I’ve come across several articles lately talking about our unhealthy relationship with busyness. This is something I have to grapple with from time to time myself, and as a consequence I’ve had to get smart about how to preserve my wellbeing by managing my energy.
Too much to do can of course lead to stress, and it seems that in the work sense stress-related burnout is on the rise. The World Health Organisation, has recently added burnout to its latest list of diseases, defining it as “a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
They talk about burnout as something that is characterised by feelings of exhaustion, mental distance from a job (I’d probably call that disengagement), reduced performance and negative feelings towards your job. I think that any one of these things appearing from time to time is nothing to be too troubled by, however all of them at once and over an extended period of time, that’s probably signalling that it’s time to make some adjustments!
Look for the warning signs
I know that I need to adjust what I’m doing (or how I’m doing it) if I start getting snappy at people – usually my nearest and dearest, or if I feel flat and unenthused. Trouble is that I think we are so used to working beyond depletion, we can ignore important energetic clues. We’re used to tuning out how we feel, particularly in the workplace, so that we soldier on to get things done, which can mean that we miss physical and mental clues telling us we need to make some changes.
It’s best to relieve the pressure valve regularly by setting aside (and sticking to) uninterrupted downtime and maybe too making some changes to the way you work. Make sure you take your annual leave. Building in a few long weekends to your working year can also make a significant positive impact to your wellbeing, giving you things to look forward to and regular breaks.
If you’re feeling low in energy on an ongoing basis, provided there’s nothing physically wrong with you, chances are you’re experiencing burnout on some level. What might you need to change?
Burning yourself out by allowing the pressure to build up too much for too long can lead to some pretty serious health issues such as trouble with sleeping, immune disorders, depression and cardiovascular disease. It’s also harder to dislodge once it’s more deeply ingrained. I see this in my clientele sometimes, with people depleting themselves over a long period of time, making it harder and harder for them to get back to full physical and mental health, often necessitating them taking an extended break from work.
Locus of control
It can be very helpful to check in with yourself from time to time to clarify what you can and can’t control in your situation – you might be surprised by just how much you can impact your environment. It might be that you need to have a challenging (but important) conversation with your boss or a colleague. Maybe the way you work needs to change. Or maybe you need to make bigger changes – like changing your job role, organisation or industry if it genuinely doesn’t work for you and you feel that there’s nothing you can do about it but leave.
Getting clear about what you can and can’t control and acting accordingly can be immensely empowering, helping you to realise that you are the master (or mistress) of your destiny. If your job situation really isn’t suiting your needs, your values, personality or strengths – if you’re a square peg in a round hole, what can you do about it? Might it be time to dust off that CV and hone your interview skills to get out there to look for something more suitable.
Play to your strengths
Ever noticed how you can work away at something that engages you for hours and lose all track of time, yet the moments drag and become exhausting when you’re doing something that you’re not into?
One of the key ways we can preserve our energy and sense of “being on top of it” is by learning what our strengths are and getting savvy about how we use them. We’ve talked about strengths before, but as a reminder, they’re things that we are good at doing and that energise and engage us. We need to be aware that there will be plenty of things that we can do well, but just because you can do something well doesn’t mean that it’s engaging or energising for you to do – in fact the opposite could be true. This is the difference between a skill and a strength. For example, I know that I’m good at detail, it’s a skill, but if I do too much of it I’ll be very drained. So if my job had a lot of detail in it, I’d hit burnout pretty early on!
In my experience working with clients, strengths are one of the most powerful sets of career clues we have available to us. If you can find out what energises and engages you and shape your career decisions around that, then you and your organisation are onto a winner. You’ll be able to work more effectively, reduce stress, perform better and preserve your wellbeing and sanity. You’ll also enjoy your work a whole lot more.