Ever feel like you're just going through the motions? You know you had a good reason for starting your business—a genuine belief that you could offer something valuable to your customers and your community—but you're having trouble remembering why all the work is supposed to be worth it. Worried that you've lost your motivation? Afraid you're completely burned out? Well, you're not alone. Job burnout is all too common, and it can be hard to recover from.
If you're burned out, it's critical that you address it. Not only can your attitude spread like wildfire throughout your company, turning motivated employees into drudges, but burnout can also affect the long-term health of your company. Be wary, because burnout is bad news.
First, however, it's important to identify exactly what burnout is. My definition of burnout is when you feel your efforts are fruitless and that you have lost all enthusiasm for work over a sustained period of time. If you have just a few lackluster days, or even a few weeks of them, it could just be a simple anomaly. But when that “lacklusterness” goes on for a month or more, you, my friend, are burned out.
But don't worry! There are real, practical strategies I've used when I'm feeling undermotivated. It's possible to reinvigorate your work life and find ways to stay motivated!
Here are my six tricks on how to recover from burnout.
1. Take an extended break.
You may feel overloaded. You may genuinely believe that you can't afford to leave your ship without a captain long enough for a vacation, but here's the truth: You can't afford not to. When you realize you're facing every day without the motivation to excel, then time away is a powerful antidote. And when I take a break, it's a complete break. It doesn't do you any good to get away if you're glued to your laptop or iPad and constantly fretting over what's going on at your company. Give yourself some space to breathe, relax and enjoy spending time doing whatever you please. The result? You'll return to work refreshed, with your burnout banished, ready to stay motivated, jump back in and give it your all.
2. Start relaxed.
Too many people jump out of bed, race through breakfast, shuttle kids to school, fight traffic, and arrive at work exhausted, worn out and without the motivation to attack the work day. In other words, stress, stress and more stress. Instead, start relaxed. Adopt a morning ritual that includes stretching, exercising, relaxing, meditating or some other practice that helps you stay motivated and feel centered, focused, and ready to perform at your optimum level. Just like you slowly warm up before exercise, you want to slowly warm up your mind and body before working. Cultivating a relaxed mindset before your begin your workday can help prevent burnout and boost your productivity.
3. Take regular breaks.
Working straight through the day is not productive and has even been scientifically proven to be ineffective. Change your schedule to work in a short burst of 60 to 90 minutes, then take a 15 to 20 minute break. And by “break” I don't mean tackling all the work emails that have accumulated while you've been working. Make sure the break allows your mind to totally disconnect from work. Go for a walk, talk with friends about the past weekend or read your favorite magazine. Physically standing up, moving around, changing your scenery, and taking a few deep breaths gives both your mind and body a chance to shake off the hyper-focused approach that can be so amazingly productive, but can—over time—wear you down and contribute to job burnout. When I take a break, I find I'm much more focused and motivated when I'm ready to dive back in.
4. Avoid the news.
In some cases, job burnout is a result of depression. The constant negativity perpetuated by news reports, over time, can give many people the false belief that all of life is horrible. And with that comes depression and burnout. As we're bombarded by the 24-hour news cycle that inevitably focuses on everything that's wrong in the world, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by negativity. Try not watching or reading the news for 30 days. It may be the perfect burnout cure.
5. Change what you eat.
Garbage in, garbage out—it's as true for data as it is for our bodies. Just as you might need a break from depressing, negative news, your body may need a break from all the junk food that's everywhere we turn. A poor diet can not only suck the energy out of you, but it can also mess with your mind. Feed your body, brain and attitude with healthy superfoods, and you can feel better, both physically and mentally. Improve your diet and, in many cases, you will see a rise in energy and a rise in your attitude. Healthy food nourishes you and can help heal or prevent burnout.
6. Write down why.
Sometimes a crisis of motivation can be cured by reminding yourself of why you started your crazy entrepreneurial adventure. Did you envision yourself making your community a better place to live? Did you envision financial freedom and security for your family? Are you offering a service nobody else can? Physically writing down the reasons you do what you do can remind you of why it's worth it. When you step back to look at the big picture, it can help you realign your priorities and rediscover how to stay motivated you need. Find your passion again, and burnout melts away.
Though periodic burnout is common—even among those of us who genuinely love what we do, sometimes it doesn't go away. If you've tried all the strategies you can think of and you're still wondering how to stay motivated, then it may be time for you to make bigger changes. If what you're doing isn't working, then do something else! Whether that means making a career change or dramatically shifting the vision for your company, sometimes burnout is a sign that you need to move on and explore other options. But whether you take a vacation or make more sweeping changes, recognizing burnout as a sign that something's wrong gives you the opportunity to make things right.
A version of this article was originally published on January 2, 2012.