Are you struggling with burnout as we come to the end of the year? I was, until very recently. I think it's pretty common, and probably one reason we look forward to the holidays—we can take a few days off without any guilt.
Burnout is an ugly monster. At the very least, it can slow us down and waste our time. At most, we can become unrecognizable. Tired, cranky, disinterested, shells of ourselves. I also struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder, so I know that as much as I love this time of year, it has other hazards as well.
But I've got a business to run and a job to do, and I know you can relate. I only have the "luxury" of slowing down so much before everything is completely disrupted. So, what do we do? How do we cope? Do we just run headlong into the holidays, hoping that will save us? I don't think so, since most of us arrive on January 2nd's doorstep with that feeling of "needing a vacation from our vacation."
In my past and recent experience, I think there might be a couple of other solutions we can turn to so that burnout doesn't get the best of us.
REGULAR SELF-CARE PREVENTS BURNOUT
This solution is likely the most obvious answer to you. It's tossed around a lot, especially at the beginning and end of the year. However, in last week's post from my friend, Daron, he points out that self-care is not something to be pursued when you're at the end of your rope. It's to be practiced regularly, throughout the year, so that you don't find yourself a frazzled lump of a person in the fetal position on the floor. (<-- speaking from experience)
I'm certainly not perfect at it, but here's what it looks like for me.
Monthly massages. These actually started as a result of some back issues, so it's more of a therapeutic massage, but I get them regularly, even when I'm not having other problems.
Travel. I love travel so much. It's life-giving to me. But since I was getting my business off the ground this year, I traveled much less than usual. And boy, did I feel it! I had the opportunity to housesit right before Thanksgiving in the North Georgia mountains for a few days, and just that short time and distance away did wonders for me.
Retreats. My goal is to take short, quarterly retreats. For the last two years, I've taken an annual retreat in January, and will be doing so again. But this year, I decided to make them quarterly. I squeezed in two away from home this year (January and March), one in a co-working space (August), and one at home (November). All of these were extremely beneficial, and helped me refocus on work and life.
Friends. I have amazing friends, and I'm sure you do too. But with life and work, most of them having kids, and my tendency to be a hermit, I see them far less than I'd like. However, I notice that when I do get together with friends, my days and weeks are better. So, I try and schedule to see friends a few times per month.
Walks. I live near a beautiful trail, and I love to get out there and take a walk. Even though I usually listen to business podcasts while I walk, it still does my heart good to be in a natural setting.
These may, or may not, resonate with you. We're all different. They key is to find things you love, and make them a part of your regular schedule. The trick in executing them is to actually put them on your calendar. Good intentions only get you so far, but we often live according to our calendars.
I put my retreat dates on my calendar at the beginning of the year. I schedule my massages a month in advance. My travel is often planned weeks or months ahead too. So, prioritize your self-care throughout the year to avoid burnout at the end.
Accountability partner/peer group
I've had mentors for years, and value them immensely. But this year was the first time I've ever had an accountability partner. I can honestly say it was one of the best things I did for myself and my business this year.
You can do this one-on-one, or with a small group of people. It can be formal, or less so, according to your preferences. I began with a single partner, but we are actually expanding it to a small group of women next year, and are pretty excited about it.
Depending on your role at your nonprofit or social enterprise, you may already have one or more co-workers that you can confide in, or collude with. That's important, for sure. However, just having someone to gripe and gossip with isn't enough. The accountability piece is vital. You need someone to encourage you, to push you to be better, and to be a sounding board when needed.
This is especially important for those in leadership positions where there are likely less options for peer-to-peer relationships. So, having someone outside of the organization to be that person is crucial.
Accountability partners help each other get things done. We motivate one another, and sometimes, we just listen to one another. We all have good days and bad days in lives and in business, and it's a beautiful thing to have someone to help get you through them. Sure, you also have co-workers, roommates, spouses, etc, that can do that as well, but accountability partners relate differently because they should hold a similar position or responsibilities, and have similar goals. They serve a special purpose.
Note: For you introverts out there (my people!), having an accountability partner or peer group is an excellent solution for you too. They're limited in size, so not overwhelming, and we tend to function mostly inside our heads, so we need others to gain more perspective. This solution could be huge for you, so don't skip over it!
I'll be honest, this one totally snuck up on me in the past week. I would have never guessed that habits and routines could help fight burnout. And you may be skeptical as well, but hang with me.
Though I am an INFJ (with sometimes some strong emphasis on the J), I still fight the monotony of habits and routines. There are some things I still want to be flexible. In fact, have always liked freelancing for the fact that it changes. I get bored easily, so predictability isn't always my friend.
However, for the past couple of weeks I've been prepping for January. I want to get a strong start, and that means I lay the foundation now. So, I've been participating in some online business challenges to accomplish short-term goals.
Through the posts, videos, and webinars in these challenges, the hosts have been talking about how successful people have strong morning and nighttime routines, as well as daily habits. The importance of these things is that they will carry you through when the motivation wanes.
We all start the New Year with goals and resolutions, only to wave bye bye to them a few weeks later. And that's often because we didn't build in the habits that would get us to the finish line.
So, I've been thinking a lot about this over the past week or so. When I'm not stressed and in a time crunch, I like to start my day with the Calm meditation app, 5-Minute Journal, and maybe Blinkist. But when I am stressed or feel like I have no time, I skip all of this by waking up and reaching for my phone so that I can check my email. Sound familiar?
I was on several, big deadlines prior to Thanksgiving, and I was stressed. I started feeling burnout creeping in. Luckily, I had that little trip, and that helped, but the beginning of December has been hard again.
So this week, I decided to go back to that slower morning routine that I enjoyed, even though I didn't feel like I had the time. I wasn't waiting for January. I even added in a five-minute yoga video from YouTube. And you know what? It helped my mindset and that has trickled through my day. I also looked at my Calm app, and it showed that I'd skipped all of November. Coincidence? I think not.
These sort of habits and routines also have strong ties to self-care. However, there are many other habits and routines you could choose, such as exercise, eating healthy, taking a nap, focusing on big tasks in the morning, only having meetings after lunch, checking email only twice per day, and many other things. By making any of them a regular part of your life, you are ensuring that you keep functioning and taking care of yourself and your work when times get hard. And this, friends, keeps burnout at bay.
What do you do to combat burnout? I'd love to hear!
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I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.