Everyone has a fire under his or her feet. But after years of burning, it can go out—just like that.
It’s not just the stress of missed deadlines. It’s not the anxiety that comes with frequent 60-hour workweeks, either. Burnout, specifically of the office-related variety, is veritable medical condition. According to research from the Department of Women’s and Children’s Health at the Karolinska Institutet, in Stockholm, the brains of people who experience burnout undergo physical, structural changes. (Yes, overworking yourself can cause your most essential organ to tangibly transform.) What’s more, office burnout also has myriad other negative side effects, including increased stress, anxiety, and depression, and decreased energy, happiness, and productivity.
In short, office burnout is bad.
Thankfully, it’s not impossible to tone office burnout down, or even overcome it entirely. If you feel the weight of the grind on your shoulders, take a step back. Analyze your habits. And then adopt some new ones—specifically, the 25 outlined here. Each of them are expert-backed and proven to mitigate feelings of burnout, whether that proverbial fire under your feet is still smoldering or gone-extinguished long ago. And for tricks on actually sticking to these tactics, learn the 40 Ways to Develop New Habits After 40.
Get out of Dodge.
“Take a vacation” ranks among the most-cited methods for conquering office burnout. And for good reason: it works. Going on a vacation has been proven to be rejuvenating in every capacity. It reduces stress, boosts mood, and, according to new research out of Northwestern University, amplifies your creative process, meaning you’ll be an even better employee when you get back to your desk. For more reasons (not that you need any convincing) on why you should book a trip, stat, check out the 35 Best Reasons to Take a Vacation—Immediately.
Take back your Mondays and Fridays.
According to the U.S. Travel Association’s Project: Time Off, more than half of all Americans are leaving some or all of their vacation days on the table. As the organization’s annual report revealed, workers are hesitant to take off extended periods of time for, among many reasons, the fear that they’ll be replaced, or that workload will pile up to unmanageable levels upon return.
Thankfully, you can use all of your vacation days without having to stress about such concerns. The win-win solution: take a bunch of long weekends throughout the year. In fact, as social psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson, told the Harvard Business Review, “you get a much better [rejuvenating] benefit from regularly taking three- and four-day weekends.”
Don’t skip summer Fridays.
It’s a good bet your company offers some variation of so-called summer Fridays, especially if you work in a perk-heavy industry, like tech or marketing. In fact, according to the Society for Human Resources Management, more than 40 percent of employers offer the ne plus ultra of summer Fridays: four-day workweeks from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Policies differ by company, of course—yours may only allow two or three, to be used at your discretion, for instance—so double check on what your company’s policy is. And then take those days off. And if you want even more time off, learn the Secret Trick That Leads to More Vacation Days at Work.
Make your schedule busier.
It may seem counterintuitive to add yet another thing to an already jam-packed schedule. But, according to consultant James Sudakow, who specializes in “[improving] business results through people,” taking on just one more activity can boost energy and mitigate feelings of burnout. The crux: it has to be personal, like a weekly guitar lesson, or a Friday morning bike ride.
Start each day with a jog, not a sprint.
In the same way that you need to warmup before a workout, you need to rev your brain before tackling energy-draining tasks. Start your day with some low-impact work—delegating, setting up meetings, responding to emails, that sort of thing—before moving on to the stuff that requires serious brainpower.
Then treat your day like a HIIT routine.
Then, once you’re all warmed up, model your day on the most effective muscle-building, fat-incinerating workout of them all: high-intensity interval training. The Pomodoro Technique is good example of how to port the technique from the gym to the office. Here’s how it goes: Work diligently for 25 minutes, pause, loaf around for 5 minutes, and repeat. On the fourth cycle, stop and laze for fifteen minutes. It’s the ideal mix of productivity and mental idleness. And for more amazing time hacks, learn the 60 Ways to Buy an Extra 60 Minutes Every Day.
Head to the stairs.
A lot of burnout stems from depreciating energy levels. If you’re among the approximately 99.9999 percent of Americans who experience a precipitous drop of stamina around 2:30 p.m., walk up and down the stairs for a few minutes. Researchers from the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Georgia found that it grants a similar energy boost to what you’ll get from a cup of coffee—but without any of the heart-harming side effects.
Nap like a cat.
Think of a catnap like the restart button on your computer. After the reboot, every function works a little smoother and a little faster. If you’re able to do so, steal a moment in the afternoon for a nap. The positive side effects—from improved mood to instantly honed mental acuity—have been well-documented by the scientific community. However, if you drift into an R.E.M. state, you’ll actually incur an adverse effect, so cut off your nap at 20 minutes, max.
Set email-responding times.
And don’t respond to message outside the timeframes you set. Much burnout stems from the fact that many salaried office workers these days are on the clock 24/7/365. By sticking to a strict email schedule, you won’t suffer the stress—and affiliated burnout—that comes from frequent off-hours communiques. For more ways to make the most of the one service we’re all glued to, master the 17 Genius Email Hacks That Will Improve Your Life.
Turn off your mobile notifications.
Just like the 11:39 p.m. email can get a response in the morning, the mid-lunch one can wait 30 minutes. But more than just mobile email, for a true reprieve, be sure to turn off notifications for all of your work-affiliated apps—from Google Drive all the way to whatever instant messaging service your office is tethered to.
Set “avoidance goals.”
Basically, when you’re off the clock, don’t work. Remember: You Time is you time. A good way to make sure it stays that way is to treat it like a task. On your to-do list—if you have one—make “don’t check email” an item. Then, when you successfully accomplish nothing, you’ll get a similar endorphin rush to the one you get when you accomplish something, meaning you’ll stick to it. Psychologists call this an avoidance goal.
Set “approach goals.”
On the other hand, some productivity experts swear by the opposite: approach goals, or something to look forward to. For instance, scheduling a dinner with friends gives you something to look forward to and strive for at the end of the day. Or a little weekend getaway accomplishes the same result on a macro (weekly) basis. Both are surefire ways to distract yourself from office burnout. Plus, research out of the University of Rochester revealed that approach goals grant a greater mood boost than avoidance goals.
Shoot for a promotion.
Avoidance goals and approach goals will only mitigate office burnout so much, though. For best results, stick to just good old-fashioned goals. One good one: aim for a promotion. Knowing there could be a change—to responsibilities, to salary—will help keep you chugging along through the day-to-day. For tips on landing that next step, learn the 20 Ways Emotional Intelligence Can Help You Get a Promotion.
Or, at the very least, a raise.
If you’re not at a spot to ascend a whole rung up the career ladder, a raise on the horizon can serve the same motivational factor. For tips on landing one, This Is Exactly How to Ask for a Raise.
Restructure your hours.
Many of us have been stuck in the same 9-to-5 (or 10-to-6) schedule structure for years. This can get monotonous—and that monotony can lead to debilitating feelings of office burnout. If your higher-ups are okay with it, play around with your schedule. Maybe 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. is more your speed, for instance. Or maybe 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. with an extended to lunch is ideal. Play around with it.
Restructure your days.
Likewise, you can break free from the monotony by making changes to the standard Monday-to-Friday workweek. As a full-time salaried employee, you should still shoot for a 40-hour week. But maybe that takes form as a Tuesday to Saturday structure, or perhaps as three 12-hour days followed by a 4-hour one. Again: whatever works for y0u (and your boss).
Don’t waste your off-time.
When you get home from work, it’s nice to kick your feet up and watch endless sitcom reruns on Netflix. But, according to Halvorson, doing something more mentally taxing is better for combatting burnout—so long as it’s something you’re interested in. Our recommendation? Take the time to learn a new language.
Few things spike your overall levels of energy and enthusiasm than missing out on sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends, contrary to the colloquial belief of “eight hours,” that grown adults get about seven hours of restful sleep each night. Do so, and you’ll see your mood skyrocket no matter what’s in front of you—even if it’s a sky-high pile of work.
Reduce your workload.
Yes, it may seem obvious, but slashing that sky-high pile is among the best steps you can take for conquering office burnout. According to the Association of Psychological Science (APS), there are six key factors that lead to burnout. The top one? Workload. (The other five: control, reward, community, fairness, and values.) If you’re able to, you should see about reducing the amount of stuff on your plate.
Start by having an honest conversation with your boss. Nine times out of ten, they’ll want you at maximum efficiency (so: minimum risk of burning out) and will do everything in their power to accommodate. Then, work on turning down additional assignments when you feel your to-do list swelling to Hulk-sized levels in the future.
By fostering a community of like-minded peers—people in your company with similar skills and responsibilities, at similar points on the corporate ladder, who are likely experiencing just as much burnout as you—you’ll have a group to commiserate with. According to a report in Scientific American, such commiseration is an effective way at mitigating your own burnout. By knowing that others are in the same boat as you, you’ll feel better about your own problems. Go out for a group lunch. Schedule a happy hour.
It only takes 10 minutes. It can help lower your blood pressure, slash your stress, and dial back your anxiety. And, according to recent research in JAMA Internal Medicine, it can even help you sleep like an angel—which, again, is a proven method for dialing back any feelings of burnout.
Play a “what if” game.
Visualize leaving your job, what life would look like if you suddenly stopped showing up to the office (and socializing with those newfound friends). If that makes you upset, well… Let’s just say that burnout might not be the worst thing in the world.
Undertake a passion project.
At Google, arguably the world’s most innovative corporation, there’s a so-called “20 percent rule.” It’s company policy, and, in short, it dictates that an entire fifth of an employee’s working hours should be dedicated to pursuing passion projects. (It’s not just for employees, by the way. Some of Google’s most groundbreaking innovations, like Gmail and Google Maps, were designed as a result of this policy.) With this policy in place, workers have some significant control over their work environment.
Update your LinkedIn profile.
And then touch up your résumé. If nothing else works, it may be time to get back on the market.
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