Everybody has experienced those times when they have more on their plates than they feel they can realistically handle. But when stress caused by an overwhelming to-do list turns into full-on burnout, that’s when it’s absolutely time to rethink how you take on work, how you complete your work, and just how you approach everything you’ve got going on regularly. Here, life and executive coaches Rachel Wade Lauren and Jennifer Musselman share their top recommendations for bouncing back from burnout, and helping get life back under control to prevent further burnout in the future.
Think About Your Purpose
One of the biggest reasons that people often reach the point of burnout is that they’ve become out of touch with their reasons for doing something. As some, coming back from that place can rely heavily on pinpointing that passion to drive them forward again. “You have to identify your ‘why,’” says Lauren, who notes that identifying your purpose for doing something can help reignite a sense of inspiration which in turn actually helps you feel a little less bogged down by everything on your plate.
If you’ve got multiple things that you know you definitely want to achieve but are a bit concerned about how they would fit into a reasonable time frame, Musselman recommends looking for ways to hit two birds with one stone. “You never want to let bad stress stop you from setting goals,” she says, “so you can make your goals more achievable by combining them. Look for ways to accomplish multiple things at once.”
While the different tasks that you’re working on are ultimately about reaching some kind of end goal, one of the most important changes in attitude post burnout is to begin looking at your work as a series of mini milestones leading up to the finished product. “Benchmarks are so important,” says Musselman. “If all you can do is see the mountain in front of you that you’re trying to overcome, that feels really overwhelming. So instead, set little goals for yourself along the way.” This helps motivate you when you look back at your progress, and it helps you feel better about taking a break throughout the workflow when you need it.
Learn to Say “No”
A lot of times, those who burn out have reached that point because they’ve taken on a lot more responsibility than their schedule allows them to complete. This can either be because they underestimated the amount of time it would take or, perhaps more frequently, because they’re just pleasers who aren’t comfortable turning a request down. “You have to be able to put yourself first and say no to people,” says Lauren, who notes that the tactic will help prevent reaching a point where you have too much to do, but so little time to do it.
Don’t Be Afraid to Return Tasks You Can’t Complete
Even if you’re at the point where you have already accepted a task but realize you can’t complete it, Lauren says that you can still turn around and say a belated no, in a sense, by giving it back, if need be. “Go back to the person and say, ‘This is something that deserves 110%, and I can’t give it that right now,” she says. “Give it back in a way that is so elegant that you keep the other person’s respect, but you do what you need to do for yourself, too.”
Don’t Strive for Perfection
When you have a daunting number of things on your plate but know that you have to get them all done, you have to be okay with doing each less than perfectly. “Perfection is subjective, anyway,” says Lauren. “Perfection for me might be cooking an incredible dinner, but for my daughter, she just wants to eat.” While this doesn’t mean that you should necessarily get in the habit of producing things that you’re not proud of, it’s fine, when you have too much on your plate, to relieve some of your stress by accepting something that’s “good enough” as opposed to “perfect.”
Develop Healthy Habits
While a busy schedule is often justification for putting sleep, fitness, and a healthy diet on the backburner, the truth is that maintaining a healthy lifestyle and healthy habits is a key component of bringing yourself back from burnout and preventing another in the future. “Getting a good night’s sleep, eating better, all of this is going to start affecting your body and how you feel,” says Musselman. “So it’s all connected. Even if you don’t have time to go out for a run, go for a quick walk. Even if you can’t eat perfectly, just strive to eat better. All of that is going to affect the neurochemicals in your mind, and that’s critical in bouncing back.”
Find Support in Other People
Seeking support from others, be it emotional or in the form of an actual helping hand, can be a great way to recover from and prevent further burnout. In that sense, being able to identify when you can’t do something alone, and knowing when to ask for help is critical. “Find people who can help support you by taking things off your plate,” says Musselman. “Maybe it’s bringing in a housekeeper, or having a babysitter come so that you can take an hour or two to yourself.”