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4 ways to avoid burnout at work

Instead of striving for perfection, work to achieve excellence. Your goal should be great work, not picture-perfect minutiae.

5 min read



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Most of you will experience a period of work burnout at some point in your professional careers.

The temptation is always there to do more, be more, achieve more. You might feel the pressure from those above you or from yourself and your own desire to succeed. Time and effort, however, can reach a point of diminishing returns. You can work harder and harder and accomplish less and less. This can lead to frustration and an even more frantic desire to put in more hours to try to “catch up.”

This cycle rarely leads to satisfaction, or quality output. Before you get to that point, check out these tips for ways you can combat burnout and maintain your balance and productivity.

Say No

It may seem obvious, but one of the first tactics is to learn is how to say no. This may mean adjusting your perspective on what “no” means. If you’re someone who always wants to help out and who wants to please, it can be difficult to turn down a request or to pass on a piece of work. Consider it from a different angle, however. Saying no means you are committing to the best quality for the tasks you already have, and maintaining your own balance, so you can stay on top of your game for the long haul.

Saying yes to everything makes no room for the tasks you really want and need; the tasks that will challenge you, expand your skillset or raise your profile in the organization. Remember that saying no to being overloaded is healthy for both you and your company.

Make space in your calendar

If you want to avoid that sense of being overburdened and overallocated, don’t forget to make room in your calendar for your own tasks, whether work or personal. It’s easy to let your day fill up with meetings and drop-by chats. Be sure to set aside the hours you need to accomplish your tasks, preferably with the door closed, the email notifications turned off and the other distractions set aside.

Set yourself up for success by prioritizing time to concentrate, and don’t forget to include downtime, too. Make sure you book regular lunch time — even if it’s just a few minutes — away from your desk. Take breaks and walk around, and tend to your personal life too. Achieving balance is not a luxury; it’s a necessity to ensure that you’re working your best. While it may seem self-indulgent to set a task down and just go home (or go on vacation!), it really isn’t — everyone benefits when you take time to relax, recharge and return to work refreshed.

Don’t pretend things are OK

Many of us can fall into the trap of thinking we’re feeling overwhelmed and burnt out because we lack motivation. We can tell ourselves we’ll wait to tackle some things when we’re finally inspired (leaving them to pile up and weigh us down) or we chastise ourselves for feeling low and struggle on ahead anyway, usually accomplishing little.

Instead, consider this: it’s OK to be frustrated. Take a step back, acknowledge that you’re overwhelmed, and then make a plan to do the work anyway. Instead of just putting your head down and grinding away, break your project or task down into smaller, more manageable chunks. Do them one by one, and allow yourself to celebrate the small victories as you progress.

The work will be the same and you’ll be just as busy, but the feeling will be different, and you’ll actually make more headway overall.

Stop trying to be perfect

It seems counterintuitive that flawlessness would be the enemy, but trying to control and fine-tune every aspect of your work will just burden you with needless stress, with little added value. Instead of striving for perfection, work to achieve excellence. Your goal should be great work, not picture-perfect minutiae.

Feeling burnt out is far from an uncommon sentiment. It’s easy to stretch ourselves too thin, whether from taking on too much or being over pressured by others in the organization. It’s one thing to have a busy and stressful week or month, but when the grind seems unrelenting, it has a negative effect on both ourselves and the quality of our work.

Avoid getting to the point of desperation and despair by creating strategies to stay balanced and still provide quality output. Make your own plans, develop positive habits and stick to them! Everyone benefits when you avoid burnout.


Joel Garfinkle is an executive leadership coach who has worked with many newly promoted leaders who need to combat burnout. He has written seven books, including “Time Management Mastery: Stress-free productivity in the 7 key areas of life.” More than 10,000 people subscribe to his Fulfillment@Work newsletter. If you sign up, you’ll receive the free e-book 41 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted Now!

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