#62: How to Prevent and Deal with Burnout, with Alan Heymann

Today’s guest is Alan Heymann, an executive coach. Alan’s coaching company is called Peaceful Direction. He has spent more than two decades in public, government and nonprofit communications. Then, after he hired his own executive coach, he decided to become a coach himself. He founded Peaceful Direction in April 2019.

I invited Alan on the podcast to talk about burnout. Burnout happens to the best of us in our lives and careers, but we are particularly susceptible right now during the pandemic and economic crisis because of all the changes, uncertainty and stressors on us right now.

Alan talks about how you can recognize burnout in yourselves, how you can work to prevent it and what you can do when you’re starting to feel burnout.

Burnout is more of an issue nowadays than before the pandemic because you have uncertainty layered on top of uncertainty layered on top of uncertainty.

Burnout is also showing up in different ways in people. Stress and burnout are different. Stress is more temporary, when we have too much to do with not enough time to do it. Burnout is when the usual things you do in the normal course of your work and life are less possible for you. And it’s happening for longer than just a few minutes or just a few hours.

Burnout can feel like you’re running in mud. You have trouble getting anything accomplished. Or, the tasks that normally take 15 minutes take several hours. You have trouble focusing.

Alan realized that none of his clients are taking vacations or time off because of the pandemic. Many people who are still working are actually busier because of the pandemic, as companies are forced to readjust and are sending out more communications. People don’t feel like they can take vacations when they are already at home and when the pandemic restrictions don’t really allow regular types of travel.

You cannot run the engine—which is you!—24/7 and not expect breakdowns to happen. Alan saw the signs of burnout in himself and realized he needed to schedule a staycation since his family’s summer vacation plans were scrapped.

Alan has only worked for himself for about seven months and fell into a common new freelancer trap: not taking any significant time off. He admitted it’s flattering that the demand for his services was strong. Also, because we’re now in a time of economic uncertainty, it’s common to think you have to work when the work is available. And, of course, if you don’t work, you don’t make money.

But, it’s critical to protect the asset: You.

As an optimist, Alan says among all our feelings of uncertainty, most people have done an amazing and tremendous amount of learning and adapting as a society in a very short period of time. When faced with a challenge, most people will do what they can to rise up to that.

Symptoms of burnout include sleeplessness and waking up in the middle of the night, as well as going to extremes physically—either exercising a lot or stopping all exercise and activity entirely. You may notice that what you are reading is not being absorbed, that you can’t concentrate on reading (for work or pleasure).

If burnout goes unidentified and is not addressed it will affect the value you provide your clients over time. You will not be as effective.

Burnout can be hard to identify in yourself. Do a self-observation—are tasks taking longer? Are you having trouble making decisions?

You may also get signals from loved ones, who recognize your stress, grumpiness or difficulty in getting out of bed in the morning. Encourage those around you to speak up when they notice these burnout signs in you. 

Embrace “the power of pause.” Take breaks throughout your workday—go outside, take time for deep breathing, step away from work. Set a timer to remind you to take these breaks 3–4 times a day.

Some type of inner practice is critical. This could be journaling, prayer, meditation, running, walking around the block.

A longer pause is also important. You need to disrupt the flow, so consider taking a staycation. A break also allows new ideas, new ways of thinking to take hold.

Your identity plays into burnout: How do you see yourself? If you see yourself as a “doer,” it is difficult to stop doing. If you see yourself as a successful entrepreneur, it’s difficult to stop working.

If your personal identity is linked strongly to what you do professionally, it can be hard to detach from that when you’re not working.

Ask yourself: Is my identity serving the work or is the work serving my identity?

Alan is taking care of himself by sticking to his running habit, working in his yard and checking in with his family (his wife and middle school daughter) and reading. He also makes sure that he isn’t consuming all serious content all the time. While he gravitates toward non-fiction, he is reminding himself to read novels too. His family has also been watching silly TV shows together.

Setting or resetting boundaries is critical. Know your limits—how many hours you can work effectively in a day, how long your attention span is right now.

There is no shortage of free courses and learning options. But you cannot handle all of that input, so know your limits and stick with them.

Biz Bite: Set email boundaries (Alan does not check email from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.)


Alan’s website: Peaceful Direction

Alan on Twitter

Alan on LinkedIn

Alan recommends the book “Deep Work” by Cal Newport (which I also love).

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