Regaining Your Mojo: Eight Steps for Coming Back from Burnout

Burnout often has as much boredom in it as exhaustion. – Ingrid Fetell Lee, American author.

Productivity experts have riffed on the topic of burnout for decades, because it’s a highly visible theme in the business world. We all know about karoshi, the phenomenon of working oneself to death sometimes seen in Japanese culture. We see it less in Western culture, possibly because most Western nations have limited work-weeks and lots of PTO. Or maybe we don’t see it because we just don’t look for it; American work-weeks tend to be longer than most, and there’s no government-mandated minimum vacation.

Most business articles on the topic of burnout focus on preventing it. That’s laudable, but what if you’ve already become entrapped by it? Well, here’s how to start climbing out.

    1. Tell people. Don’t suffer alone. Let someone know you’re having a tough time; at the very least, tell your significant other or best friend. I recommend telling your supervisor at work, too, so that person knows you’re a bit overstressed. That way, you’ll have a chance to recover gracefully.


    1. Start small. Don’t try to change all your habits at once. Make a minor change and follow up on it. Once you’ve gotten it solidly in place, try something else.


    1. Get lots of rest. This is especially true if you’ve put off a vacation for too long, or you’re running on a sleep deficit. If possible, take some time off with family and friends. Completely disengage from work. Sleep as long as your body wants the first night or so, then return to a reasonable schedule. Take it easy, eat right, and go do something you enjoy for once.


    1. Reconnect with family and friends. They miss you, and you miss them. For your own mental health, reconnect with them in a meaningful way. It’ll help remind you everything isn’t all about work; there’s a lot more world out there.


    1. Re-engage with your favorite interests. One symptom of burnout is a loss of interest in your favorite activities. Don’t force yourself but do try to start getting involved in those activities once again. If nothing else, they’ll take you away from work for a while; and in some cases, they’ll help sharpen you up for when you return to work. Sometimes, a change really can prove as good as a rest. Just thinking about something else for a while can help you escape the ruts of your everyday work-life, and sometimes it can spark new ideas. If your old escapes seem boring now, test-drive some new ones.


    1. Say “no” more often. Always good advice for a busy office, this becomes imperative when you’re clawing back from burnout. Don’t just keep accepting invitations, additional work, even social functions or obligations from other people. If you’re full to bursting, simply tell people the truth: your schedule is packed already.


    1. Delegate everything you can. Give work back to the people who should be doing it, withdraw from situations where you’re helping others with their work, and where possible, hand off tasks to other people lower in the work hierarchy. While they may not do it your way or as fast as you, at least you can relax and focus on what really matters.


  1. Disconnect from your devices at day’s end. You don’t have to make yourself available 24/7. Set a solid wall between your work time and personal time. Don’t check work email, and don’t hesitate to turn off your phone. If you’re to recover, you can’t remain at everyone’s beck and call at all times.

Back in Black

When you’re burned out, you’re not much better than a zombie. You may get some work done, especially the routine work any drone could do, but your productivity falls flat —at best. It’s easy to haul out the old cliché “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” because it’s so obviously true; however, that doesn’t help much if you’ve already gone nova and died back to a flickering ember of your previous self. Recover your sense of control and learn to pace yourself. Hoard your existing resources, gain as many more as you can, and reignite your fire. Remember: it’s the slow-burning stars, the ones that produce year in and year out at a steady, reliable pace, that last indefinitely.

© 2020 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.