Stress and burnout: Are you spreading yourself too thinly?

It really worries me when I see how many people are reporting stress, burnout and work-related depression and anxiety problems in their lives.

Work is an important part of life, and we all want to be productive and successful, but when we start to see serious mental and physical health ramifications it is time to stop and declare the current status as a serious issue.

Why do we do it?

If you ask people why they work so hard you usually see them pause for a moment. It’s not a question they’ve asked themselves, they just have this huge drive to work harder, faster and longer. Some will rationalise it by saying their career is important to them, or they’re trying to carve out a career. Others will mention income as a driver, or say that their job requires this level of input.

What I think people frequently forget is that there is a sense of fulfilment that comes with working hard. It’s a satisfaction that comes with achieving, building, creating and producing. Becoming mindful of this is really important, because most people that suffer burnout have long forgotten that they do it for satisfaction and fulfilment. Perhaps the job is too demanding, perhaps the boss you work with is just too much of a slave driver or perhaps that is the culture you work in – everyone does it.

Creativity, altruism, innovation and passion suffer with overload

The aspects of work that separate the worker bees from the really valuable lynchpins of an organisation are the very aspects of work that suffer with burnout and overload. Think about that for a moment – the unique qualities and contributions that you bring to your role and your organisation diminish significantly if you allow yourself to burn out. You have to be in charge of your workload, and actively push back when others try to overload you.

Time for yourself

The busy and burnt out people I know all have one thing in common: they have neglected themselves. That includes hobbies, seeing friends, learning, reading, travelling, exercising, healthy eating and new experiences. It is a stark correlation that should make everyone stop and question what they have done for themselves in the past week. If the answer is ‘nothing’ then I sincerely hope you schedule something in for yourself ASAP.

The activities that restore you are unique to you. Most will suggest going for a massage, or a coffee with friends – but you might get a lot out of video games or reading trashy magazines. Whatever it is, the emphasis is on restoring your energy and general joy for life. 

Doing more with less

There is a lot of busy work that gets done in the office, and a lot of time spent on activities that will ultimately bear little or no fruit. We get drawn into the email trap, politics and inefficient uses of time. If the Pareto rule holds true, then 80% of what you do is producing just 20% of your productive output. How can you reduce those activities to either give you more headspace or more time for the high yield activities that will really define your success in your role?

One crucial activity

So often when people are pulled in various directions they neglect the most crucial aspect of their job. It’s odd; the urgent, short-term activities get a lot of attention and bandwidth compared to that long-term important goal that should be the achievement you hang your hat on. 

The assertiveness and organisation required to push back against time-wasting or non-core activities that rob you of your time, energy and inspiration is hard to get right. Often it will involve upsetting people, but in the long run you achieve what you are supposed to achieve and can look back with satisfaction instead of regret.

Make a point – at least once a day to take a BIG picture view of your work goals for the day/week – a snapshot view. Then consider what is best for rest of the day.

And for those in Melbourne – how are you using this public holiday? A time to relax or are you working?

Eve Ash has a wide range of resources and books that can help people change their thinking and habits in a constructive way.


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