There are few things more demoralizing than returning from a nice New Year’s break to a mountain of work. Although we’d all like to take another holiday come February, the sad fact is that this is not a tenable solution. So how do you deal with burnout effectively?
The solution may appear cliched on the surface, but it’s actually very sound. Simply take a deep breath, step back, and assess your entire workload methodically. Having a plan in place for how to deal with a high workload can work wonders when it comes to alleviating stress.
In this article, we’ll look at how you can manage your New Year’s workload efficiently. We’ll also provide handy techniques and resources that can help you get through your backlog with your mental health intact. Let’s get started!
What ‘Burnout’ Means (And How It Can Severely Affect Your Health)
The word burnout gets thrown around a lot. We generally use it to refer to a feeling of exhaustion and lethargy, as well as a subsequent longing for a vacation. However, it’s actually much more of a serious issue and, if left unchecked, can seriously impact your mental health.
Burnout is essentially chronic stress that is brought on by a number of factors, either individually or combined. In a broad sense, it’s typically the result of overworking. What’s more, you’ll find that those with a high-achieving personality suffer from burnout symptoms the most.
Burnout can generally by recognized via these three tell-tail signs:
- Physical and emotional exhaustion.
- A detachment from others, along with a more cynical attitude towards life in general.
- Feelings of underachievement, and possibly a sense of helplessness toward your situation.
The early part of the year is typically the season for burnout, as workloads are inevitably high. For some, working intensely to ‘wind things up’ before the holidays takes its toll, and some even fail to ‘switch off’ during the time that should be reserved for relaxation. Returning to a backlog of work in the new year can manifest the symptoms described above.
Given that 13% of adults have trouble unwinding outside of work, it’s important to nip burnout in the bud before it starts. What’s more, the World Health Organization report that up to 12 billion working days will be lost over the next decade to depressive illness – and burnout plays an important role in that figure.
How to Manage a High Workload In the Short-Term (4 Key Methods)
There are ultimately two factors to consider for stopping burnout: what you do to relieve your workload now, and how you make sure it doesn’t become an issue in the future. We’ll begin with the short-term solutions, before moving on to the more permanent fixes.
1. Consider Your Personal Mindset
Taking the old developer adage of “garbage in, garbage out”, if you have a negative mental attitude, it will take a toll on your overall outlook. A key component of handling short-term stressful situations is taking some time to put yourself in a more positive frame of mind.
To do this, you’ll want to work on keeping yourself calm despite your external situation. This involves breathing deeply, slowing your thinking down, and shutting off to get your mind in order. This process may sound a little hokey if you aren’t used to it, but detaching yourself before diving in (even if that means just sitting in a quiet room for ten minutes) can really sharpen your focus.
2. Prioritize Your Workload
Another simple task to get you primed for handling a high workload is to prioritize efficiently. If you analyze why your workload is high, you’ll often find that it’s in part due to tackling non-urgent tasks before the more urgent ones. This tendency is understandable, as picking off low-hanging fruit is a tempting tactic. However, if this method is used for procrastination, it can cause problems further down the line.
Ultimately, you’ll need to consider what is essential to complete right now, what can be deferred until later, and what isn’t a priority at all. How you do this will be based on your own particular concerns, such as deadlines and the needs of your clients and colleague. However, looking into techniques such as the anti to-do list can provide you with some needed inspiration.
3. Structure Your Working Day For Maximum Efficiency
Once your work is suitably prioritized, the next consideration is how you’ll get it all done. This will involve becoming stricter about how you structure your working day.
Of course, the way you organize your day and prioritize tasks will depend on your unique circumstances. However, it’s worth looking into various popular strategies, such as the Pomodoro technique. Just remember that the primary concern is to make sure you can remain efficient, productive, and relatively unstressed.
4. Lean On Your Working Colleagues to Get Over the Hump
Finally, don’t dismiss the potential of leveraging your colleagues to get out of a tight spot. Trying to be self-sufficient is another reason why your workload might be too high, so bringing colleagues onboard (if possible) can help immeasurably.
Of course, the key phrase here is “if possible”. Freelancers won’t have this luxury, for example. If that isn’t the case for you, however, outsourcing your work to others could temporarily ease a sticky situation. There are potential downsides to outsourcing, such as the potential for a drop in work quality and even profits. However, it should be stressed again that this is a temporary solution to an immediate problem. Our advice is to factor in some ‘checking’ time. That way, you can make additional passes to ensure quality, once you receive the freelance work back.
For those working on a team, discussing your workload with a superior should always be the first step. They may not even be aware of your current situation. By bringing it up with them, you’ll more likely receive the help you need to get through the rough patch.
How to Eradicate Burnout For Good
While your short-term sanity is important, your long-term goal should be to make sure burnout doesn’t affect you moving forward. This should be the case regardless of whether you’re a freelancer, independently contracted, or employed full time. Naturally, you will want to implement one of the short-term solutions we discussed above before considering long term strategies. If you’re a freelancer, you may also need to think about hiring an employee to help ease the burden.
Once your New Year’s backlog is clear, you can start making sure you don’t find yourself in the same situation in the future. With that in mind, here are some tips to consider:
- Take a look at how much work you can reasonably handle and strictly adhere to that limit, at least until you’re comfortable you have the additional capacity. Learning to say “no” is a key skill for any hard-working person.
- Next, consider developing a more permanent way of handling high-pressure situations. Meditation is a prime example of a technique that can reduce your stress levels and enable you to remain balanced mentally.
- Don’t be afraid to ask colleagues for help, and welcome collaboration. For example, you could join forces with a graphic designer to create site mockups, or hire an accountant to look after your books.
- Develop honest and open communication with your work colleagues or other freelancers – kind of like a buddy system. Maintaining good communication can help ensure that you don’t fall into the same trap again the next time your workload starts to rise.
Getting to this point is a sign you’re on the right track to eliminating burnout for good. However, stress and pressure will still be a factor – these things are inevitable in all facets of life. The goal is to better manage them day-to-day, and make sure that the tougher periods are marked by productive and concerted effort, rather than panic and an inevitable bailout from others.
Given that billions of days per year are lost to poor mental health, keeping your nerves intact is essential for being able to maintain your living – especially if you’re a freelancer. Burnout can affect anyone, and if you’re already feeling the strain a few weeks into the new year, it’s time for a change.
This post has looked at burnout – including what it is, and how to better ensure that you don’t have to deal with it in the future. In particular, we’ve covered four ways to tackle a high workload calmly and efficiently:
- Develop a more positive personal mindset.
- Ascertain what work is high-priority, and focus on that first.
- Create a structured working day, to increase productivity.
- Use your colleague’s less taxing workloads to ease yours, if possible.
Do you have any thoughts on burnout and its effects? Let us know in the comments section below!
Featured image: moritz320.