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3 questions to head-off burnouti

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 10:  A homeless man who ...
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Overtired and babbling like a three year old?

Have you every felt so tired that you know your performance is impaired and that you really should take a break?  I don’t mean go home at a reasonable time.  I mean take a very long holiday?

Of course many professions build breaks into their work cycles.  I remember reading the biography of the best published mathematician in the world.  He worked at Oxford and he took a holiday every vacation – 8 weeks on, 3 weeks off!  He thought 3 weeks was the minimum time on an active physical holiday to recharge.  During term time, he also went rock climbing every weekend from Saturday lunchtime to Sunday evening.  During the week, he got up early to work, as many creative people do, and found he had his best ideas on Monday.  If he had a good idea on Tuesday too, he took the rest of the week off!

Are you heading towards burnout?

Until today, I always thought burnout meant the feeling we get at the end of a work cycle – when we are really tired and need a break.  Or maybe, the feeling that we get when we didn’t get a natural break and we worked two terms back-to-back.

Today, I was lucky to meet psychologist, Jo Haworth (on the telephone).  Jo works out of Strixton about 10 miles north of where I live in Olney.  She is a clinical psychologist who works in the business sector. What she said about burnout amazed me.

Burnout before your eyes

Jo has clients who burnout spectacularly.  One day they find themselves staring at computer screen, maybe in a foreign country, and they have completely lost track of what they are doing on their task, in their career, and in their lives.  They find their way home and they realize they don’t know their neighbors.  They’ve lived in the corporate cocoon for so long, they don’t know how to use a washing machine!

I have found the same pattern with executives made redundant from leading companies.  One day they are “It”.  The next, in a stroke of a pen, they are jobless, and lifeless.  Their income is gone.  Their toys have gone.  Their status has gone.  The people who are hit worse have invested their life-and-soul in the company.  They belong to no clubs and have no life outside work.

Doing without burnout!

We can be amusing and concoct expressions like ‘from 9-6 my soul belongs to the company – but when I drive out that gate, my soul belongs to me’.   We can be serious and say leaders at work must be leaders in other spheres too – and check that our staff have a life.

To be practical, we need to take time out to monitor whether our work, or rather our employment, has a place in our lives.  Forget mincing expressions like work-life balance.  Do you have a life?  Can you answer that in the affirmative without the tell-tale language of a lie – some rapid blinking, some looking away, some touching of your mouth?  Can you walk away from you job tomorrow?  Or, is it your entire life?  When I ask you that simple question – do you have a life? – will your eyes shine or will they dull over?

3 basics for a good life

These are my suggestions.

At all times we should

  • be able to walk away and take a year off to do what we want to do
  • be able to support our partner if they want to take a year out and do what they want to do
  • have 3 alternative jobs lined up so we have enticing and exciting alternatives on a 360 degree horizon!

If you don’t have 2009 resolutions, let these be my gift to you.

It is quite extraordinary how people do live lives they want to live.  They aren’t selfish and they aren’t foolish.  I’ll wager people who ‘live a life they can call their own’ live, like corporate poet, David Whyte who in writing these words, do something of immense value for other people and are quite successful financially.

Some sales objections, hey?

I can’t do this during a recession, you say!  Of course, you can.  Deciding that employment will meet these criteria, even if you bring changes about slowly and incrementally, will encourage you to notice possibilities around you.  I don’t know what changes are possible, or which you will appreciate, but you do and the more you pay attention, the more you will see them.

Or you say, I can’t do this now because I have to work two jobs or spend 5 hours a day commuting on grubby trains in the UK.  Not easy I know. You have trouble remembering your own name under these conditions.  For you, I say, write on your mirror in bright red lipstick: I will find the life big enough for me to live.  Write on the front flap of your diary, “I will organize my affairs so I always have time and room in my life to explore, imagine, support others, and to move on to something more exciting and more adventurous”.  Then use the downtime while you commute to ponder these issues.  The ideas will come.  Believe me, they will come.  On the scale of living through chaos, I am likely to beat you hands-down!

So here’s to a life that is big enough to live!

Dr Srikumar Rao talking at Googletalk estimates no more than a year to reorganize your life without any abrupt moves.

Let me know how it goes?

And thanks to Jo Haworth for an instructive lesson.  I must stop confusing fatigue with burnout!

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Published in POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY, WELLBEING & POETRY

One Comment

  1. Hi,
    Thanks for such an insightful post. I have taken courage in both hands and will be working part time from next month and spend my free time volunteering – something I always wanted to do. Yes, I realised that I was feeling burnt out, pretty numb, unable to come up with interesting ideas and really cranky.
    I am sure I will learn and heal from volunteering and what I give will be a pittance to what I get in return.
    Have a nice weekend.
    PS: May I blogroll you to at least one of my blogs? I just removed googleadsense and had to redo the templates.
    Lubna

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