What have you done to manage your time and make it stretch as much as possible? Many of us spend extra time at the office, take work home and scramble to keep up with our never-ending to-do lists. But how do you know when you’ve gone from stressed out to burned out?
It can be hard to know, since burnout can sneak up on you. If you’re showing signs of burnout, though, you can recalibrate and focus on managing your energy rather than your time.
There are numerous signs of burnout, including but not limited to:
- Chronic fatigue and lack of energy. You may start off feeling a little tired, then slowly find you’re exhausted most of the time.
- Insomnia. First it’s hard to fall asleep, then anxiety may keep you up a couple of nights a week. At its most severe, you may feel completely drained but still have trouble sleeping.
- Impaired concentration. You notice you have a hard time focusing, and eventually feel you can’t do anything effectively.
- Other physical signs. These can include headache, digestive issues, chest pains, lowered immunity and loss of appetite.
- Emotional signs. Signs of burnout can include anxiety, depression, irritability that escalates into anger, pessimism that escalates to cynicism and apathy.
Shift your focus
The problem with trying to increase productivity by managing your time is that your time is finite, so you will always run out. There really are just so many hours in a day. Energy, on the other hand, is renewable, which makes it an infinite resource.
You can increase your capacity to bring energy to the things you do, but it requires self-awareness. You must put yourself and your well-being first and be intentional about what you do. You can adopt habits that enable you to renew your energy. You can also identify energy-depleting behaviors and take responsibility for changing them.
Making these changes can be hard but keep reminding yourself that you don’t have to do it all today. Here’s a four-step plan to get you started:
- Write down all the activities in your daily routine that bring you energy. It could be when you’re laughing, dancing, exercising, spending time with some of your favorite people or out in nature — whatever matters to you. Keep this list and build on it. For now, choose one thing that feels manageable, no matter how small, and commit to adding it to your daily routine.
- Take 60 seconds and write down the things that drain your energy. It can be the complainers in your life, places that bring you down or activities that leave you feeling spent. Just make sure they are things you have the ability to control and limit. Pick one and make a commitment to remove it from your day.
- Think about where, when and how you can build renewal breaks into your day. Renewal breaks are opportunities to stop and recharge your energy. Don’t obsess over how busy your schedule is. Instead, remember that these breaks will help your brain work better, enhance your ability to think more creatively and boost your efficiency.
- Write down answer to these questions: Why is this four-step plan important to you? What difference will it make when you follow it? Remind yourself every day that this is what you committed yourself to doing. If you need accountability to keep you motivated, share your plan with a friend. Consider buddying up with someone who has committed to the same plan so that you can compare your experiences.
Tools to change your life
There are numerous tools you can use to shift your focus. "Planning for Self Care" is a seminar focusing on how managers, leaders and business owners can align optimum performance with employee health and wellbeing. You can also access free stress-busting resources from The HeartMath Institute.
Putting an emphasis on energy instead of time will help you bring engagement and your full self to everything you do. I know this from personal experience: Back in 2013 I was suffering from burnout myself and started a morning routine that included exercise and meditation. Building from this strong foundation, I found that making time for myself somehow amplified my time for everything else. By giving myself opportunities to restore my energy, I became more connected with work and better at handling challenges.
If you try this four-step plan, I promise that it will change your life, too.
Sarah Elliott, co-founder of Intend2Lead and founder of the Ellivate Alliance, author, speaker and instructor on coaching and leadership development and an advocate for women leaders. Recognized several times by the AICPA and CPA Practice Advisor as one of the Most Powerful Women in Accounting.