WHAT IS BURNOUT?
Burnout depletes our emotional, physical, and mental capacity and, over time, our durability. It’s a psychological term describing the cumulative negative results of chronic stress, being overwhelmed, lack of rest, and perceived pressures beyond one’s ability to manage. Consequences of burnout include emotional and physical exhaustion, reduced performance, cynicism, loss of interest and energy for activities you once enjoyed, isolation, and a diminished sense of personal accomplishment, including a loss of finding meaning in your work. Burnout can be short-term, meaning temporary and situational, or long-term; it can even become a life pattern.
“Mission-driven” burnout occurs when an admirable personal commitment to making a difference in a specific area results in chronic over-doing because inadequate resources are available to match the individual’s vision.
THE PHASES OF BURNOUT
For us mission-driven leaders and professionals, preserving one’s ability to serve effectively is an issue of sustainability, health, and long-term impact on the causes we care about. Many of us find our identity is closely tied to our productivity, which causes an even deeper upset within the cycle of burnout. You may recognize the phases leading up to burnout described here.
Everything’s a top priority. You’re overextended, overdoing it, and feeling trapped.
Energy is diminishing, physical fatigue is increasing, and shame and doubt arise because you can’t do it all.
You feel like you’re “going through the motions” to get through the day. You may feel detached and critical. Others notice.
You feel joyless, spent, hopeless, and powerless to change your state, as well as empty inside and too exhausted to think about anything but escape.
How does this progression of burnout impact your work? The passion and drive that have led you forward in your mission-driven business will be overshadowed by tension and being overwhelmed. Your communication with others may become short-tempered, unclear, and inconsistent. The consequences for you, the mission, and your co-workers aren’t pretty.
HOW TO PREVENT BURNOUT
Here are specific steps you can take to keep burnout at bay and give you a chance to renew your drive, energy, and focus so you can better support your team and give positive energy to the mission that matters most.
1. SCALE BACK TO MOVE FORWARD
The first step in avoiding burnout involves balancing your deep commitment to a mission with a sense of realism for what you can actually accomplish in a given timeframe. Scale back work so that the volume of high-priority items isn’t draining your effectiveness. Be nicer to your future self, and stop overcommitting! What would happen if suddenly you were only able to work half of your current hours? Use this thought experiment to explore what’s essential and what’s optional. Renegotiate and release non-essential commitments to create a set of priorities you can succeed with.
2. NARROW AND MODERATE YOUR TASKS
Of the remaining priorities, how can you narrow the scope and moderate the level of effort each one requires? Setting resource-appropriate intentions can remove a lot of pressure and set you and your team up for success. Identify the highest-leverage aspects of each priority so the effort you put forth really has meaning. Accomplishing multiple objectives with one move is a strategic way to condense the effort required to achieve progress. Use the impetus for self-preservation to focus on the few items that will have the biggest impact. Your projects will also benefit from streamlining. Reset team expectations and collaborate as you explore multiple options in order to find a sweet spot of impact within a doable scope.
3. STOKE YOUR NATURAL ENERGY
Some activities fuel you by increasing your energy and motivation at work. What brings you joy in your professional life? Adding a daily dose of joyful activity is critical for reducing the impact of burnout. A 2009 study by Tait D. Shanafelt, et al., from the Mayo Clinic finds that clinical professionals who spend just one day a week focusing on the type of work they most enjoy reduce burnout by half. Where’s the joy in your work? How can you spend more time doing that — starting this week?
4. CELEBRATE YOUR TRIUMPHS, NO MATTER HOW SMALL
Appreciating your progress thus far gives you a boost to continue the journey. List three to four accomplishments you’ve achieved in the past month. How can you acknowledge that progress? Gratitude and appreciation are powerful allies for mission-driven leaders at all levels.
Use these tools the next time you’re feeling over-worked and stressed so you can preserve your ability to serve.
Jessica G. Hartung is the founder and CEO of Integrated Work, a company that partners with mission-driven organizations to apply leadership development in everyday work experiences, accelerating impact and achieving measurable results. Building customized, real-time, applied leadership development systems for executive teams is their passion. They help clarify focus, co-design strategic options, provide tools and mentorship, and build leadership capacity to accelerate positive impact. For more resources for renewing yourself and avoiding burnout, visit integratedwork.com/resourcesand its sister site, workthatmatters.com.