fresh input, was enlightening to those involved — and led me to think in new ways about what precisely burnout is, and where it begins.
That thought process around burnout was compounded this past year when I had to learn how to work with a severe brain injury diagnosis.
It’s no overstatement to suggest burnout has reached epidemic proportions in our society. This trend has been building for years. I know that I’m not alone in this struggle.
I’m not necessarily optimistic about burnout soon being more adequately addressed, or disappearing. I don’t envision it getting easier for individuals to make all of the changes they need to in order to take care of themselves.
In the system we live and work in, the shifts required to roll back burnout on a large scale are difficult for us to conceive of without social and systemic change.
What do I mean by change?
I mean concrete alternatives that can make our lives resilient to burnout.
There’s no doubt that it will be necessary to change the ways in which we work and live. But as things stand, individuals, companies, and organizations can’t wait for that to come about organically, or for that level of change to arrive from above.
We need to be making that change now, in our daily lives.
Significant change at a broad level is rooted in work that takes place over years.
As we’ve seen throughout history, change happens because those on the ground and in the trenches grow tired of struggling. But we know, for those of us living at the frontlines of burnout, and who see it in our communities every day — we don’t have decades and centuries to wait.
Even when change in the wider world is slow, our hope rests within our lives.
That’s where change starts. That’s where it has to start.
It’s where burnout can be stopped in its tracks or at least scaled back. By redrawing our strategy in our own lives, we can create solutions for how to live and thrive, without hanging on by an ever-thinning thread.
The topic of burnout can feel overwhelming sometimes to think about or strategize around, especially when you’re already experiencing it. But when it comes to stepping back, one tiny step at a time is a good place to start (as is the case with most projects.)
There are millions of people in the world dealing with burnout as you read this. To do something about it, and push ourselves a little further in a direction of health, calm, and taking back some fraying peace and a sense of control: let’s start with one simple exercise, and build together.
Taking Back Your Life: One Step At a Time
For the next week, try identifying one single task or item per day that you can either Modify, Delegate, or Drop.
I want to encourage you to strongly consider selecting things you can Drop all together since many of us are holding on to way too many things that we would be better off letting go of completely.
Of course, in many cases, we can’t just drop things, and that’s where Modify and Delegate are there to help.
There are two ways that you can do this exercise:
Sit down on a Sunday afternoon (or another day/time that works best for you) and identify a list of seven tasks or projects that you will either modify, delegate, or drop (one for each day of the week). Or
At the start of each day, write down or mentally note a single thing you will be modifying, delegating, or dropping that day.
When you are already feeling burnt out, the idea of an exercise like this may sound like yet another thing that you are not able to get to.
I feel you on that and I get it.
And I want to gently and lovingly nudge you to try this anyway. Give yourself the gift each day of getting back a little of the ease and life that you deserve.
If you are someone who is in the midst of burnout you may need to start with small things and that is still important progress.
Please don’t think that because you can’t make huge life-changing things happen right now, or that what you do won’t make a difference. It will!
One small change a day over time will lead to a better, healthier life.
Where to Start
Scaling Back at Home
Perhaps you’ve noticed that much of your burnout comes from an overload at home, in terms of caretaking responsibilities that are piled up on your plate. If so, that’s the area you would want to focus on for the first week of this exercise.
Monday you could decide to modify your normal habit of cleaning the dishes after dinner in favor of getting to bed a little earlier. You may know you’ll need to get to the dishes tomorrow after work, but more rest helps you feel less tired going into your next day.
On Tuesday, you could make the decision to drop cooking dinner for that night and opt into having a healthy meal delivered instead. This offers space in the form of time to meditate after helping the kids with their homework and helps you get to bed in a more restful way.
It’s Wednesday, and you might have found just the thing to delegate today. You are typically the one who takes care of carpool for the evening swim classes, but you ask your partner if they can take care of it this week, giving yourself time to get in that exercise video you’ve been interested in checking out.
I could continue here for the remainder of the week, but instead, I’m going to offer you some examples of how to slow down in your professional life.
Scaling Back at Work
Many of us also contend with burnout in the workplace, especially in the last two years. You may want to focus your week of scaling back on this area of responsibility.
Here are some extra examples:
It’s Monday and you are dragging from a rough weekend of taking care of sick family members. It’s your turn to lead the team meeting this week. Even though it’s not normal practice to ask a teammate to step in for you, it’s actually completely acceptable to do so as everyone takes turns leading the meeting. You delegate your turn this week by asking a teammate to sub in for you and you’ll take on their next turn.
On Tuesday you remember your manager telling you in yesterday’s meeting that they want you to be looking at where wasted time is happening in the small team that you lead. It’s very clear to you that one thing that could be dropped is the Tuesday afternoon check-in. It’s never a fruitful meeting, and your team needs until Thursday’s meeting to have the kind of output you are looking for. You suggest each teammate uses that time to do their work rather than meeting about it (which leads to much better output on Thursday).
Wednesday you realize a modification would be tremendously helpful to get you out of work at a reasonable time. On reflection, you realize every time you have been late leaving the office during the last month it’s been because you got “stuck in an email.” When you felt too tired at the end of your day to respond well, you also didn’t keep good boundaries. By moving your last email check of the day up an hour to 3:30 p.m. instead of 4:30 p.m., you have time to check out and leave yourself breadcrumbs for what to pick up tomorrow morning.
While some suggestions offered here are small and others are bigger, I encourage you to start small if you are feeling burned out right now.
If you’re already overwhelmed, going for major, high-level changes will be a barrier for most of us. Many people don’t have the capacity or the time for some huge drastic change in their life. But one small change every day can lead to deep change that adds up over time.
Think about it in terms of getting back a little bit of your time, energy, and peace, in a sustained way over a longer period of time.
I shared a post back at the end of last year on Thinking Abundantly: What and Who Are Already Available which ties in well on the topic of how to get the support you need. This is a place in time where leaning on your success pack is crucial.
Let your people know that you are trying to step back from burnout and that you need their help with it.
I want to encourage you to try the exercise above over the next week. Once you do, try it again for another week and then perhaps a month. :-) Trust that one small change every day can help lead you back to more peace.
And, as always, I would love to hear from you about how this goes for you.