By Kerstin Woods
We are all prone to burnout from time-to-time, no matter how busy we are. Unfortunately, COVID has made burnout even more commonplace as we struggle to balance our normal work demands with a heathy dose of new challenges and uncertainty. These additional stressors can make what used to feel manageable now feel overwhelming.
It may seem simple, but the easiest way to feel in control of the chaos is to start with a plan.
As the Cheshire Cat alluded to in Alice in Wonderland, “if you don’t know where you want to go, then it doesn’t matter which path you take”. A surefire way to burnout is to wander through your workday without a path, plan or purpose. You spend energy in the wrong spots, lose the valuable sense of accomplishment and your days blur together on a meandering path to nowhere, which is why you need a plan.
Good news is that a plan can be a simple as a To-Do List to help you keep organized and on task, and nothing feels better than checking something off the list as you get that rush of accomplishment. (No joke, our brains release dopamine when we accomplish goals, no matter how small!)
I like to physically write down my to do list each week – yes, actual pen and paper, not electronic – but do whatever works for you. I recommend you actually make three lists based on high/medium/low priority. This makes the list less intimidating as a whole, and helps you keep focused on the higher priorities.
Several members of my team build theirs in an online tool and we’re able to share them and track them as a team that way, I love that.
Then, I recommend that you jot down a quick estimate of how long you think each item will take. Just a SWAG, not a calculation. This will help you organize when you tackle certain tasks.
For example, if you only have 30 minutes between meetings, it might make more sense to accomplish something on your list that can be done in that timeframe, instead of making a small amount of progress on a task that needs more dedicated time.
It’s easy to get lost in the minor tasks and have nothing “real” accomplished at the end of the day and this helps you avoid that feeling. Again, we need that sense of accomplishment.
Also, don’t save the hard stuff for the end. When we are burnt out, our tendency is to leave the hard projects or problems for the end of the day. It logically doesn’t make sense to do the hard stuff when you’re under time pressure or not at your peak; that’s a recipe for burnout for sure, and probably leads to important tasks that just keep getting pushed day-after-day.
Preventing burnout is possible, it just takes a little bit of intentional effort (gasp!). Planning is a great place to start.
Read here for 5 additional tips for preventing burnout. These are easy suggestions I offer to help you manage your work week in a way that makes burnout easier to avoid.