ick and tired of feeling sick and tired? You need to read this. After years of a well-paid, hugely rewarding job as a reporter and editor for a top website, Glynnis MacNicol threw in the towel along with her Blackberry and spent a long time doing literally nothing. “During those weeks and contrary to all common sense, I turned down two high-profile jobs, and remained in my apartment where my mornings were spent away from my computer watching Golden Girls reruns on the Hallmark Channel.” Burn-out, as MacNicol came to realise, is not the same as being tired out. A weekend of sleep, good food and time with friends can fix tiredness, but burn-out is the combination of stress and fatigue wrapped up in a bow “times ten, plus a lobotomy.” It is the literal crash-and-burn consequence of burning the candle at both ends.
Burn-out comes in two forms; the mental acknowledgement comes in the form of realising that the everyday reality of your job is no longer engaging and admitting that you feel mentally detached from your role. The physical alternative is stress, fatigue, exhaustion, all of which are the product of being overworked. MacNicol isn’t isolated in her experiences as the trend of millennial women burning out before 30 is becoming a very real threat to those starting out their careers. A study by McKinsey found that women account for 53% of entry-level corporate jobs, dropping to 37% for middle-management positions and just 26% for vice president and senior management roles; laying out an uninspiring image of the gender ratio we all know to be true. Aside from starting a family, McKinsey argue that the gap also exists because of the pressure women face in trying to meet unrealistic expectations whilst competing against their male colleagues. Prevention has always been better than finding a cure so avoid suffering a similar fate by following these 6 steps:
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Mix It Up
As inconvenient and as daunting as it may be, change is necessary. Switching up your routine, not limited to your method of travel or what you wear is a stimulant as the change engages your brain with something other than what it is used to; “Not only does switching up your routine force you to pay more attention to what you're doing, it changes your regular behavior which exposes you to a new set of triggers” said Lifehacker’s Eric Ravenscraft. The habitual morning coffee run is a simple starting point. Make a change in your drink, try a new shop or be so bold as to skip it all together and have extra time in bed; “if you don't have the temptation there each day to indulge in a vice, you can trick your brain into breaking the habit with minimal effort” says Ravenscraft. Apply this to other small pointers like cycling to work once a week or taking breaks at different times each day to kick your motivation back into gear.
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Work Smarter, Not Harder
The solution to crossing more off your to-do list is not working longer hours but using the time you have effectively and efficiently. What your brain needs is a work-out. Defining the most efficient times of the day and cashing in on them is the mental equivalent of HIIT; invest time in figuring out when you are at your most productive and plan your work around that timetable. Buffer content crafter Belle Beth Cooper appreciates the ‘work smarter’ ethic that her company yields, putting a focus on prioritising your time into gaps in which you know you can perform your best. “On average, your brain is able to remain focused for only 90 minutes, and then you need at least 15 minutes of rest” she says, a phenomenon based on the cycle of ultradian rhythms. “By taking breaks roughly every 90 minutes, you allow your mind and body to renew--and be ready to fire off another 90-minute period of high activity.
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During the penultimate days of a high-profile deal Arielle Patrick, the U.S. Publicity Director for She Leads Africa, slept a total of four hours over four days. Extreme as this was, she compensated for them by saying ‘no’ straight after, with the firm belief that doing so is good for your career. "Take a personal day if you really need to” she advises, “the world will not crumble.” At the end of aforementioned deal, “I went to sleep for literally 24 hours. I turned off my phone and said I am not feeling well; we'll talk in a day.” Although you may feel you are missing out on extra opportunities, it is essential to make space for some ‘me’ time; just as the in-flight stewards remind you when the oxygen masks drop drown during a flight, you need to tend to your own well-being before you can help others. Declining invitations and opportunities doesn’t make you ungrateful or uncommitted, but self-aware and self-preserving - you are most useful to everyone when you are at 100%.
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Prioritising your physical health and wellbeing is something that cannot be compromised. The first is sleep and although there are several prominent figures throughout history who pride themselves on not sleeping, it’s not a habit that should be encouraged by the masses. If you manage to get a miraculous 7-8 hours of shut-eye a night, top it off with exercise. Endorphins are the new caffeine and whether your morning poison is a punch-bag or you prefer to stretch out with yoga, make some time for it during the week to set your mind up on a high for the day. Rome was not built in a day; alongside for hard work, it also required imagination and determination to take it from idea to completion. So stretch, nap and let your mind rest enough for it to roam free - you need to be rested to achieve greatness consistently.
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Keep a Hobby
Hobbies, for whatever reason, are switched up in adulthood for a social life and suddenly, wining and dining becomes the only thing that fits around the daily grind. The French philosopher Montaigne wrote that putting our minds into contact with new experiences – whether it be travel or a new hobby – was key to keeping our psychology sharp. Almost 300 years later, Einstein reiterated with the unwavering truth “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Today, both these ideas stand; we need to invest time in new experiences to keep our minds fresh and innovative thinking to get ahead of the competition. Pack away the excuses for a lack of time and feed your soul with a new sense of enjoyment; the 40-minute tube commute is the perfect window to get stuck in a book and one night a week can definitely be blocked off for a game of squash, computer games or even something as quaint as baking. We’re not robots (yet) and the time we have should be filled with more than just the day-job.
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Get a Life
Actively making the effort to spend time communicating with people outside of the work space is the one outlet that you can completely depend on in maintaining your sanity. It’s easy to pack this away as a waste of time but something as simple as a weekend away or a fortnightly dinner with friends is all you need to switch off. Interacting with people concerning something other than work is an essential ingredient to good performance according to renowned career psychologist Daniel Goleman. “When I looked at the data from hundreds of companies, I discovered that emotional competencies are twice as important for professional success as IQ plus technical skill combined and that’s true for every job from salesperson to CEO.” Being able to build relationships with your colleagues and superiors all starts with how you interact with others, thus keeping the ability to open up to anyone is crucial. In other words, weekly wine dates and Saturday-morning brunches are a productive way to improve your people skills. Go forth and conquer.
Words by Emma Corr