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Burnout Busters

Here are 10 ways to cope when work gets overwhelming.

By Mike Staver

If you look at the time-crunched, overbooked, technology-fueled frenzy that our work lives have become, it’s no wonder so many of us are on the verge of that 21st century malady: burnout. So what can you do to avoid careening into total meltdown? Here are 10 “burnout busters” that you can turn to when it all gets to be too much:

When you feel overwhelmed, go to lunch with friends or associates. Make it a point to not talk about business.

1. Start your day with powerful, high-energy music. Whether it’s rock or country or jazz or pop, listen to music that pumps you up and makes you feel great about yourself. Research has shown that people who use high-energy music to start their day and before they face challenging situations have increased productivity by as much as 200 percent. Your morning infusion of music creates a sense of positive energy and enthusiasm that will help you tackle any challenges you might encounter.

2. Set aside blocks of time to complete various tasks. During those blocks of time, do not allow yourself to be interrupted for other things. For example, you might set aside 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. for reading and responding to emails. Sure, you’ve heard about this technique—but have you really tried it? This will increase your efficiency and reduce the anxiety caused by trying to do 20 things at once.

3. Make “fix it, then forget it” your mistake mantra. Do not allow mistakes to ruin you. Do everything you can to fix a problem with a client or associate. After that, do not dwell on what went wrong. If you find yourself obsessing over something that went wrong in your life, remember this quote: “Do not blame yourself for past errors. You are no longer the same person who made them, and you cannot blame a person who does not exist.”

4. Get an accountability partner to help you stay focused. Ask someone other than your spouse or romantic partner to fill this role. Make sure it’s someone you trust and feel comfortable with to just be yourself. You should meet with this person at least once a week to talk about your goals, progress, setbacks and thoughts on your personal and professional life. Your accountability partner keeps you on track and moving forward in all aspects of your development. The discussions you share with this person will help you to look at things objectively, understand yourself better and be more well-rounded.

5. Use “comic memos” to ease anxiety at work. The comic memo technique involves attaching a funny cartoon to routine, boring paperwork that has to be distributed at the office. It’s just one way you can use humor to ease stress and bring mountains back down to molehills. You might also consider putting a “humor board” in your office where people can post cartoons, jokes or funny pictures—it’s a reminder to everyone that a hearty laugh is the best stress releaser of all.

6. Take a nonworking lunch now and then—with others or by yourself. When you feel overwhelmed, go to lunch with friends or associates. Make it a point to not talk about business. Talk about your hobbies, sports or whatever you enjoy. This gives you a release from the pressure cooker of stress. If you feel burned out on people, eat lunch by yourself a couple times a week. This gives you the chance to just enjoy quiet time and not have to talk if you do not feel like engaging in conversation. There can be tremendous power in silence.

Your accountability partner keeps you on track and moving forward in all aspects of your development.

7. Take a power nap. If you feel tired and unable to concentrate, a 15- or 20-minute nap will work wonders. First, elevate your feet. This will allow blood to more readily flow to your brain, increasing the oxygen levels you need to feel well-rested and alert. Second, set a “low-tech” alarm clock: hold a pen or a set of keys in one hand, keeping the arm holding the object slightly raised—but comfortable. When your body reaches a complete state of relaxation, your grip on the object will release, causing it to fall to the floor and startle you awake. These few minutes will give you almost the same benefit as a long, luxurious sleep. Amazing, but true.

8. Walk it off … exercise. Even if you do not have time to go to the gym, you can take a walk around the block a few times each evening or work out with a fitness video at home. Exercise makes you feel good about yourself, helps dissipate built-up stress and allows for more refreshing sleep. It takes discipline to work out on a regular basis, but the benefits far outweigh the little push it might take to get you going. (Consult your physician to find out what kind of exercise would be best for you.)

9. Take a vacation. Really! Even if you have to plan weeks or months ahead, make the effort to give yourself a break. Too many people believe that if they take a break, their jobs will leave them behind. The opposite is true. Ultimately, your job will overwhelm you not because you took a few days off, but because you burned yourself out so badly that you experienced an emotional meltdown. The most productive people take time to relax—guilt-free.

10. Practice saying no. When you are already booked or have all the commitments you can handle, say no to anyone who asks you to take on more work or social obligations. Spreading yourself too thin can lead to dangerous stress and anxiety.

Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Michael Staver is CEO of The Staver Group. Together with his colleagues, he provides keynote presentations, consulting programs, workshops and executive coaching sessions that help people lead with courage and authenticity. For more information, visit or call 904-321-0877.


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