Fall is in the air. As the leaves change colour, so do the colour palettes of our full calendars.
As we bid farewell to generous hours of daylight and welcome a season of fresh starts and transitions, it’s helpful to consider how we might proactively carve out space and time to protect and recover our energy.
Instead of putting our foot on the accelerator and hoping that we have enough fuel to make it to our destination without breaking down, what if we plan pit stops on our journey to ensure that we’re thoroughly enjoying the ride, relishing the view with our people, and thriving instead of just barely getting by? (Obviously, we’re not machines and shouldn’t pretend to be, but you get what we’re saying.) In the social impact sector, however, we tend to lean more towards the first scenario of unbridled productivity rather than the latter — leading many in the impact field to suffer from burnout.
What is burnout? Burnout is defined as physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress. The World Health Organization recently added burnout to the International Classification of Diseases as an occupational phenomenon.
At The Burnout Project, we work with emerging leaders and young professionals from Vancouver, Canada to Goa, India to address burnout through capacity-building workshops and supportive community. Through our dialogues, it’s become increasingly clear that burnout is often individualized even though its causes appear to be systemic. Even though it’s common across sectors, it’s an isolating experience for anyone who experiences it.
Burnout affects both body and mind, often causing symptoms that include exhaustion, negativity or cynicism, reduced efficacy at work, and emotional detachment. It impacts our relationships in both our professional and personal lives. Importantly, however, we’ve identified pathways towards inner resilience through shifting our individual habits, cultivating communities of trust, care, and transparency, and finding the courage to start conversations about mental health in our schools and workplaces.
As we settle into September, let’s explore how to start setting healthy boundaries around work, both during and after office hours. We say “practice” because we recognize that this is an often challenging and lengthy process largely influenced by workplace culture (including practices modelled by those in leadership positions), by expectations from others, and by our own personal, complex relationships to productivity.
Tune into your energy patterns
Notice times during the day where your energy or attention wavers. Many of our workshop participants, for example, have expressed that the afternoon lull (usually around 2:30pm) feels like a block in their productivity or creativity.
Instead of trying to “power through” that period, consider stepping outside for a 15-minute stroll, drinking a glass of water, trying a guided meditation, or doing some gentle stretches to re-energize. Better yet, if your colleagues are also hitting the same wall, invite them to take a short break with you. Accountability does wonders and encourages others to also engage in simple self-care acts at work, slowly shifting norms.
Go to the internet; don’t let it come to you
Snooze notifications on Slack, email, or other work messaging platforms after your workday ends. Along these lines, if you feel comfortable, talk to your colleagues about your communication preferences and needs. Clarifying when your regular working hours are, when they can expect you to respond to emails or messages, and when you will be strictly offline can spark important conversations about healthy boundaries.
Schedule time and space to recover after a work sprint
Scheduling time for ourselves is equally as important as scheduling time for work meetings — especially if our work operates on multiple project timelines. If you have capacity, carve out an evening or weekend to celebrate the end of a project with an activity that you look forward to that restores your energy, whether it involves time with friends or time alone.
Take your lunch break
When it feels manageable, eat your lunch outside of your workspace and not while simultaneously looking at a screen (i.e. your laptop or phone). Creating an intentional division between our workspace and lunch space allows us to check in with our physical and emotional needs, and it allows us to return to our work with more presence.
Regularly changing your lunch location, whether a common lounge, nearby park, or your go-to restaurant, also helps to break up the day with novel experiences.
Check in with an accountability buddy
Identify a friend who can be your “accountability buddy” as you learn to carve out healthy boundaries at work. Create goals for your self-care and routinely check in with your buddy about honouring your goals.This helps not only keep the two of you accountable and on top of your energy, it also helps ignite a larger culture of self-care when we work towards it in a social way.