Beating Burnout?

by Mike O'Neill

Do you ever feel that you’re on a one-way road to burnout? Then perhaps, its time to take the next exit?

Most of us are returning from the Memorial Day weekend with our batteries recharged ready to start this week energized.

But if you’re returning from this long weekend mentally and/or physically exhausted, then perhaps Rebecca Knight‘s tips will help?

Take breaks during the workday.

To perform at your best over the long term, you need regular opportunities for restocking your mental energy.  Take a walk or go for a run. Have lunch away from your desk. Stepping away from your computer gets you out of the weeds and prompts you to reexamine the big picture. It’s often in the intervals between thinking really hard about a problem, and then stepping away, that solutions becomes apparent.  But take your breaks at the right time. When your energy is highest – often in the morning – you should focus on work and maximize your productivity.  Tackle your toughest challenges at those times. Then step away for a rest.

Put away your digital devices

If you’re like most, your smartphone is nearby 24-7. Consider actively limiting your digital device use after hours. Place your smartphone in a basket or drawer when you arrive home so you’re not tempted to pick it up and check your email; or you might devise a rule for yourself about turning it off past 8 p.m. Put away your phone. Whatever it is, it can wait until tomorrow.

Do something interesting

Instead of concentrating on limiting or avoiding work in your off-hours, consider scheduling restorative experiences that you look forward to. Making plans to play tennis with a friend or cook a meal with your spouse compels you to focus on an approach goal — doing something pleasurable — instead of an avoidance goal — not checking email.  Research shows that approach goals are easier and more enjoyable to achieve. Studies also indicate that doing an activity you find interesting — even if that activity is taxing — is better for you than simply relaxing.

Take long weekends

We just wrapped up a long Memorial Day weekend. Feeling mentally and/or physically exhausted may also be a sign that you need to take some time off. The break need not be a two-week vacation; rather when it comes to stress-reduction, you get a much greater benefit from regularly taking three and four-day weekends. While you’re away, though, don’t call the office or check your email. You need to let go. Each of us is a little less vital than we’d like to believe.

Focus on meaning

If your job responsibilities preclude immediate time off,  focusing on why the work matters to you. Connecting your current assignment to a larger personal goal — completing this project will help you score that next promotion, for instance — will help you fight the temptation to slack off and will provide a jolt of energy that will give you what you need to barrel through that day or the next couple of days. Be aware, however, that this may provide only temporary relief. If you’re burnt out from working too hard, you need to stop and take a real break.

If none of these strategies work, you could be dealing with something more serious. If you’re listless and fatigued but still feel effective on the whole, then it’s probably just burnout. But if you feel as though you’re not making progress and that the work you do doesn’t seem to matter, it’s a different problem. Is your manager giving you what you need to work at your best? If not, you may need a different position. Is the very nature of your work sapping your energy? If so, you may need to rethink your career.


  • Incorporate regular breaks into your workday
  • Set boundaries around your use of digital devices during off-hours
  • Focus on why the work matters to you if professional obligations preclude a vacation


  • Check your email when you’re taking a vacation or long weekend
  • Spend all your downtime vegging; engage in activities that challenge and interest you
  • Mistake constant fatigue and apathy for a temporary case of burnout; if you feel ineffective on a daily basis, it might be time to look for a new job

Link to How to Overcome Burnout & Stay Motivated (HBR, Rebecca Knight).



If you subscribe to the philosophy that says, “My vacation will free me from burnout,” then you’re waiting for a few days out of the year to make up for many days of stress. Instead, you have to be able to take mini-vacations on a daily basis.

– Tony Robbins

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