Running from Burnout

Five years ago I burned out spectacularly. It was emotionally overwhelming and it’s all-consuming nature made me useless at work. Since then I’ve guarded my life aggressively to ensure it never happens again. These are the things that have helped:

Exercise and meditation
These two activities have changed my life dramatically. I have reserves of energy, can focus my attention deliberately, and eliminated all physical aches. After the first couple of months of regular activity, my body started to crave exercise, and it became easier and easier to stick to.

Create some boundaries
I have removed work-related apps from my phone and I don’t have access to my e-mail either. All notifications (not just work) are turned off. I can choose where I focus my attention and when, leaving me with ample quality time for my friends and family. I leave my phone and other electronic devices outside of my bedroom while I sleep to avoid checking them and disrupting my sleep.

I also refuse to have lunch meetings, work from home once a week, and never attend more than one networking event per month. These last three rules are to protect my introversion. Mileage may vary for you.

Write down your priorities
At the start of every quarter, I write three priorities or projects that I want to deliver on. I use these as my work values and prioritize any requests at work against them. I aggressively say no to things that are far outside of these priorities. You can’t get anything done if you’re trying to be everything to everyone.

Schedule incubation time
Blocks of time in my calendar are scheduled for thought incubation. When you’re busy reacting all the time, you stress yourself out unnecessarily. Making time to escape mentally and letting my thoughts rest made me more creative. My brain draws connections only when there’s room.

Create feedback loops
Lack of progress, or a feeling of lack of progress, can be one of the leading factors to burnout. When a project never feels finished, despair can set in pretty easily. I set daily goals that I know I can achieve. Structuring frequent feedback loops is a great motivator and can help encourage more positive thoughts.

Talk to someone
I’ve found a few people at work who are my peer support for my harder days. They need not be overly positive or negative, rather, an active listener. If either extremes are happening within this relationship, find someone else.

Do something else
Hiking was the last step in ensuring my long-term mental health. Finding something else outside of my job which I look forward to helps give me perspective on the difficulties and keeps me feeling positive. It’s important to not confuse who you are with your job… this leads to misplaced internalization.

Preventive measures are the best solution for burnout but don’t be hard on yourself… it’s also not always all your fault. Tech does not have the best reputation for quality work cultures and management can also fail you in this regard. Stay diligent and protect yourself.

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