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E#178 8 Important Business Boundaries to Beat Burnout

This episode is about 8 important business boundaries to beat burnout

Are you a business owner who is feeling a bit stressed and like you might be heading for burnt-out? Today, I want to talk about 8 important business boundaries – boundaries that you set during your working day – that can help you to beat burnout, so you can maintain flow and productivity at work, with ease.

Burnout is the state of mental, emotional and often physical exhaustion that is created by prolonged or repeated stress.

 

In this episode, I’ll talk about 
* What burnout in business is all about
* Planning, Boundaries and Burnout
* Parkinson’s Law
* 8 Important business boundaries to help you maintain resilience

Burnout is the state of mental, emotional and often physical exhaustion that is created by prolonged or repeated stress.

In other words, it’s when we are regularly stretched beyond our capacity and resources that we start to feel burned out.

Burnout is an important topic that’s relevant right now to so many people. Let’s explore how it can happen, and then, look at 8 work boundaries to help you beat burnout.

Burnout in Business – It’s About More Than Just Self-Care

I have been talking to a lot of people recently about burnout in business and it’s clear that burnout is about more than just self-care.

One story stands out in my mind as an example. She is a business owner who says she has learned to set strong boundaries in her personal life and has been maintaining reasonable self-care, but still feels burnt out, and for quite a while, she couldn’t figure out why.

It turns out that she had mastered boundary setting and goals in her personal life but hadn’t translated these skills into her business.

In her personal life, she is exercising, eating well, meditating, reading and learning, going to bed early and spending time with friends and loved ones.

Yet it’s been the opposite in her business until fairly recently.

In the past, she had been pushing herself hard each day, overbooking herself, setting unrealistic deadlines, rushing through tasks in order to feel productive, using coffee to

maintain her momentum, comparing herself with the perceived success of others, and striving for exorbitant goals.

Because of these behaviours and habits, she’d often been working late and sometimes on weekends without any defined need or purpose and feeling increasingly anxious and stressed.

And previously, she might notice these signs and think she just needed a holiday. She’d have a wonderfully restful break and then, promise herself that she’d take things easier when she got back to work. But pretty soon, things would ramp up again and she’d be back on the road to burnout.

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

This is just one version of how burnout can happen. I have been forming some concepts about some of the contributing factors over the past couple of years which I’d like to share with you now.

Planning, Boundaries and Burnout

We all know that beliefs and thought patterns contribute to the behaviours that cause burnout.

But that aside, I have noticed that there is a clear relationship between your planning skills, ability to set boundaries and burnout.

If you’re interested, I have touched on some elements of this in my previous podcast episodes 112, 113, 114, 149 and 150 (if you want to go back and visit those).

Here’s how I see that they are related.

Firstly, if your planning isn’t effective, it can be hard to set and maintain healthy boundaries around the plan in order to deliver on it.

Think about that for a moment in this example. Let’s say you are brand new to business and you make an ambitious plan to service 50 clients by the end of this year.

What happens if you haven’t got clarity on the steps, processes and tasks to get there, and haven’t mapped them out clearly enough?

Chances are, you won’t identify the skills or support you might need to reach your goal.

You’ll struggle to gauge whether your plan is realistic and achievable.

Your poorly mapped tasks might take 3 times as long as you thought.

You might get stuck in the minutiae of putting out fires as you desperately try to wade through your plan.

And as you creep closer to the 12-month mark, determined to stick to your plan, you might start to break some of your own rules in order to achieve the 12-month goal at all costs.

Like working past 5pm. Like working weekends. Like lying awake at night and losing a lot of precious sleep as you ruminate on your to-do list.

Hopefully you can see that good planning can help you to be better with your business boundaries – that they are largely intertwined – and that if you can do well with planning, then boundaries are easier and burnout is less likely.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t want to dive too deep into the psychology and beliefs, but I do want to mention the phenomenon known as Parkinson’s Law.

Parkinson’s Law

Parkinson’s law is a term coined by Cyril Northcote Parkinson in 1955 to describe the negative relationship between bureaucracy and productivity. Later, it was translated into an adage that “work expands or contracts so as to fill the time available for completion.”

In other words, if you have a 38-hour work week available, your natural tendency is to fill all the gaps with work.

Similarly, if you have a deadline, you can enjoy the luxury of procrastinating for weeks and then finally get the job done in the last hour before it’s due.

This law can apply to money and household items too!

It’s clear that setting time boundaries at work is critical for your ability to be productive and effective. The success of Tim Ferriss’ book The 4-hour Work Week is a testament to this; it’s basically a manual on how to manipulate Parkinson’s Law.

Overall, in this discussion about boundaries and burnout, it’s clear that humans are good at creating work for themselves, whether it is necessary or not, and that is also something that can lead to burnout.

If you have your self-care and personal boundaries in order – great! If not, go back to my previous podcasts I mentioned and take a listen.

Now, let’s talk about 8 important business boundaries that you can set to maintain flow and productivity at work, with ease.

8 Important Business Boundaries

1. Scheduling – one key task per day

Scheduling is the most important part of planning, and it relates to the planning step I mentioned earlier. If you schedule properly, your finish work boundaries and lunch break boundaries are much easier to uphold!

When scheduling your week, remember that new tasks or project tasks invariably take longer than you planned, you will get blindsided by unexpected events, people will cancel, and you will get new and or urgent invitations.

When running a business, accept that you will constantly pivot to some degree, whether you like it or not.

So with all that said, the best way to accommodate this is to set only one key task to complete per day (more is a bonus) and leave a chunk of white space in your diary for the unforeseen or under-scoped tasks.

This is a challenging boundary at first, but it gets easier as you start reaping the benefits of a calm mind and more productivity than you thought possible.

2. Scheduling – one free day (or half day) per week

Building on the planning theme, I find that one full day with no meetings – absolutely not negotiable – is a great chance to catch up, work at a slower pace, and be creative.

Without the urgency or interruption of meetings and appointments, you can be super productive and feel like a champion. Try it.

The boundary is to resist the temptation to squeeze in that meeting or phone call so it’s out of the way. Challenge yourself; stay strong.

3. Maximum meetings

One final point on planning – this is my personal favourite – limit the total number of meetings or client appointments you have each week.

Meetings can be energizing, but too many can be draining, or even frustrating, and they can rob time from tasks that require focus and critical thinking.

Humans are wired to distract themselves, so a day peppered with meetings gives you a mental ‘excuse’ not to start a task because you ‘don’t have time’.

After a good year of observing myself, I realised that my capacity is 10 meetings per week.

More than this, and I start to panic that I won’t get any work done, or I can’t get enough focused time to do the project or other desk work I must do.

Learning to postpone or reschedule fits into this category too – it’s a good boundary to have to help you maintain flow, energy and productivity.

4. Work with your energy

Related to scheduling, and in the vein of David Allen’s model called Getting Things Done, it makes sense to work with your natural energy cycles and make the most of the highs and lows.

The way it works is like this. Let’s say you have 2 – 3 tasks you need to do on a particular day, and a meeting.

If possible, set the meeting at a time when you know you feel calm and present, like 11am.

For your other tasks, you can predict how your energy will be and plan accordingly, and feel free to shuffle around on the day in case anything has changed.

It’s order and disorder in harmony.

For me, I often feel creative first thing on a Monday and it’s a great time to map out podcast topics.

But some Mondays I know I have a deadline and I can’t think creatively, so I’ll do the urgent stuff first, take a break, and relax and get creative in the afternoon.

Honouring your body’s basic needs is a trickier boundary to set as it relies on self-observation and a willingness to adjust last minute. But once again, the reward is greater than the cost.

Imagine feeling like you are in flow every day, making the most of how you are feeling in each moment?

5. Watch your caffeine intake

Putting my health coach hat on, coffee is delightful and it’s a stimulant and diuretic.

There is a t-shirt that says coffee: energy to do stupid things faster. The t-shirt is right.

If coffee makes you speed up, your sense of urgency will increase, you might start rushing, panicking, feeling like you’re short on time….and then comes the frenzy.

Calm the farm and watch your caffeine. It is found in green, white and black tea to a lesser extent, nootropic drinks and coffee, energy drinks and cola drinks.

Most people can stay calm at one or maybe two cups per day. Don’t push the friendship; keep your boundary on simulants at work so you can remain calm and focused.

6. Drink enough water

I created a 50-day program for myself in 2021 and the life-changing moment was realising the impact that hydration has on my energy, focus, mental clarity and cognitive function. I was in a better mood and more motivated.

The boundary is simply this – do something to remember to drink enough water.

My simple trick is to fill my 750mL bottle first thing, put it next to my mouse, and aim to finish it by the time I eat my lunch, and refill it then to finish the second one by 6pm. Works a treat.

Your needs are affected by your age, gender, size, activity levels and temperature, but generally most people need 2 – 2.5L/day (women need slightly less).

If you are thirsty or often hungry, you are definitely dehydrated. Water is a game changer and a great business boundary to uphold.

7. Saying no when you’re tired

So many people try to push through to finish a task, or to be efficient, or to get meetings done. If you can recognise when you’re tired and are at capacity, then you can more easily set a boundary and say no to yourself and others so you can rejuvenate and avoid the slippery slope to burnout.

Let’s face it – tired people tend to make mistakes, do shoddy work or lose concentration and focus, then may try to compensate by pushing themselves. All of that is counterproductive.

Saying no gives you breathing space to re-energize and create true value in your business.

Finishing work at a set time falls into this category – but be flexible enough to finish early if you need to.

8. Step back and review urgency

If you’re busy, tired, have a flood of emails or meeting requests, it’s easy to get sucked into the vortex of urgency for unimportant things, that aren’t really that urgent at all.

Stepping back or as I call it, zooming out each day to review the urgency of tasks is a really helpful way to prioritize time, reschedule and stay calm. I have often caught myself feeling a rising sense of panic, and then ‘zoomed out’ to look logically at the tasks I am working on to ask myself – how urgent is this REALLY?

It’s an eye-opening thought interrupt that helps you calm down, re-assess your priorities and make the changes you need to stay on top of your game.

The boundary is having the discipline to step back and review rather than forge ahead.

Summary

Wow, we covered a lot today.

We talked about how all the personal boundaries in the world don’t prevent burnout – you need to transfer the skills of planning and boundary-setting to your business if you want to remain calm, focused, productive and resilient.

I mentioned the complicating factor of Parkinson’s Law, which is our innate desire to expand our work to fill the allocated schedule.

And I covered 8 business boundaries that might help you to regain your balance, focus, optimism and avoid burnout. They are:

  1. Schedule 1 key task per day
  2. Schedule 1 free day per week
  3. Set maximum meetings per week
  4. Match your work to your energy
  5. Manage your caffeine intake at work
  6. Drink enough water at work
  7. Say no when you’re tired
  8. Step back and review task urgency

These are what works for me, and I encourage you to have a try. And I’d love to hear your feedback – which business boundaries work for you?

Ready to get clarity on your pathway to success?

Understanding who you are and what you need will allow your business to thrive! If you’re truly ready to break old habits and get out of the rut I encourage you to check out the Habitology membership.

Learn more here:

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E#176 Burnout and Rust Out – Are You At Risk?

This episode is about burnout and rust out – are you at risk?

Have you been working at home, including supporting your clients or teams through mental issues, over the past two years? Let’s talk about some of the mental health impacts that people in supporting roles may face – burnout or rust out – so you can understand and identify these two elements that have the potential to impact your role as a leader, manager, mentor or coach.

This is the first in a series of conversations I’d like to have with you about understanding burnout and anxiety, and how to recover and build resilience.

These are such important topics because our working world has been turned upside down and this has impacted our mental health – and let’s face it – our mental health underpins both our personal and professional success

In this episode, I’ll talk about 
* Burnout, Rust Out, and Consequences
* Risk factors for burnout and rust out
* Managing or Reducing Burnout and Rust Out

Background

Over the past two years, we have seen significant changes in both working conditions and the mental health of workers and business owners.

If you are an employee, or if you are a manager leading customers or teams, your daily role has invariably expanded to include dealing with other people’s emotional challenges.

If you are a business owner and especially those in coaching businesses, it’s been more than just business as usual – you have faced a multi-pronged challenge of running your business while supporting your clients through greater than usual mental health challenges related to lockdown, home schooling, isolation, separation, loss of income, grief and the consequent depression and anxiety.

On top of this, all of us have been dealing with our own emotional and situational challenges that potentially lead to mental health issues like anxiety or burnout.

In simpler terms, it’s difficult to support others when your cup is empty.

It’s hard to be an effective listener, leader and coach if you are struggling with anxiety.

It’s hard to think clearly and make decisions if you’re overwhelmed.

It’s difficult to be effective if you have lost purpose and direction.

We need to understand what’s going on so we can deal with things more effectively and thrive in spite of what is going on around us.

Burnout, Rust Out, and Consequences

We all recognise the risks of burning out in such circumstances, but there is also the risk of something called ‘rust out’.

At a simple level, we can describe burnout and rust out in terms of the number of challenges being faced, versus the resources we have available to meet those challenges.

In the case of burnout, you may be facing substantial challenges but few resources to cope.

Consider the effect of the pandemic. So many people are dealing with more stress, grief, isolation above and beyond what we they normally experience, or may be in roles where there are high levels of physical and/or emotional demand.

Examples might include mental health counsellors who are trying to cope with an increase in emotionally challenged calls or clients, or on the other hand, there businesses that are thriving in the pandemic and may be working long hours, struggling to keep up with demand.

In either case, workers may eventually lose the energy or ability to meet those demands, and this puts them on the road to burnout.

And the result?

Chronic and excess stress that leads to a sense of overwhelming exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment, a sense of ineffectiveness, and a lack of accomplishment (professional efficacy) (1). These are the hallmarks of burnout.

Compare that with its’ opposite, rust out, where you may be facing few challenges but have plenty of resources to cope.

Consider again, the effect of the pandemic. Perhaps your work has dried up to the point where you have very little to do, and you’ve started clock watching at 10am. Perhaps your career prospects have dwindled and you’re doing mostly menial work, shuffling papers and attending endless meetings.

The result?

You may become bored, disheartened and directionless. Your day feels monotonous, and you are developing a sense of dissatisfaction with a career. You are also at risk of anxiety – a sense of – where is this all heading? – or depression.

It’s pretty clear that your ability to identify the risks and warning signs of either burnout or rust out means you can adjust, course correct, and stay on top of your mental health and thrive, in spite of what is going on around you.

Risk factors for burnout and rust out

In various studies, burnout risk factors are cited as gender, age, tenure and occupation, but there is variability in each of these.

Generally, though, burnout seems to affect all industries and since the pandemic, it has occurred on a larger scale. In a report by Microsoft, interviews with 9,600 frontline workers revealed that some workers reported feeling an increased sense of connection with co-workers due to shared stress from the pandemic, but many felt underappreciated by supervisors and that lack of communication had contributed to their burnout.

Further, 51% of non-management position frontline workers did not feel valued and wanted help to address physical exhaustion and mental health.

In the mining industry in Western Australia, a pre-pandemic (2018) survey of fly in, fly out (FIFO) workers showed that 1/3 of workers surveyed experienced high or very high feelings of anxiety and depression, and burnout was significantly higher for FIFO workers than the benchmark group.

Within the FIFO-based occupations of all mining employees, highest risk groups were makes 30 – 34 and 40 – 44 years of age, with eight people per week taking their lives in Western Australia.

Other factors contributing to burnout in FIFO workers higher workload, high job demands, reduced engagement, work-family conflict (which had a negative impact).

Burnout was found to be detrimental for safety compliance, contributing to more accidents and unsafe behaviours.

The most influential resources for burnout were social support, leadership and a positive safety culture, good management skills and reasonable job demands.

Looking at these two specific occupations, it’s clear that burnout is more than just about the demands of the job. It’s as much about isolation, loneliness, relationships and leadership.

Managing or Reducing Burnout and Rust Out

There are many strategies to avoid, manage and reduce burnout and rust out.

I will cover many of those in future articles, but for now, I would like to quote my colleague and friend, David Carroll, a Trainer and Leadership Consultant who has extensive experience in this area.

David says:

“It’s important to differentiate between regular work-related stress and the state of being burned out. Stress is usually temporary and easily overcome. Stress is usually short-lived or tied to a specific goal. And when that goal is accomplished, the stress usually goes away.

On the other hand, burnout is an extended period of stress accompanied by emotional changes. Burnout is a long-lasting condition that may need the help of a professional to treat. Regular stress, on its own, is not harmful. Burnout is damaging to both the individual who feels the burnout and those involved in that individual’s life.

Developing your self-awareness and establishing coping mechanisms are the keys to building resilience, replenishing your energy reserves and regaining your passion and purpose in life. It’s all about establishing a healthy business mindset, healthy business body, healthy business relationships and healthy business development tools.”

Summary

The past two years of the pandemic have thrust change up on the way we work and have exposed us to greater, chronic stressors.

Today, we talked about how changes at work may add to the intrinsic mental health risks we face at work and could result in burnout or rust out.

Burnout is a situation of lacking resources to cope with too many challenges, leading to overwhelming exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment, a sense of ineffectiveness, and a lack of accomplishment (professional efficacy).

Rust out is a situation where your work had diminished and/or become menial, resulting to a sense of boredom, monotony and dissatisfaction which may lead to anxiety and/or depression.

We know that healthy relationships, supportive leadership, and personal care are critical to resolving both of these. I look forward to diving into those topics in coming episodes.

1. Boring-Bray, W. 2020. Behavioural Health Providers are Burning Out or Rusting Out. Psychology Today website accessed 17.1.22

Ready to get clarity on your pathway to success?

Understanding who you are and what you need will allow your business to thrive! If you’re truly ready to break old habits and get out of the rut I encourage you to check out the Habitology membership.

Learn more here: