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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

How to Go Big at Work Without Burning Out Fast

You’ve got the best gig ever and you’re going full-force. You love the feeling of getting things done and being hailed as one of the up-and-comers in your organization—and you want to go all the way to the top.

As a high-performing high-achiever, you may think you can muscle your way to success by doing more, working more, and being, well, more valuable than anyone else on the team.

But there’s a dark side to that. As a high achiever, you’re predisposed to being a victim of burnout. When you’re incredibly passionate about what you do, you can easily forget that long hours, nonstop work, and saying yes to extra assignments may boost your career in the short term. But in the long run, it can send you into a flameout spiral.

You may not even see that burnout coming; it creeps up on you insidiously as you drive yourself to physical and emotional exhaustion.

The best way to avoid it—without sacrificing your commitment to success? Take a few proactive measures while your star is rising, and when you get to the top, you’ll have a great set of career best practices that will take you wherever you want to go.

Keep Your Priorities Crystal Clear

My client, Jason, was top talent—there was no question about that. He was an emerging account manager in the finance industry. He was putting in tons of hours, and his clients gave him rave reviews.

At times, though, he wasn’t sure which issue should get his attention or why. He didn’t have clearly defined goals and wasn’t sure at all how his performance would be measured. Without a sense of direction in his job, he was headed straight toward burnout.

Unclear goals are one of the most powerful drivers of burnout. Without clear goals, you can’t set priorities, and without priorities, you can’t perform your job to the best of your ability. Instead, you’ll spread your energy over numerous, time-consuming tasks. You’ll lack a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, which will inevitably lead you to exhaustion.

As your star is rising, get clear on the deliverables and outcomes you’re responsible for and how you’ll be measured. Then, stay laser focused on those priorities each and every day.
A simple way to do that? Serial entrepreneur Grant Cardone writes down his goals first thing every day—which helps him stay focused on them.

Get Fit

When Lena Dunham’s character recently began running in the latest season of Girls, she noted the side benefits of the exercise. “It ain’t about the ass,” she said. “It’s about the brain.”

And oh man, did she get that right. Studies continue to extol fitness as an amplifier for career success. Exercise gives you more stamina and brainpower, helps you deal more effectively with stress, and promotes a positive self-image—all of which help fuel your career goals while keeping you far from burnout.

Know Your Motivation

Business icon and Harvard professor Clayton Christensen defines motivation as “an engine inside of you that drives you to keep working in order to feel successful and to help the organization be successful. It causes you to keep at it through thick and thin.”

When you think about the meaning and satisfaction you get from your work, focus on learning, growing, and being part of a great team. Those are the attributes of your work that will feed you with a sense of reward.

Focusing too heavily on extrinsic motivation—such as a paycheck, raises, or promotions—as your only sense of reward will burn you out.

Create Your Trademark Routines

You know how Mark Zuckerberg wears a gray t-shirt every day? He does it so he doesn’t have to spend energy on clothing decisions and can instead spend it on more important matters. His routine of wearing a “work uniform” makes him more efficient and productive.

Michael Phelps, owner of 22 Olympic medals in swimming, starts each morning with sets of stretching, warm-up swims, and drills that keep him physically sharp.

Routines are a series of habits, which mitigate all the minor decision-making (and sometimes waffling) that drains your energy.

How many times have you had that argument with yourself about whether to go work out on a cold winter morning? With a routine, you just know you’re going to go. It’s a commitment you make and follow up on.

OK, so you don’t need to wear the same clothes every day. But let’s say one of your career excellence routines is to do your three hardest tasks first thing in the morning. And you do that every single day. Rain or shine. No argument. You’ll be on your way to success, without wasting any energy and risking career fatigue.

Make Smart Decisions About Your Time

We’ve all been there: It’s 10:30 PM and you’re scrolling through the inbox. You read one message about an issue, your mind starts racing, and within minutes, you’re in full-blown work mode.

It’s easy to be always “on” in our uber-connected world. But that doesn’t mean returning emails, texts, or Snapchats at all hours of the day and night is a good way to spend your time. When you work at all hours, you’ll feel like you never stop working.

Chances are a lot of that work is not high value. And if you don’t feel like you’re doing high-value work, you’ll burn out for sure.

It’s cool to check your devices out of the office, but be intentional about it. For example, tell yourself you’ll check email at 8:30 PM, and then only respond to the most important messages and log off by 9 PM. Then you won’t be tempted to keep dipping into email until all hours of the night. Remember, not all work is important work.

It’s easy to get lost in a job you love. But even when you love your work, too much of a good thing is, well, too much. Start now to stay laser focused on your goals, your health, and the decisions you make about how you spend your time. Your career, your boss, and your own body will thank you.

Photo of candle courtesy of Shutterstock.