Start with Rest: How to Avoid Burnout in 2021
2020 may have taken us by surprise, but the pandemic hasn’t stopped most people from taking part in that annual tradition of hope: setting New Year’s resolutions. In fact, nearly 75% of American adults have set some sort of resolution this year—a 15% increase from last year. Unsurprisingly, most resolutions focused on health. Other top categories were self-improvement, money, family, love, and career goals.
But what if we prioritized rest in the new year? What if, instead of starting with a plan, we started with perspective?
Perspective helps us take stock of where we are now. It answers the question, “Where do we stand?” Gaining perspective is critical in planning where we want to go. And we can only gain perspective by taking a step back from the daily madness and letting our mind, body, and soul truly relax. From a posture of rest, we can determine which goals are truly worth our time and start making plans to achieve them without risking burnout.
Why We Need to Rest
We can’t simply choose not to rest. At some point, our bodies reach a breaking point. We snooze through meetings, snap at our loved ones, and stop feeling connected to our sense of purpose.
When we gamble with our rest, we risk something much more than a growing caffeine addiction. We risk burnout.
What Is Burnout?
Burnout, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), results from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Its three main symptoms include:
- Negative, cynical, or distant feelings toward your job
- Reduced professional efficacy
Keep in mind that stress and burnout aren’t the same thing. Stress is a temporary state; for example, you may feel stressed in the days leading up to a big project deadline. Burnout is pervasive; even when things are “good,” you’re still exhausted.
Signs of Burnout
It’s easier to prevent occupational burnout than to alleviate it or recover from it. Keep an eye out for signs that you may be close to burning out, such as:
- Back pain
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Loss of enjoyment
- Unhealthy eating habits
- Poor job performance
3 Ways to Avoiding Burnout by Embracing Rest
Burnout can affect any employee, but it’s particularly prevalent among CEOs and other C-level executives. High expectations and pressure can create an intolerable level of executive stress. One study has shown that CEO burnout not only injures the individual executive, but also contributes to poor company performance.
Whether you fear you’re on the path to burnout or you know you’re already there, here are three ways that rest can help you feel more like yourself again:
Rest helps our minds and bodies relax in the wake of stress. Stress causes muscle tension, which in turn causes headaches, stomachaches, back pain, and more—all symptoms of burnout. By adopting healthy habits of rest, your body can relax, reducing tension.
Sleep hygiene is an important part of rest. Burnout and insomnia often go hand in hand. If we resist disengaging from work before bed, then we may struggle to stop thinking about work long enough to fall asleep. Blue light from smart devices can also keep us awake.
Try establishing a “wind down” routine to help you sleep and truly recharge. Turn off your notifications at least an hour before bed, and consider using an old-fashioned alarm clock instead of your phone to avoid blue light before bedtime.
Rest also reconnects us to our capacity for joy. By not spending every waking moment stressing over work, we can reconnect with hobbies, activities, and people that renew us. You may also find that by stepping away from time to time, you’ll rediscover the joy you found in your work in the first place.
Other Benefits of Rest
Keep Your Priorities in Line
It’s too easy to get sucked into the false sense of urgency that many jobs can unintentionally create. Every time your cell phone buzzes or your laptop pings, you’re torn away from other priorities. Not only does this negatively affect your workflow—it’s hard to focus on an important project when you hear the ping! of every Slack notification—but it also negatively affects your life outside of work.
Prioritization is the key to satisfaction both at work and at home. By taking time to rest and reflect, you can remind yourself of what truly matters in life—and it’s probably not the email that just whooshed into your inbox.
See the Big Picture
Leaders in particular need to step away from time to time to remind themselves of the big picture. It’s too easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day minutia of the office.
Executives need a regular opportunity to re-evaluate the company on a larger scale, brainstorm solutions to complex problems, and ensure that the team is still in line with its purpose, mission, and vision. Leaders have to see the forest, not just the trees.
Set a Good Example
Rest can’t be reserved for the C-suite. In a healthy company, everyone has the opportunity to rest—and they’re encouraged to take advantage of it. Consider implementing rhythms of rest into your organization, such as flex time or more generous PTO.
How to Plan Ahead to Rest in 2021
I think many people feel some sense of, “If it’s not on my calendar, it isn’t happening.” Whether it’s a work meeting, a doctor’s appointment, family events, or simply enough time to go grocery shopping and cook a meal, we’re constantly scheduling out our busy lives to try to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
But too often, rest is the first casualty of a busy schedule. That’s why we need to schedule periods of rest ahead of time and honor them like any other appointment, meeting, or obligation.
Simple Ways to Add Rest to Your Schedule
Most of the time, we plan our life and try to find time to rest in the midst of all the chaos. But what if we planned our rest or time away first, and then planned to work around that? Here is a simple framework for making rest a regular part of your schedule:
- Daily: Carve out time throughout the day. For example, 10 minutes in the morning to walk around the block; 30 minutes at lunch to read the next chapter in the book you’re reading. 10 minutes mid-afternoon to stare out the window.
- Weekly: Set aside at least one 24-hour period to rest and recharge. Although most people choose Saturday or Sunday, feel free to choose a weekday for your day of rest if your weekends are typically too busy.
- Monthly/Quarterly: Consider embracing a weekend of rest once a month or at least once a quarter. Make sure not to overschedule your time off with too many activities, even if they sound like fun. Adopt a leisurely, reflective pace.
- Yearly: Are you guilty of trying to squeeze all of your vacation time into December before it expires? Take a look at your vacation time at the start of the year, and make a plan to use it intentionally throughout 2021, not just at the end. Note that family holidays, although wonderful, can still be stressful. Try to schedule vacation time that is truly free of any obligations.
How to Intentionally Rest—And Make Sure You ACTUALLY Rest
It’s hard to intentionally rest. Many people are practically addicted to productivity, and like any addiction, it’s not easy to quit cold-turkey. Here are a few ways to get started with choosing rest:
- Log Off: Smartphones and laptops have revolutionized work, but they’ve also made the boundary between the office and home much blurrier. “Working from home” can quickly turn into “living at work.” Turn off notifications during non-work hours, or log out entirely if you’re too tempted to check on things.
- Go Outside: Physically changing your surroundings is a great way to clear your head. Whether you take a short walk during your break or you spend your Saturday afternoon at the park, connecting with the outdoors can help you reconnect with yourself.
- Schedule: When you’re starting any habit, it’s helpful to start with a strict schedule and then slowly give yourself freedom to move things around as the habit becomes part of who you are. The same is true when it comes to learning how to rest. Start by sectioning off specific hours or days for rest. With time, you’ll be able to reintroduce more flexibility without letting your commitment to rest fall through the cracks.
- Trust Your Team: Many people are afraid of stepping away from work because they’re convinced the whole place will devolve into chaos without them. In most cases, this isn’t true, and in cases where it is true, it typically isn’t healthy. Empower your team members to share the workload while you’re gone. You can even ask them to help you stay accountable to your commitment to rest.
Resolve to Rest in 2021
As we look ahead at another year, it’s tempting to box ourselves into resolutions that demand near-constant productivity in order to be successful. But before we can rush ahead with our plans, it’s important to get perspective. Rest is the key to a healthier, happier, more productive year for both you and your team. If you want to try something new this year, I hope you’ll start with rest.