As October begins to come to a close, so does our “emotional and mental wellbeing at work” month- although let’s be honest, this is something we will continually focus on forever.
As I worked my way through a ton of articles about various workplace hazards, one thing was abundantly clear: we are so quick to feel guilty about carving out time for ourselves. Sleep and rest are the last things we tend to prioritize, and for a lot of Millenials, it’s become a source of bragging to talk about how little sleep we got last night or how much caffeine we need to get through the day. I am for sure guilty of this. The more I tend to suffer, the more superior I feel- what is UP with that!
With everything being so mobile and portable these days, it’s not uncommon for us to quite literally bring work home with us at the end of the day- or if you’re like me and work remotely, it can feel almost impossible to step away at all. Every Slack ping, email, or text feels like I should answer it immediately. I want my team to know they can rely on me, and I certainly don’t want them to think I’m lazy.
We are a society that rewards busyness, and because of that, “burn out” is rampant. This is NOT a new phenomenon. Burnt out is not unique to Millenials, it’s a tale as old as time- but what’s IS unique to this generation is that it’s now a diagnosable syndrome. Quite recently, the World Health Organization has recognized burnout as an occupational hazard. Doctors now look out for three key symptoms: fatigue and loss of energy, mental disconnection from work, decrease in productivity and effectiveness.
If you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself, don’t freak out- remember that it’s become normalized in our culture, and also, it’s possible to reign it in with a bit of mindfulness and self-awareness.
This is where I’d like to help out a bit. I want to spend this week focusing on ways to be mindful of what you need, giving tips for finding and dedicating time to yourself (spoiler alert: a bath with candles once a week isn’t enough) and (the big one) how to say “no” and not feel bad.
This is possibly the simplest solution, but the most difficult to commit to- we are addicted to our devices. That’s no secret. We feel a constant need always to be connected, and when we aren’t, we are anxious. What if someone needs to get a hold of me? What if there’s an emergency? What if I miss out on something???
There are some simple ways to disconnect (even just a little bit) that will hopefully not cause you to enter a full spiral. My most favorite is the mid-work day notification snooze. I tell everyone who could need something from me that I’m going into “do not disturb mode,” and I won’t see their pings for the next 2 or 3 hours. I ask them if they need anything from me before I go away, I wait 10 minutes for them to respond, make a cup of coffee, and then I put on my noise-canceling headphones, and I get to work. Is it too meta of me to tell you that’s what I’ve just done to meet my writing deadline for this blog?
When I have a productive few hours of work done, I feel so much relief and can leave work at the end of the day knowing I’ve put in my best effort.
Another thing I’ve started doing on Friday afternoons after I wrap up work is deleting all social media apps from my phone. I use social media a lot for my job (and I know a lot of you do too), and my weekly screen time reports are shocking. I find doing a weekend detox from social media is great for my sanity and allows me to start my week feeling refreshed. When Instagram isn’t on my phone, I’m much more likely to pick up a book, or go for a walk or ask someone out for coffee then I am when it’s on my phone, and I lose all sense of time and space when I go down a rabbit hole of scrolling.
I also recommend doing a full tech blackout for at least five consecutive days a year, if possible. This one is a bit of a big ask and can take some planning, but this sort of commitment to yourself will be worth it, trust me.
2- Cut Back The Hours
Are you working 50-60 hours a week? Yeah, that has got to stop.
Are you ready for some disturbing news? A UK study found that the average office employee is only productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes out of the entire workday. Should I repeat that?
Two hours and 53 minutes of out the ENTIRE DAY.
As if that weren’t bad enough, research has shown that jobs with overtime schedules are associated with a 61% increase in the risk of injury; and long periods of sitting in office chairs are as potentially detrimental to workers’ health (which we’ve covered in every other blog post we’ve ever written)
Working longer hours means you have less downtime to recharge correctly, so you might want to rethink staying late at the office, clocking a double shift every so often, or giving up your weekends to try to get more done… the truth is, you’re probably not getting that much done, and the sacrifice is greater than the reward.
Examine where you can cut back on your time spent at work—particularly during your most unproductive hours. If your workplace doesn't allow it, you might want to consider working somewhere that will.
3- Separate from Negative Energy.
Negative energy can be found almost everywhere. People are always complaining about life, practicing bad habits and bringing you down. We don’t need those bad vibes! It can be hard to remove yourself from a source of negative energy in your workplace, whether it be a patronizing boss or a group (or singular person) who brings the energy down. It’s crucial that you set boundaries and find critical ways to keep your energy light and positive.
It’s super cheesy to say, but there is an immense amount of power in positive thinking. It’s not always easy, but it’s important to commit to it.
If there’s a crew of Negative Nancy’s that are trying to suck you into their group of black cloud thinkers find ways to set boundaries- maybe start going to the gym on your lunch break, or finding other excuses for keeping your distance. (ps. exercise is a great way to increase your happiness by releasing endorphins)
Look toward the most positive and trustworthy people at your workplace and work toward building relationships with them. Even if you don’t work directly with them, having them there can help increase your sense of connection and belonging.
Finally, avoid taking work issues home with you. Instead of venting to your partner or friends about a problem going on at work, focus on letting it go by doing things that take your mind off of it, lift you, and remind you of what you’re grateful for in life.
4- Prioritize Tasks
We probably don’t need to say it- but we will anyway…. There are only so many hours in a day. You are not superhuman, and no one should require you to be. We get that there’s a lot to get done- we are a three-person team, but the key to getting the most out of your working hours is to prioritize what needs to be done right now.
Not everything needs to get done today or even this week. If you take everything that on your plate and carve out a specific (reasonable) schedule to get it all done in, and you stick to it, you are going to feel productive, happy and probably find that you have more time than you thought. If we’re always getting distracted by all the shiny objects, we won’t end up achieving as much as we would if were to focus on one thing at a time.
5- Feeling Stuck
It can be so frustrating and demoralizing to be in a position where you don’t feel like you’re moving forward. The “dead-end job” is a real thing and can have a major effect on your motivation. If you’re not learning anymore and are doing the same mundane thing, day in and day out, you’ll start caring less and less and eventually burn yourself out.
Even if there’s no higher position to work toward, you can still find new and meaningful ways to learn and challenge yourself. If you’re not sure how try talking to your boss or colleagues about shaking up your workflow.
If a significant change at work can’t happen, consider doing the best you can with what you’ve got, while focusing your efforts on learning and being challenged outside of work. Get back to an old hobby, start a new side hustle, or join a club to help balance those tedious workdays or shifts.
6- Self Care… every day.
Self-care has become a real instagrammable buzz word lately, and although we appreciate the sentiment, we are concerned that it’s not being practiced properly. Although we live for a good weeknight bath and facemask, self-care is so much than that.
Self-care first requires you to do some major reflection to find out what you need- and true, it could be a bath, but often it’s so much more than that. For incessant overachievers, this usually means listening to your body. Do you need a couple more hours of sleep? Do you maybe need to skip the gym today? Do you need a good meal?
What self-care is NOT is working for 30 days straight and then burning out and crashing and binge-watching Netflix on the couch wrapped in a blanket for three days. Self-care is creating a sustainable routine that balances your workload, your personal life, your passion projects, and maybe even still leaves time for the occasional Netflix binge. Self-care means scheduling the time to see a therapist or taking the time to get the massage you desperately need for your tight back muscles (from working so much!!). Self-care means taking the time to go through the grocery store and pick out fresh ingredients and cooking yourself a nutritious meal at home and not checking your phone the whole time.
Self-care means taking time, dedicating it yourself, and giving in to your needs.
7- Watch out for “shoulds."
How many times are you asked to do something, and your first reaction is:
And then you pause and double back and reason/fight with yourself to take on the extra responsibility because you “should”?
How many times have you listened to your gut reaction of “No! I can’t! I don’t have time! I don’t want to!”?
Have you EVER? Hmm…. interesting….
I have a confession to make. I’ve just said “no” for the first time in my life this week. Someone asked me to partake in a project, and I didn’t want to. I fought with myself about it for a long time. I should do it. It’s an excellent opportunity. It’s for a friend. Blah, blah, blah- the reasons went on and on. The one thing I couldn’t deny was that I didn’t have the time. I mean, I could have had the time if I cut back on how much I slept- if I carved off an hour or so of sleep a night, I could get that project done, but I’m at the point where I don’t want to sacrifice my health and well being anymore.
And let me tell you- saying no felt good. Actually, it felt GREAT. I felt in control of my time and my life, and I haven’t regretted it for even a moment.
I challenge you to say no the next time you’re asked to do something you don’t want to do it. You may end up feeling SUPER empowered like me!
The conclusion is this: Burnout is more than a buzzword, and it’s something we are all at risk of. It can be incredibly detrimental to our quality of lives, but the good news is we have a lot of control over it. We can put an end to it before it hits us because it’s one of the few workplace hazards we can see coming- if we are mindful.
If you’re feeling fatigued, impatient, or unmotivated at work, it’s time for a change. It’s time to do some significant self-reflection and being honest with yourself; what is it that you want right now at this moment? What is standing in your way to give it to yourself? What small changes can you make that will allow you to get what you need to be happy?
We have one life, and we are living it now, there is no reason for us to be overworked, underappreciated, and overwhelmed. Lets clear some space for ourselves. Let’s put ourselves first (even just a little bit) each day. Let’s stop rewarding busyness and start rewarding smart and efficient workflows and balanced lifestyles.