The best way to prevent burnout is to proactively manage a balanced approach to performance. I learned in college that to consistently perform at my best in school, I had to think and act more like a top athlete – really the opposite of the stereotypical student pulling the all-nighters. This meant building a disciplined approach to preparing to succeed. For me, it meant focusing on physical and mental conditioning, detailed preparation for big events like exams and managing a healthy recovery from stressful periods.
Over my career, I realized that to consistently perform at my best, I needed to expand my focus beyond physical and mental needs, adding emotional needs as well. I think of this as a hierarchy of needs that must be addressed if I am going to consistently deliver my best performance.
For many of you, these areas of focus may seem obvious – but others, like myself, may take key aspects for granted. I find that this happens because for long stretches you can get away with it. It’s when it all catches up with you that burnout occurs. If you are lucky, you will be able to recover quickly. However, I’ve found that there are better ways to manage this. By being disciplined around several key thoughts, you will realize big dividends for you, your company and your family.
The first concept is “conditioning.” What does it mean to get and keep yourself in the top condition needed to deliver at consistently high levels of performance? As an athlete, you may focus on a regular routine to build strength, endurance, flexibility and mental preparedness. For me, these are keys for getting and keeping in the shape necessary to deliver high performance.
Physical: The foundation of a conditioned performer is physical. There are three keys here: Get consistent and sufficient amounts of sleep, do regular aerobic training and stick to a balanced, disciplined diet. I didn’t succeed at this last part until I was willing to take time to learn a lot more about nutrition.
Mental: The next level in the hierarchy is mental. Pick something new to learn. A language, a new technical topic or history lessons all work for me. Pushing yourself to learn challenging new things is positive stress that balances some of your negative stress. For fun, I add reading, puzzles and games to truly take me away from thinking about work challenges.
Emotional: Life balance includes emotional needs. I dedicate my time away from work to my family and engage with them throughout the day so that they know I am thinking about them and what they are doing. Doing something together for our community adds even more to this level.
The second concept is preparation. Getting ready to perform is important for everything from a big presentation to leading your team through your monthly operating rhythm. The first key is to not take any of these situations for granted. Prepare a detailed “game plan.” I focus on getting the entrance and exit right. These set the tone for the event and what will be remembered by the participants. I then remind myself to keep an open mind and be ready to “read and react well” in the face of changes. If you do this and are well conditioned, you will do great!
The last key is managing a recovery cycle. Recovery from work is often relegated to summer or winter holidays, but it really starts with what you do while you are performing. Taking breaks, even short breaks, on a regular schedule can make a big difference. I am still working on this one myself, but a 90-second deep breathing exercise every one to two hours helps me maintain focus throughout the day. Staying with a regular routine in all three aspects of conditioning will round out your recovery efforts.