Do you feel like you are ineffective at work? Perpetually spinning your wheels or constantly operating in “the grind” without seeing the fruits or results you hoped for? Frustrated, fatigued, and impatient? You may be suffering from burnout.
While long-term burnout is a real issue that requires larger-scale solutions (such as a career change), for those experiencing burnout early on in their careers there are often small steps you can take to mitigate the effects of wearing down.
Step 1: Identify the causes
It is important to find clarity as to the root causes of feeling burned out. It can be easy to point to the external and systemic factors, such as poor supervisors or organizational management (and these might very well be a source of your burnout). Often, however, our burnout can be of our own making or arise from other contexts:
- Am I feeling impatient because of problems in my personal life?
- Have I made a habit of engaging in restorative practices?
- Have I been needlessly “burning the candle at both ends” non-stop, without periods of rest and recovery?
- Have I taken any vacation time in the past year, even simply to take a day off and stay at home?
If your answer for any of these is “yes,” it might be time to connect the dots and recognize the effects these factors might be having on your performance, happiness, and well-being.
Step 2: Learn to Prioritize
During my own periods of burnout, I have often found that part of the problem has been a failure to prioritize, or forgetting my large- and small-scale priorities. When I fail to prioritize, everything feels like a priority and takes on a sense of urgency that may not be warranted.
In order to be effective, priorities need to be thought through on a macro- as well as a micro-level. Some examples of macro-level priorities that deserve serious consideration:
- At this point in my life do I want to prioritize my career aspirations?
- Or do I feel called to give more attention to my relationships and social life?
- Am I preparing to begin a marriage or family?
- Do I have an ill family member that needs my attention?
Micro-level priorities, on the other hand, include your day-to-day tasks and projects. Take a look at your daily workload, longer-term projects and goals, etc., and begin to prioritize what truly needs your attention and energy; what you would like to put more energy toward when you are able; and what can or needs to be put on the “back burner” for the time being.
If you’re stuck, reach out to a supervisor or coworker to help think through what your priorities should be. A good manager can help provide clarity to your priorities. A poor manager acts as though everything is a priority.
Once you have identified and made peace with your priorities, it’s time to ask yourself: Do my work habits reflect these priorities?
Step 3: Start and end the work day in the right way
Admittedly, you may have limited control over your workflow and tasks for any given day. Many of us, however, have more control over how we divide up our time than we might think.
To the extent possible, structure your time so that you start and end the day on a task or project that is life-giving, meaningful, or energizing. This isn’t always possible, but implementing this practice as often as you are able can make a tremendous difference in how you view your work.
Step 4: Gratitude
For me, this is the most important step. My feelings of burnout often correspond to periods where I have neglected to practice gratitude and recognize the many blessings in my personal and professional life.
Some people find that a daily gratitude journal can be a helpful place to start. I have also found that taking time throughout my day to simply stop and thank God for all of the things I appreciate about my work has been a life-changing practice.
One of my favorite saints, Blessed Basil Moreau, often liked to quote one of the Church fathers on gratitude: “Ingratitude is like a scorching wind which dries up the rivers of grace.” I have often been surprised by the effect that simply sprinkling moments of intentional gratitude throughout my day can have on my professional life.
Step 5: Seek out additional resources and support
In order to have a lasting impact, these practices need to be supported by intentional regularity (a prayer practice can help here) and even the support of other people through counseling, spiritual direction, and friendship.
While there are many resources out there for changing work habits, reordering priorities, and addressing signs of burnout, here are just a few books that I have found helpful.
- Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
- Matthew Kelly, Off-Balance: Getting Beyond the Work-Life Balance Myth to Personal and Professional Satisfaction
- Morten T. Hansen, Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More
- David Brooks, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life
Step 6: Reevaluate
At the end of the day, implementing simple practices (these or others) can have a big impact on feelings of burnout. The final step is to periodically stop and reevaluate, and to restart the process of identifying sources of burnout as necessary.
If you are still experiencing signs of burnout over a long period of time after making changes to your work habits, practicing gratitude regularly, and implementing the support systems you need, it may be time to consider other factors that may be wearing you down. Attending to these dynamics in your life is a way to pay attention to God’s voice, which is always calling us to peace.