6 Questions To Ask Yourself If You're Always Feeling Burned Out At Work

by Christian Bonilla

Little-known fact: "Hell Week" for Navy SEALs is not a full seven days. They cut it at around five days.

Because after a few days of Hell, everyone who's going to quit already has. The rest just become zombies and risk injuring themselves.

Many people in all kinds of work experience a (much) milder version of that. They won't quit, but their work quality is deteriorating due to burnout.

I've experienced that, and most of my peers have at some point ignored the warning signs and just kept going.

Surveys showing that 70 percent of employees in the US are not engaged at work seem to support the idea of this walking-dead majority.

Not all of those people are suffering from burnout, but I imagine a good chunk of those people used to be engaged in their work. What happened to them?

Some people take time off and re-assess things when they get to a point where they feel disconnected or in despair.

They're the smart ones; plenty of others fall into the “sleepwalking” stage. They're too spent to approach their work with creativity and enthusiasm anymore.

It's not a happy place, and yet, there's also a perverse pride people can take in being so busy.

You want to leave the office when you're there, and you're antsy to get back when you're home.

But there's a way to recharge your batteries without quitting your job.

When you're exhausted, but don't want (or can't afford) to up and quit, you've got to find ways to build your energy reserves back up.

Asking yourself the questions below can help you uncover ways to reclaim some of your sanity without taking drastic action:

Are you addicted to being busy?

The idea of busyness being at least a little bit like an addiction has gathered followers over the years.

Regardless, if you need to feel busy, you'll pack your schedule and volunteer for things to validate yourself.

Be honest with yourself. If you're doing it to feel productive or important, you're wasting precious energy. Try not volunteering for something next time. The world will keep spinning.

Can you get rid of meetings?

Look at your calendar and take inventory of the meetings you've gone to in the last week or two.

How many of them could you have not attended and been just as well off? If you ran them, how could you have done a better job with everyone's time?

Think about how much you would benefit from having even just two or three hours back each week.

Are you failing to finish?

There is a concept from agile software development that may help you: minimize work-in-progress.

A partially-done deliverable does no one any good, so cut down on the number of things you're working on at once and focus on completing things.

Having lots of tasks at different stages might make you look important, but more than likely, it's making you unproductive and stressed.

Can you work from home?

I thrive on other people's energy, so I'm not a big telecommuter. Still, getting back two hours when I need to focus is sometimes what I need.

Working from home (even just a few days a month) probably keeps me saner (eliminating one's commute altogether has been equated to a $40,000 raise) and gives me back a night or two of doing things I'd rather be doing than working.

Pro Tip: Turn your computer all the way off when you're done for the day so you're not always “at the office” at home.

Eliminating one's commute altogether has been equated to a $40,000 raise.

Are you sabotaging your sleep?

It's probably unrealistic for you to get good sleep every night (who does?), but that doesn't mean you can't improve.

If you're really tapped out, set a goal of getting at least one really good night of sleep a week. Sleep goals are as important as any other fitness goals. Try to get one night where you don't drink, watch TV in bed or stay up too late.

Sleep goals are as important as any other fitness goals.

Are you taking your vacation?

Except for my first year working when I stupidly thought I hadn't “earned” the right to take a vacation, I've always tried to take real breaks.

Remember, vacation is part of your compensation. Moreover, you need time away to recharge mentally if you're going to do your best work.

Good things happen when you give your brain a little space to breathe and think creatively rather than executing all the time.

Even if you aren't feeling burned out, managing your energy levels is important for you to be successful. No matter how fast you run, your career is a marathon, not a sprint.

You need to be able to sustain your pace.

Don't import burnout.

You might notice one point missing from the list: finding a new job.

That's because, by itself, changing jobs probably won't help. If you're addicted to being busy or always have lots of work-in-progress, doing the same thing in a new setting won't cure you for very long.

Tackle the underlying issues, and you'll be in better shape whether you stay in your current job or find something that better matches your ambitions.

The corollary is that, as a hiring manager, you don't want to bring in someone who's already burned out.

Mentoring your direct reports about managing their energy levels and working effectively is important, but you don't want to import someone who's already a wreck.

If you work for an enlightened management team, require a new hire to take a vacation before starting. Failing that, give them a week or two before starting.

Resist the urge to have them leave a job on Friday and start a new one on Monday, no matter how much you want them to.

If you really value what they can do for the business long-term, it's the smart move.

This article was originally published on the author's personal blog.