If you spread yourself too thin, eventually you’ll buckle under the weight of everything you’ve taken on. Fortunately, there are proactive measures you can take to prevent burnout and help ensure it doesn’t get to that point.
A quick note: If you’re struggling with burnout, know that you are not the first person to be where you are and to struggle. It’s okay to ask for help. I’ve linked to some resources below that might help.
Burnout is a buildup of chronic stress that hasn’t been successfully managed. It’s when you’re so swamped with things to do and you just can’t shake feeling exhausted by it.
We’re not always conscious of burnout until it hits and we crash. And that’s the crux of the problem. Our conscious awareness of the burnout we are about to experience is low. But, the stakes can be quite high.
I know that when I experience burnout, of course, my productivity suffers. But, more importantly, I’m also more irritable, I make poorer decisions, I’m more easily distracted, and I generally lack the capacity to give my best effort. It’s also harder to find joy in the ordinary, like when I play with my kids or take a walk. The energy-suck of burnout hovers over me like my own personal raincloud.
Burnout can also impact your health, triggering both physical and psychosomatic issues – which I’ve also experienced first-hand.
So, how do we get ahead of it?
STAY FOCUSED ON WHAT MATTERS & LET GO OF THE REST
At the start of the 2008 financial crisis, Ford Motor Company included brands like Mercury, Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo, Lincoln, and, of course, Ford, the flagship brand.
Each with different logos and slight variations in style, but nothing dramatically unique about any of them. Ford had created or acquired all these brands without really differentiating them.
I once had a conversation with a former Ford employee who admitted: “yeah it’s the exact same car, but this one has the Lincoln logo and a leather interior.”
As an aside, that’s not innovation. That’s more of the same, only in different colors and sizes.
The point is that, in trying to serve an increasing number of customer segments, Ford lost focus, spread themselves thin, and nearly ruined the company.
In the aftermath of the financial crisis, Ford had divested or retired most of those brands. Today, it’s just Ford and Lincoln.
Obviously, this isn’t a story about someone who experienced burnout – it’s the story of a company that experienced burnout. Make no mistake, the lesson we can draw is the same.
Years in the making, a slow motion crisis boils just under the surface, until something unexpected comes along and makes a bad problem worse.
And, of course, in hindsight, it was all preventable.
The company is on it’s way back after learning an expensive lesson: don’t spread yourself too thin by serving everyone – know who you are, what makes you great, and let go of the rest.
Instead of saying: more, more, more.
Ford should have been asking: what’s essential?
NOTICE WHEN YOU ARE SPREAD TOO THIN
I believe that self-awareness is the key to making more informed choices about the direction of our lives. That’s what’s needed to prevent burnout too.
If you can get more in tune with how you’re actually doing, you can be honest with yourself about what you can really take on.
What might that look like?
- Notice how you’re feeling. Listen to your body. Describe the state of your brain: is it clear or cluttered? Is it still or so noisy you can’t think?
- Ask yourself questions. How sustainable is this? How have I been taking care of myself? Is the stretch I’m feeling growth or am I spread too thin?
- Consider the effort required. What can you reasonably take on right now? Is this essential? Do you want to put in the work? Is the payoff worth it? What’s the cost?
- Be honest with yourself. Name a decision and move forward.
BE PROACTIVE TO PREVENT BURNOUT
Finally, here’s one more way to think about it:
Have you ever taken a walk and paused to notice the shape of the trees?
You’ll find some are a tangled mess of leaves, with twigs springing up from the base of the trunk and dead branches at the top – while others are perfectly shaped and trimmed.
Surprisingly, that doesn’t happen by accident.
A healthy tree requires regular pruning and shaping.
Those little saplings at the bottom? They steal energy that could be serving the upper branches of the tree – the ones that helped it grow tall in the first place.
All branches of the tree compete for energy and nutrients, so you need to be mindful about which ones you let grow and which ones aren’t serving the long term interests of the tree.
You also need to eliminate dead branches that are just getting in the way, because they are more likely to attract rot, disease, and insects – which can impact every branch.
The process to shape and prune a tree cultivates its growth and continues over its entire life.
In truth, our lives are the same. Our branches are our careers, goals, relationships, hobbies, interests, and every other facet of our existence.
So, does your life need a little pruning and shaping?
Consider questions like these:
- How has my environment changed?
- What season of life am I in? How might that influence what matters?
- How have I changed? What’s important to me now?
- What branches are no longer serving me?
That’s what’s required to prevent burnout.
Share some of your reflections in the comments or send me a message.
- Read: How to spot burnout and take action, from the Mayo Clinic
- Watch: Talks for when you feel totally burned out, from TED
- Listen: Burnout is Everyone’s Problem, from Adam Grant
ONE MORE THING
Starting and growing a business is not a straight line.
It can feel messy – it zigs and zags, it starts and stops. It can feel frustrating even for the most seasoned business owners. And, that’s ok.
It’s also an exciting challenge. It’s going to stretch you. You’re going to learn a lot – not just about business, but about yourself.
And, that’s why it’s worth it.
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