Create New Habits to Prevent—and Bounce Back From—Burnout

Find your strategy for a sustainable work life.

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Many of us who have burned out didn’t see it coming. We’d tell ourselves lies like, “I am not the one that burns out,” or “It is just a lot right now; things will slow down soon.” But one day, something happens. You have been pushing yourself for a long time, and now the last bit pushes you over the limit. Everything just stops, your body takes control and puts your brain on “sleep mode”, telling you it is time to rest. Smaller tasks are now nearly impossible to complete. You are tired all the time, there can be a feeling a hopelessness, you don’t recognize yourself, what happened, I was just going the extra mile. 

In a way, with the new digital world we are in the middle of an industrial revolution. There are endless possibilities and the way we interact has radically changed. As humans, we are social animals, and we thrive on connection, sharing knowledge, being open for possibilities to prosper and avoiding risks to survive. The digital and connected world has pushed us into a new situation, what is good enough and when should we stop? Being connected 24-7, available all the time, how does that affect us as social animals? In one way it gives us all the possibilities in the world, but on the other side it might push all our inner social fears to the limit. Is the connected world a catalyst for the hidden fears within us? Belonging to the group, making the right choice, not upsetting anyone, afraid of being left out?

We are the first connected generation of humans in 200 000 years, we are designed for different times and our brain has not caught up yet how to handle the instant flow of information. Therefore, we need to help ourselves creating that rest for our minds, especially if you are a person that is taking in a lot of information, being the planner or a caretaker. We need to think ergonomically about our mind just like we have done with monotonous physical work and, we need to break the stigma surrounding mental illness. The challenge for the mind is not seen on the outside but if you run a marathon, you give yourself time to recover and it is accepted by society. The burnout challenge may not be visible, but we need to balance and rest from our mental marathons as well. 

By creating new routines and setting boundaries you can help ourselves finding the habits you need to keep balanced or finding a way back to yourself. Here are some strategies to give you space and time to recover, and plan for a sustainable work life. 

Set boundaries and create space for you to do your job:

  • Put me-time into your work calendar. While this sounds simple, it’s very important, because we know all-too often that if there’s a small hole in your calendar, someone will book a meeting. Put in an estimation of me-time you think is needed in the week for doing your work and have space for unexpected things. Even if you’re working remotely, it’s vital to find and control your own time.
  • Step outside of your home office. The world is opening back up, so find new spots—maybe a local café—where you can answer emails or put together a presentation. It feels good to spend time in another setting, and not be constantly interrupted by questions. Try to be creative, what is a good place for you to do a good job, what have you learned during the home office year? Find a place that suits both you and your employer. 
  • Set your boundaries and stop accepting things that you may have accepted before. We are not mind readers (yet), so speak up at work, let others know what you need to excel with your tasks and projects. Learn to say no if you are too busy. A “no” can open up for a discussion and priorities, what is most important right now. If you continue to accept all things and it will be to much in the end, you might not deliver with the quality you expected, and might get the questions, “why didn’t you say it was too much right now?”. Be kind to yourself, have you been adding on things for a long time without removing anything? Is the situation you are in now sustainable over time? What do you need to create a good dialogue with your employer?

Avoid distractions and keep your focus

  • Leave your phone in another room. In order to focus it is good to have your phone in another room, or at a distance so you can’t reach it. Having it close takes energy from you stopping yourself from picking it up. So, help yourself when you need to focus, put the phone away for a while. 
  • Shut off notifications, check your e-mails and messages when you have time to answer. Every time you get a notification or check your messages it distracts you and lose focus on what you were doing. The constantly re-starting what you were doing takes unnecessary energy. So, plan time for when you should be creative/productive and check your messages when you have time to answer. And of course, communicate how you work so your colleagues know what to expect. 
  • Plan transition time and allow yourself to shift focus between activities. Going between digital meetings, starting or leaving the home office day doesn’t give the normal break when you actually move between locations. If you are on the digital agenda most of the time, plan short breaks between the meetings and step away from the screen. When you are working from home, plan transition time before and after work helping yourself to adjust and digest the day.   

Re-charge – plan time and do things that you need to stay centered and balanced

  • Plan your routines and start exercising more. Before, movement came naturally when doing our work, now we need find new routines and creating healthy habits . The exercise gives you time for reflection, allowing thoughts to settle and it heals your brain. And keep in mind that it doesn’t need to be marathons or extreme sports, it is about movement, a walk, dancing, find what makes you feel good. 
  • Create space without distractions, use “sleep mode” on the phone. Put your smartphone away, you have heard it before, just do it. The phone can be addictive, has anything happened, you check it, and your mind spins away solving problems or finding information. Use the “sleep mode” on your phone helping you to schedule a time when you do not want to be disturbed. And if you have problem sleeping, avoid the phone the last hours before you go to sleep. 
  • Happy hour isn’t always happy. Don’t feel compelled to participate in voluntary Zoom (or in-person) evening activities. While they are fun, you need time for yourself. You may not have the energy, and that’s OK. When you’re constantly tired, it is also difficult for those around you. Instead of focusing on the activity that you’re missing, consider the energy you’ll have for future engagements.

To be there for your family, friends and colleagues in the long run you need to be there for yourself first. Create a sustainable work life and be conscious about how you react to the connected world. 

THOMAS ANDERSON is the author of The Vulnerable Man: Break Your Patterns. Master Your Emotions. Reclaim Your Life. He is a Swedish entrepreneur, change manager, inspirational speaker, and life coach. As a project manager, change manager, and management consultant, Anderson’s career has taken him to the United States, China, and many countries across Europe.

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