A young professional, Janice, was always one of my favorite mentees. I founder her optimism contagious. And whenever she saw a colleague in need, she’d be the first to offer assistance or spare some wise words of advice. She also always had a comforting anecdote to share whenever things seemed bleak. But then this year I noticed a shift in her normally upbeat personality.
“I’m pretty sure things won’t get better for a long time,” she said over coffee and croissants. It was this uncharacteristic cynicism that alerted me something was off.
At the time of our chat, we were seated in a beautiful café, surrounded by scrumptious sweets, and yet none of it seemed to lift her spirits.
I was familiar with this sort of sentiment and behavior. This is a textbook picture of how burnout sneaks up: I robs us of small joys, and only allows us see the negatives. I’ve been there and know just how easily it can be to get lost in its trenches. However, I’ve also learned that there’s a better way to find balance in our work and personal lives to protect ourselves from reaching that point. I’d like to share four strategies that have helped me combat overwork and reach a more harmonious way of living.
Ditch perfectionist tendencies
One of the first things I noticed about Janice when we first started meeting was that she was a full-blown perfectionist. For one, she was an eager mentee, always taking notes and going out of her way to ensure her projects were successful.
I admired her grit and determination, but taken to the extreme, I could also see the pitfalls. You see, I’m a recovering perfectionist, myself. And I know firsthand how this kind of mindset can hinder our progress.
Rehashing even the smallest errors and looking over everything with a magnifying glass might make us seem “meticulous,” but in reality, we’re playing the self-blame game. Because if we don’t get things just right, we start mentally berating ourselves—a surefire path to burnout.
Fast Company contributor, Tracy Brower, writes that in order to maintain balance, it’s imperative for us to keep perspective. “Give yourself some slack and don’t expect perfection. Maintain a sense of humor and remind yourself that you’re always learning, and you won’t always get it right.”
For me, focusing on my own personal development and continuous improvement—are what ended up helping me overcome these perfectionist tendencies.
Boost your confidence
Being insecure about our own abilities makes it easier for us to reach burnout because we’re constantly questioning every decision.
Here’s what I tell every mentee: We have to be okay with failing. But if we want to increase this feeling of psychological safety, it’s vital that we believe in our own capabilities.
Avoiding burnout episodes requires us to focus on the traits that have made us successful—like hard work, perseverance, and relentless effort. One of the suggestions I offered Janice was to keep a file on her desktop of all her past and present challenges and achievements. So that whenever she started fretting about the future, she’d have immediate proof of what she’s already overcome.
Recognize when you’re on the edge
The pandemic continues to shape work culture, and many people have gotten so used to juggling multiple tasks, both at work and at home, they struggle to see when they’re burning the candle at both ends.
In Janice’s case, she hadn’t noticed she was displaying some of the classic signs of burnout, which include: slowly becoming more cynical, lacking energy, and not feeling satisfied with one’s achievements. It wasn’t until I mentioned it to her over coffee that she started paying attention to her own needs.
Here’s are a few questions to ask yourself in order to know whether you’re reaching that point. First, are you managing excessive stress? And are you having trouble sleeping, and later feeling fatigued or irritable most of the day?
To get back into balance, we first need to take inventory of our physical and emotional wellbeing, and become intimately familiar with our limitations.
Practice ongoing mindfulness
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Spending too much time planning, problem-solving, daydreaming, or thinking negative or random thoughts can be draining. It can also make you more likely to experience stress, anxiety and symptoms of depression.”
I’m fortunate to have come across many tools that help me process the high demands of my work. Of course, mindfulness isn’t just a one-time exercise—it’s an ongoing practice where we focus on the present moment to relax our mind and body. Doing daily body scans and practicing yoga have been instrumental in helping me maintain my sense of awareness each day.
Overall, committing to unplugging for a specific time every day is one of the essential lessons I’ve learned as a leader for finding better balance and warding off the harmful effects of burnout.
I’m also a huge proponent of outdoor walking meditations. It’s one of the mindfulness practices I recommended to Janice that day. Taking time out and reconnecting with nature helps quiet our brain and engages our senses. In many ways, it brings us back to ourselves.
Aytekin Tank is the founder of Jotform, an online form builder.