In the first section of this actionable guide, you’ll learn how to recover from burnout. Then, you’ll discover what to do next, so you never have to go through another episode again.
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Two years ago, I ignored my burnout, and it escalated into pneumonia.
My health was never the same again.
Odds are, you’ve had your fair share of burnouts, and you’re wondering what you should do this time round to kick it to the curb.
In this guide, I’ll share the actionable tips on defeating workplace burnout — featuring entrepreneurs who’ve been through it and rose above it.
You’ll learn how to recover from burnout in the first section. In the next part, you’ll discover what you should do next, so you never have to go through another episode again.
Let’s get started.
Burnout: Unpacking What It Really Means
Before we explore the tips, let’s unpack what burnout means.
Burnout is more than having a bad day at work.
It’s the physical and emotional exhaustion caused by excessive stress (e.g., heavy workload, chaos in the workplace). If left untreated, burnout can bring on a host of serious health issues like chronic headaches, mental collapse, and fatigue.
Here’s a true story on Reddit that shows how terrifying it is when you’re hit by massive burnout:
Burnout jeopardizes productivity, mental health, and your well-being. No one should underestimate it.
Stage I: How To Recover From Burnout When It Strikes
Chest tightness. Headaches. Heart palpitations. Burnout’s a horrible thing to go through. So what should you do to beat the burnout blues and regain control in your life? These two tips will get you started.
1. Take A Break
Is there a better way to overcome burnout than stepping away from work? (Note: If you’re unable to go on vacation, skip to the second tip in this section. It works just as well!)
When you remove yourself from the daily barrage of emails, projects, and meetings, you detach yourself from one of the main sources of stress: Work.
And it does wonders for your health. You get to reboot your mind and focus on getting on the path toward recovery.
Consider this approach by Adrienne Barnes, a freelance writer for B2B SaaS companies. She blocks off time in her calendar and lets her clients know in advance:
Source: Adrienne Barnes
When Ian B, President at Kredmo, went on a vacation, he traveled back home to reconnect with his friends and family members.
It turned out to be the right move:
“I overcame my last burnout by completely disconnecting myself from work for a good three weeks. This meant no checking emails, no work calls, and not being contactable by staff, so basically being off the grid. I had my business partner take care of all operations while I was gone.”
Ian B, President at Kredmo
Pro Tip: Focus on recuperating without stressing over work during your break. One surefire way is to complete your prep work.
What do I mean by prep work?
Here are five examples:
- Give clients a heads-up that you’ll be offline.
- Finish a project before you take a break, or rearrange it so there’s a period of unscheduled projects.
- Delegate your most important tasks to a business partner or assistant (Pro Tip: Cross-train your team members, so they can easily step in and cover for a member when they’re sick or away on vacation).
- Build in extra time to your deliverable schedule. When you finish a project before a deadline, send it to the client! Not only will it make them happy, but you’ll also get to enjoy more downtime.
- Write an out-of-office email.
Source: The Muse
For Vivian Tejeda, a DIY and lifestyle blogger at Teal Notes, her prep work involves cooking her meals ahead of time and organizing her work desk:
“The key is always being intentional about your healing process and setting yourself up for the most restful and leisure-filled time from the beginning. Things like bulk taking care of errands and deadlines, then allowing yourself to breathe and relax with a few activities in between can help energize you. Ultimately, you can revisit your work feeling refreshed.”
Vivian Tejeda, DIY & Lifestyle Blogger at Teal Notes
Wise words, if I do say so myself.
2. Prioritize Self-Care
Now that you’ve officially started your break, it’s time to prioritize self-care.
That’s right, not just practice, but prioritize. I don’t know about you, but I always neglect my self-care routine when I’m busy with work.
No one understands burnout better than Michael Levitt.
The Founder and Chief Burnout Officer of The Breakfast Leadership Network experienced a major burnout back in 2009.
That’s not all.
Michael’s burnout also brought on a series of life-changing events: Heart attack, job loss, car repossession, and home foreclosure — all within one year.
To reinvent himself from the bottom up, Michael set boundaries and scheduled his self-care activities before his other commitments:
“Schedule two, three things that you love to do every week. It can be going to your favorite coffee shop, going for a nature walk, or having drinks with your best friend.”
Michael Levitt, Founder & Chief Burnout Officer at The Breakfast Leadership Network
Pro Tip: Whichever activity you pick for your self-care routine, make sure it’s unrelated to your work.
If you love reading, avoid reading work-related books. If you love hanging out in cafes, avoid visiting cafes that you frequently work at.
The point here is to separate yourself from work, so you can “switch off” (even for just a moment!) and reduce stress from Day 1.
We expanded on self-care activities in our quarantine survival guide. Check it out if you need more ideas.
Stage II: How To Bounce Back After Recovering From Burnout
Think you’ve got everything you need to conquer burnout for good? Think again. In this last section, you’ll discover the specific steps on how to ease back into work after recovering from burnout. Let’s dive in.
3. Create Realistic Goals
You’re feeling refreshed and inspired.
It’s tempting to create big lofty goals after resetting our minds. But more often than not, we’re asking for trouble.
I’ll share an example to illustrate what I mean.
This year, after recovering from yet another burnout, I gave myself a new goal:
Publish a new blog post every month for my freelance writing business to attract leads.
The problem? I couldn’t do it. I put it off for more than eight months!
Here’s how my blog looks right now. My last post was dated back in November 2019. *inserts face palm emoji
Source: Content Kapow
Rather than beating myself over it, I took a step back and thought hard about my blog.
Do I need to publish a new post every month to attract leads? Probably not, given there are other proven ways.
I decided to change my unrealistic goal to a realistic one.
Instead of starting from scratch every month, I’ll optimize what I have and promote it on my social network channels. (Social media works well for my business, hence the decision.)
In the end, it has worked well. I repurposed an old post and shared it on LinkedIn. Within hours, a lead reached out with an opportunity:
Today, I set these realistic goals in other areas of my life:
|UNREALISTIC GOALS||REALISTIC GOALS|
|Publish a new blog post every month||Optimize blog post (e.g., repurpose, update) and promote it on social media|
|Finish online course in two months||Complete at least two videos for each course module every Saturday|
|Post on Twitter every day||Comment/Retweet 1-3 times a week to build relationships with Twitter users|
Am I making slow progress?
… but at least I’m advancing 1% every day and keeping my stress level under control.
And that’s a win in my (and the client’s!) book.
Pro Tip: Create a positivity journal and record your “wins” every day.
These “wins” can be testimonials from your happy clients or even just the things you’re grateful for.
They don’t always have to be about your work life — include what went well in your personal life, too!
Review your positivity journal daily. That can keep those burnout blues at bay.
4. Rebuild Habits
Achieving your goals requires a system. It’s not enough to just work on them as and when you feel like it.
What you need to do is build a collection of “sticky” tiny habits.
Here’s how to get started:
- Create a five-day plan using a simple notebook, spreadsheet, or an idea management tool like Ideanote
- List your new habits in columns. Start small!
- For the next five days, mark it with an ‘X’ whenever you complete a task
- Once the five-day period is over, add other habits or extend your current ones for maximum impact (e.g., extend workout sessions by 15 minutes)
Michael Alexis, CEO of TeamBuilding, swears by this five-day plan and has been using it for years:
“This five-day plan provides remedies for a range of contributing factors. For example, when I’m burned out, it’s usually related to working at the computer, staying up way too late, and not eating well. By building in habits that support a variety of areas, you can get out of the burnout quicker (while continuing to work).”
Michael Alexis, CEO of TeamBuilding
5. Work In Short Bursts
By now, it’s likely you’re getting used to working. Heck, you might even find yourself working long hours again!
After all, you did just take the necessary steps to recharge your mind. Surely that means you’re ready to get back into “work mode”, right?
Immediately going full steam ahead at work could end up overwhelming you and create another burnout.
So pace yourself as you ease back into work.
This is where the Pomodoro technique comes in: You work in short bursts instead of long stretches.
Source: Tomato Timers
Here’s how to use Pomodoro:
- Set a timer on your phone or laptop for 25-35 minutes (or use an online timer like Tomato Timers. It comes with a to-do list!)
- Focus on only one task during this period
- Take a 5-10 minute break when the timer ends
- Repeat the process
James Major, Founder of Insurance Panda, practices the Pomodoro technique daily.
After experimenting, he discovered his sweet spot is 35-minute intervals. He does a quick workout at the end of each interval — usually a short walk or pushups — to get his blood flow going.
“I’m now able to complete a full eight-hour workday in just under four hours. The long, dragged out workday that I used to endure before I discovered the Pomodoro method would always lead to me feeling burned out and skipping days of work. Now, that never happens.”
James Major, Founder of Insurance Panda
Pro Tip: Time batch your schedule to get the best use of your time.
Jon Zacharias, Founder of The Search Guy, sets aside a few hours in the morning to focus on urgent creative and analytical tasks:
“Once I’ve gotten the most important tasks out of the way, and my focus is no longer as sharp, I move on to meetings and calls. With this set schedule, everyone on my team is aware of where I’m at in my day, which helps with efficiency and communication. This method allows me to stay organized, not only physically but mentally.”
Jon Zacharias, Founder of The Search Guy
When do you focus best?
Block out this optimal time and save it for your most challenging or urgent tasks.
6. Set Up Nonnegotiable Rules
You know it’s time to make new rules in your life when your responsibilities take a toll on your health.
Trond Nyland, Founder and CEO of Mattress Review, stresses the importance of going beyond vacations:
“Taking a mental health day or a quick vacation may provide some temporary relief, but if you don’t make some changes in the workplace, the burnout will re-emerge as soon as you get back to work.”
Trond Nyland, Founder and CEO of Mattress Review
These new rules can be big or small.
If you’re a freelancer working from home, work only at your office space. Never work in your bed or on the dining table.
Source: Arquitetura | Interiores
If you’re an agency owner juggling multiple projects, avoid working with toxic clients who keep enforcing unrealistic deadlines.
Here are my three nonnegotiable rules to give you a better idea.
Using a digital post-it note like Sticky Notes by Ukiv, I remind myself of the dos and don’ts when running my freelance business:
- No working long hours — only six hours max every workday
- Go on a social media detox every Sunday
- Turn my phone to airplane mode after 8:00 every worknight
Setting these strict rules will help you stay in the right direction, support your mental and physical health, and maintain a better work-life balance.
7. Recognize Triggers And Symptoms
Most importantly, learn to spot your burnout triggers and symptoms.
Ask yourself these two questions:
- What are the specific events that set off my burnout? Is it working for long periods and not taking breaks in between? Is it rushing through deadlines on weekends and holidays? Get clear on this.
- What changes do I notice in my body when I’m burned out? Is it extreme procrastination or the inability to focus? I experience these physical symptoms and health issues: Dizziness, migraines, mild vomiting, and loss of appetite. Yep, not fun…
Track what you do and how you feel every day. That should help you spot some patterns.
The sooner you recognize the causes and signs of burnout, the sooner you’ll be able to put the brakes on.
Speed Up Your Burnout Recovery Process: Reset Your Mind And Come Back 10X Stronger
Experiencing burnout can be a terrifying time in your life.
But if you focus on self-care and create new changes in your life, I promise you will recover a lot faster.
Here’s a quick recap on what we’ve covered:
- Take A Break
- Prioritize Self-Care
- Create Realistic Goals
- Rebuild Habits
- Work In Short Bursts
- Set Up Nonnegotiable Rules
- Recognize Triggers and Symptoms
Now off you go.
Pause your work, take care of your well-being, and focus on your health.
You deserve it.
When you’ve recovered, let us know which tips worked best for you!