31-day challenge: Burnout Edition

burn.jpgI had heard of burnout. I had been warned about burning out. But, I had never experienced burnout……until I did.

Everything I had heard about how horrifying it is, is true. I thought long and hard (for over a month) about what I wanted to say about this topic and it took me a fair bit of time to begin to put my thoughts together. However, it is time to break the hiatus here and what better way than to share a little more about how crazy my life has been and the thoughts that emerged during this period.

There are four things I want to talk about in particular – sleep debt, individual responsibility, organizational responsibility and then of course, the 31-day challenge.

While science claims that one can repay sleep debt, I prefer to believe that one never can. It is a recipe for disaster to believe that sleeping 20 hours over the weekend will make up for the lost sleep over the week. It does not work for me; it likely will not work for you. Believing that sleep debt can never be repaid is a great way to drive fear into your regime, hence ensuring you prioritize your sleep. I like to think of sleep debt as similar to the sun causing skin cancer. That there is only prevention; the cure is far too expensive and far too painful. For someone who loves her sleep, I have learnt the hard way. I also learnt that sleep sprays, meditation, putting your phone away, chamomile tea and lavender potpourri do not put a troubled mind to sleep. In fact, short of melatonin, nothing does. So catch up on the z’s.

The reason I could not sleep well was that I was constantly on a guilt trip. I was constantly beating myself over slipping deadlines at work, letting my blog slide or being inactive on Twitter. I was worrying to the extent that all I would do was worry. I soon realized that no one noticed, no one cared, and no one, besides me, was impacted. The only person who could afford to do anything about it was I. So, I did. I let the blog slide (as is evident). I almost disappeared from Twitter and I let the not so important stuff slide at work. Instead, for a few weeks I focused on things that I really wanted to do. I went out and socialized more. I hit the gym. Most importantly, I let the guilt slide. Then bit by bit, I began to put my schedule together. I realized that pulling myself out of this mess was my responsibility alone but it was also the responsibility of my organization but they would not know unless I told them. Therefore, I told them.

As managers and HR professionals, we need to realize that burnout is something most human beings struggle with. We are great at piling things on to our plate, being ambitious and pushing ourselves to the limit. It is now widely acceptable to burn yourself out, take a sabbatical, get back to work, repeat. Organizations have always been and continue to be blind to work-life balance (yes, for lack of a better term) and the mental health needs of an individual. Organizations believe that their responsibility ends with yoga classes, free counselling and sabbatical plans. I am left shell-shocked when startups proudly inform new hires that the organization will now consume their life and they will have to accept that nothing else exists.

Since when did the race become so bad that we receded into slavery? The only upside is that we are compensated with money we have little time to spend. We voluntarily choose to take on work to the extent in the pretext of finding purpose that it destroys balance. I strongly believe that organizations, at some point, need to take a call to either say that they promote slavery or make a true attempt to fix this madness. While a lot of people need to do more, a fair bit also need to do less. Let’s balance the load, shall we?

Hence, here is the 31-day challenge (phew – after a fair bit of rambling).

Step 1: For 31 days, throw aside the guilt. Do everything you enjoy, let things slide and eventually, you will find priorities rise to the surface. Believe me; the world does not end. I let the blog and social media slide. The price I paid is minimal compared to the bliss.

Step 2: Make time in the day for the priorities and shift everything else to the time in between. The daily morning workout became a priority and hence my workday now begins an hour later. Because I wake up earlier, my sleep time is now non-negotiable. Everything else in life needs to fit in the hours in between. If it does not, it is an indication that I have taken on too much. Which bring me to step 3.

Step 3: Drop the load. There is invariably something that I do not need to do. I dropped a few ambitions to fit everything else within the rest of the hours available. I now do not need to read every single day. I do not like it but I have made peace with it. My reading is now invariably restricted to flights. I am considering Audible but that’s a different story.

I strongly recommend you try this out. Despite what the world says success is not defined by the rat race alone. But you already knew that, didn’t you?

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