The overwhelming pace of business and nonstop demands on workers’ time and energy have taken a toll on the productivity and personal health of everyone from the front lines to the C-suites. Research shows nearly one in four employees feel burned out at work, and the psychological and physical problems associated with burn out add up to $125 to $190 billion each year.
Today’s frenetic corporate culture consistently puts workers in the position of having to do more in less time. Employees, in general, are overworked, over-scheduled and overwhelmed. No one can sustain working at a breakneck pace under intense pressure. At the same time, it can feel implausible and impractical to take a few minutes’ pause. But until business leaders and employees alike learn to hit the brakes at crucial intervals, they’ll go on autopilot, leaving them unable to preemptively consider the pros and cons of their decisions. This results in repeated mistakes. Costly mistakes. Preventable mistakes.
Learning to pause, even for a modest few minutes, and reflect before acting leads to better decision-making and helps avert the kind of mistakes that take precious time, energy and political capital to correct. And, importantly, constantly attending to the here-and-now while neglecting the bigger picture will destroy an organization’s competitive edge.
Slowing down can actually help you speed up. You can strategically target larger, more rewarding opportunities for yourself and your organization. Use these four tips to avoid work burnout and allow yourself, your team and your organization to thrive:
- Schedule deliberate breaks to stop doing and start thinking.By taking your foot off the accelerator, you allow yourself time to assess your current situation, analyze challenges and consider opportunities from a variety of angles. You’re able to take stock of the your own and your team’s performance. You’re able to evaluate whether you’ve identified the correct milestones, if your timelines remain sound and if you’ve gathered all the necessary support for your agenda. Schedule time in your day (or week, month or quarter) for uninterrupted strategic contemplation. Unless you slow down to ask the question, “What’s holding me back?” you’ll miss important opportunities for growth.
- Set the stage for productivity.Instead of diving directly into your workday, take the time to plan and review priorities. Shut your door, give your assistant explicit instructions to hold all non-emergency interruptions for 15 minutes, and turn off your electronic notifications. Next, breathe. Try a 4-second inhale, 7-second hold and 8-second exhale. Repeat this a few times until your mind clears and your body relaxes. Then, make a list of your top priorities for the day, week or month. What must you absolutely accomplish today, and what’s your plan to get it done? What activities can you delegate? How can you incorporate past success (or mistakes) to achieve stellar outcomes this time? Advise your team to take similar pauses to prioritize and plan. Far from wasted time, they’ll help everyone do their best work.
- Put a decision-making system in place.On average, you make 3,500 decisions a day. Every one of them, large and small, takes up mental energy that can impact your effectiveness. To avoid wasting time and energy, stop and reflect on any important decision using the CIA framework: Control, Influence, Accept/Adapt.
Control – Ask yourself if this is a situation over which you have direct control. If so, what outcome do you want to achieve?
Influence – If you don’t have direct control, can you influence the decision or outcome? If so, how can you most effectively exert that influence?
Accept/Adapt – If you have neither control nor influence, can you accept the situation? What can you do to make it more palatable and positive? What must you do to adapt?
- Allow yourself to relax and recharge.Think of the announcements you hear at the beginning of a flight. The flight attendants instruct you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others—and with good reason. If you chronically neglect yourself, you will pay a price. As will your team, colleagues, customers, and family. There’s simply no good outcome to running yourself down, disregarding your need for good nutrition, restful sleep, exercise and relaxation. Seek out ways to stress less. For instance: take walks; get a monthly massage; have coffee with a friend; journal; or enroll in a yoga class.
The consequences of rushing add up in missed opportunities, preventable mistakes and remaining mired in projects that add little value. Instead, giving yourself the time to pause and ponder the broader view will prevent burnout and lead to better results.