As a tumultuous year comes to a close, reckoning with burnout is understandable. A productivity expert offers some guidance on ways to put a few things in order and make more time for yourself.
That persistent feeling of burnout? It’s real and has been exacerbated by the pandemic more than at any time in the past several years. A study by FlexJobs and Mental Health America found that 75 percent of workers have experienced burnout recently, and 40 percent of those polled said it was a direct result of the pandemic.
Carson Tate, CEO of Working Simply, had her own personal bout with burnout a couple of years ago and understands its impact, especially on women. “Even though it’s 2020, women bear a disproportionate load of household and child responsibilities,” Tate said.
The pandemic has added to that burden. Women are “overstretched and overwhelmed,” she said, and many are leaving their careers. With the loss of support structures like schools and day care, “it’s almost impossible to do it all without cracking,” she said.
More than one in four women are contemplating downsizing their careers or leaving the workplace entirely, according to a 2020 Women in Workplace study by McKinsey and LeanIn.
Tate recommends four key strategies for overcoming end-of-year burnout after a year that has stretched almost everyone’s patience, mental capacity, and focus:
Conduct a meeting audit. Go through your calendar and if a meeting doesn’t have an agenda, ask yourself: Why am I attending this meeting? Respond to the meeting organizer and ask: What is the meeting objective, and how can I support you in achieving it? This message puts them on notice that if there isn’t a good reason for you to be there, you don’t need to be there.
Do you play a role in the meeting? If there is an agenda for the meeting, but you’re not on it to make a specific decision or as an influencer or a subject matter expert, and you won’t be responsible for any execution of goals, that’s a great opportunity to just say no. Time is a commodity, and making sure you are really thoughtful about investing your time is essential.
Take intentional breaks. Put a five-minute break—with a reminder—on your calendar to reduce your cognitive load. Walk up and down a flight of stairs, flip through a favorite magazine, listen to a song. Disengage, disconnect, and let your brain rest.
Winterize your task list. What tasks should stop? Ask: Does this task generate revenue? Is it aligned to a strategic goal or priority? Is it a core requirement of my job? If it’s not, stop doing it. Now assess what you need to start. Is there a new project or initiative that you haven’t broken out into action items? Capture the action items and put them in a task management tool. What tasks need to be continued? If it aligns with revenue generation, a strategic goal, or is a core responsibility of your job, keep doing it.
Research has shown that working longer hours does not equate to increased productivity. A Stanford University study found that productivity declines sharply when a person works more than 50 hours per week. And those who work up to 70 hours a week are only getting the same amount of work done as those who put in 55 hours.
As 2020 comes to a close, it’s time to make time a priority and arrange tasks so they are manageable, achievable, and necessary to enter the new year refreshed and ready to engage.
“You’re a human being,” Tate said, “not a human doing.”