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Five ways to avoid burnout at work from someone who’s been there

Dominic Powell /

Whilst a strive to increase productivity and efficiency can do wonders for your business, failing to recognise the negative effects overwork can have on your physical and mental wellbeing is a dangerous trap to fall into.

Known as burnout, this psychological condition is generally associated with a lack of motivation, exhaustion, frustration, and a lack of efficacy in your work.

An ex-Google product manager recently took to LinkedIn to share his experiences dealing with burnout, recounting how his drive to rise up the ranks at the search giant landed him in hospital.

Read more: Three ways for entrepreneurs to prevent burnout and switch off

Tomasz Tunguz knew Google promoted workers quickly, and after joining the company in 2005, he set a goal of achieving rapid promotion, no matter the cost.

Tunguz began taking on extra work. First a project here or there, but soon the work snowballed, and he found himself staying up later, and often working Saturdays and Sundays.

“Pretty soon, the extra work began to consume a lot more time. I began to sleep less, going to bed on consistently after midnight, sometimes sleeping only a few hours,” Tunguz wrote.

“I doubled down on productivity tools looking to do more in less time. I began to focus on reducing interruptions and tallied each time someone interrupted me.”

On Christmas Eve in 2005, Tunguz was admitted to the emergency room with bacterial pneumonia. Those around him, including his family and manager, all told him his lifestyle was unsustainable.

Now a venture capitalist, Tunguz says he has learnt five key things about avoiding burnout.

1. Set boundaries

For Tunguz, enforcing strict rules about the time he spends at work, sleeping, and with his family helps keep him from burning out.

“Work time, sleep time, family time, you time. If I don’t set them properly, things get unbalanced very quickly,” he says.

2. Do the important things well

The age-old adage of “quality over quantity” holds true, according to Tunguz.

“Being productive isn’t about doing more and more in the same amount of time,” he says.

“It’s about doing only the most important things well. And either saying no to the other things or finding another way for them to get done.”

3. Stop sprinting, start jogging

“I can’t win a marathon by thinking of it as 26-mile long sprints, or a week as 5 day-long sprints,” Tunguz says.

4. Listen to others

The next time a friend or family member asks if you’re sleeping or eating well, stop and consider it, says Tunguz. An external view can help you find your work-life balance.

“Loved ones are good judges of when things are in and out of balance, and in my case, my wife helped me find more balance,” he says.

5. Take time off

“Taking time off is essential. Vacations, yes, but also nights and weekends,” Tunguz writes.

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Dominic Powell

Dominic is the former features and profiles editor at SmartCompany.

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