How to avoid burn out in a world where Work Life Balance is Dead
Life is getting faster and faster and shows no signs of slowing down. Individuals and companies are being asked to do more with less time and resources. To be successful in this new world we need to adapt to our new environment by speeding up. In the 21st century businesses or people that slow down will get left behind and made obsolete. Also in this comoditised and competitive world staying on the cutting edge is vital. Businesses need to out create, out innovate and out market their competition. The key to staying on the cutting edge is greater and sustained performance.
The bad news is that business owners and employees are not working any where near their performance potential with Hewitt's reporting that less than 50% of us are engaged. This lack of engagement is often due to fatigue and burn out.
When we feel tired and burnt out we often say "I need work life balance".
80% of Australians believe that it is more difficult to achieve work life balance and they are right. We are working more and more and filling our out of work time with more and more responsibilities. Our preoccupation with being busy has even changed the way we greet people. A typical greeting is "Hi, how you doing, keeping busy?".
Charles Handy described the business environment in the 21st century by the following formula:
½ x 2 = 3
The translation means half the number of workers doing twice the amount of work expected to get three times the result.
Let's get real here this is the reality of our situation. Balance is possible however we are not willing to compromise on the things that will give us balance. So unless you are willing to move to Nimbin don't expect to be enjoying balance any time soon.
Yet there is no shortage of people out there who tell us that this allusive balanced life is possible. They are usually speakers and authors with big teeth and an orange tan and they tell us that we can have the perfect life and all we need to achieve it is to enroll in their work life balance course that goes for 4 months every night of the week for 4 hours.
Work life balance is dead, dead, dead, dead and it doesn't look like there will be a resurrection any time soon.
What's the solution? How do we avoid burnout in this time poor world?
One thing that leads very quickly to burn out and fatigue is trying to work an entire day without a break. This practice is the norm now with meal breaks a distant memory. Not only is this physically impossible it also dramatically reduces our productivity. Two Harvard researchers Robert Yerkes and John Dobson examined how to structure a working day in order to avoid burn out and stay productive.
When we focus and work hard our body gets stressed. This is a good thing as our brain releases adrenaline and cortisol which stimulates brain activity and improves performance. However this only works up to a point, after prolonged exposure to these stress hormones we reach our "productivity peak". Following this peak the brain starts to become fatigued, we loose focus and the high levels of stress hormones start to damage our brain. An example of this is in practice is when you are in a meeting that goes for over an hour and we find ourselves daydreaming and thinking about our weekend.
The productivity research shows that when we get to this point (approximately after 60 to 90 minutes of hard work) it is important to take a short break and relax. An ideal situation is doing five to ten minutes of a relaxing activity where the mind is no longer focusing on work. To do this you don't need to get out the meditation cushion and your incense candles. All you need to do is sit and relax for 5 minutes focusing on breathing slowly and deeply, then get up and walk around for a couple of minutes. This is an obtainable goal as it is only 5 minutes, anything more would be unrealistic in this time poor society.
Relaxing at the point of our "productivity peak" stops the production of stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) and produces nitric oxide instead which stimulates the release of neurotransmitters such as endorphins and dopamine. These chemicals make us feel better and improve our ability to focus and think clearly.
In effect what you are doing is working your brain hard then relaxing it to restore your brain chemistry and get the two hemispheres of your brain communicating. This is not about budging during your day, its about working hard and dropping out briefly to prepare yourself for the next period of intense focus.
It's similar to exercising hard resting for a short period of time, resting and then exercising again.
What will stop us doing this is our fixation on how much time we spend at work rather than how effective we are at work. Are you time driven or performance driven?
By working hard and taking your brain to the height of potential and then suddenly relaxing it, it is possible to get greater performance out of it during your day and greater performance means we get more done in less time and only then can we have more time for ourselves.