We’ve all had those days, oftentimes right after a sleepless night. Meetings seem to drag on for an eternity, while our to-do list just keeps getting longer. A simple email to a colleague or client becomes an insurmountable obstacle. Our plan to hit the gym at lunchtime never gets off the ground. In our scramble to get ahead, we often feel like we’re just falling farther behind. This feeling isn’t uncommon, and many even consider it normal.
But that doesn’t mean it’s good.
If you’re experiencing these days consistently, you’re probably heading toward burnout.
Professional burnout is typically caused by the gradual accumulation of work-related stress, and it’s one of the biggest drivers — if not the biggest — of employee turnover. While burnout looks different for everyone, there’s one commonality: It can lead to serious physical and mental illnesses.
Fortunately, no matter how busy you think you are, there are ways to prevent and overcome the mind-numbing stress and anxiety associated with burnout at work. Establishing a healthy routine might be the most important of all of these. It may seem paradoxical at first, but doing the same thing repeatedly each day can actually help you avoid burnout (as long as it’s the right thing). Here are 10 daily routines that may be your secret to successfully preventing or coping with burnout.
1. Start your day the night before.
You don’t have to plan each minute of the day ahead, but writing down tomorrow’s top two or three priorities can help you relax and set you up to get a better night’s sleep. Instead of spending those precious hours in bed thinking about everything you have to do when you wake up (and never actually falling asleep), you can rest easy knowing that your most pressing tasks are all accounted for on your list. And in the morning, you’ll be able to dive right into your day without taking time to assess your priorities — which can be a difficult task to tackle before your coffee does its work.
2. Don’t hit the snooze button.
If you snooze, you lose — and that’s according to science. When you drag out the waking process, you’re more likely to doze off at the beginning of a sleep cycle, just as the hormones that encourage deep sleep are kicking in. Waking up at the beginning of this cycle can leave you feeling groggy for the rest of the day. Quick tip: If you use your smartphone as your alarm, you can typically turn off the snooze option when you set your wake-up time.
3. Carve out time to be alone.
Dr. Nick Zyrowski, founder of NuVision Health Center, says the half-hour after waking up is critical to his professional productivity and overall sense of well-being. “I wake up at 6:30 a.m. and have at least 30 minutes of peaceful solitude with no distraction,” he says. Follow Zyrowski’s lead and use that alone time to pursue a positive mental state via meditation, reading, goal setting and/or prayer. Thirty minutes a day is optimal, but even 15 minutes will work. If you have kids, maybe that 15 minutes comes right after you drop them off for school, or maybe it’s taking a walk around the neighborhood when you get home from work. Bottom line: Find the time.
4. Be thankful for something.
Practicing and expressing gratitude can be as simple as making a list of things you’re thankful for each day, but the benefits can be transformative. Evidence shows that keeping a gratitude journal can reduce feelings of envy and depression (which can occur when you feel burned out), and it can even make connecting with others easier.
5. Think differently about exercise.
Research suggests that physical activity can aid in your attempt to prevent burnout. You don’t need to spend hours in the gym every day to achieve real benefits from exercise. In fact, you don’t even need to step foot in a gym, although some people find a monthly membership payment provides a little extra motivation to work out. While making time for a longer workout is beneficial, if you’re crunched for time, skip the crunches and opt for a few minutes of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Yes, literally a few minutes per day is all the time you need to experience the benefits from exercise.
6. Pack your lunch.
Nathan Sheets, founder and CEO at Nature Nate’s Honey Co., knows how connected diet is to overall health, a lesson that was brought home to him when his dad underwent quadruple bypass surgery. “Eating healthy, nutritious foods impacts how your body feels and keeps your mind fresh, which contribute to whether or not you’re able to perform at your best during the workday,” says Sheets. Take control of your energy and motivation levels by taking control of what you eat. The best way to do that is by planning your meals in advance. Bring snacks that you can nibble on throughout the day, and you’ll find yourself more focused on work and less focused on food.
7. Take periodic breaks.
Psychologists and productivity experts generally agree that the best way to “work smarter, not harder” is to work in relatively short intervals followed by quick breaks that allow you to mentally reset. This is the strategy behind the popular Pomodoro Technique and other approaches that can put you in the best position to get work done.
8. Drink more water.
Opinions vary on how much water the average adult should consume each day, but if you’re like most people, you’re probably not drinking enough. Unfortunately, dehydration can lead to everything from headaches to chronic illness, and the cups of coffee, tea and other (generally caffeinated) beverages we consume at work don’t help prevent it. If you’re not feeling your best physically, you can be more prone to burnout. Fortunately, apps such as Aloe Bud and Aqualert will send you reminders to drink water throughout the day.
9. Stop work at the same time each day.
Even if you like to work, placing an equal importance on the time you spend not working will help you avoid burnout. You can only start a helpful new routine if, at some point during the day, you stop working. Try to make this approximately the same time each day, and you’ll find it much easier to stick with a routine that allows time to implement new healthy habits. After all, consistency is key to habit formation.
10. Rely on your tribe.
It’s often the case that people tie their sense of self-worth to their perceived value to colleagues or employers. Leadership coach Lenore Champagne Beirne encourages individuals suffering from burnout to find a support system made up of people who value them regardless of the results they produce at work. Getting the type of support you need is the first step, but you can’t be afraid to use it. “Whether it’s sharing a couch with a friend while you watch TV or something more formal,” she says, “support is a major key to overcoming burnout.” Especially if you’re an entrepreneur working alone, having a support system in place is critical to your success.