Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

The Best Way to Recover From Burnout

We’ve all been pushed to our limits at work. The stress of simultaneously needing to meet strict deadlines, create outstanding projects, and execute our roles perfectly can really do some serious damage in the emotional department. But when this feeling turns from regular stress into full-blown burnout, that is when you know you’ve hit a serious wall.

Burnout looks a lot like a flat tire that has a puncture—you’ve been driving on a tire that needed some loving TLC a long time ago but never got the attention it needed, so it’s going to take some serious effort to repair.

That said, there’s a simple change in mindset that can help you start the process of moving from burnout back to normal.

An idea that was first identified and explored by Barry Schwartz in 2002 and that’s been making the rounds lately, “satisficing” is all about accepting that nothing can, or even should, be perfect.

As psychologist Melody Wilding explains in a recent article:

[Satisficing] combines “satisfying” with “sufficing.” It’s all about finding the solution that satisfies most criteria, rather than searching and searching for the optimal solution. Using this process to decide where to focus your time and energy will help you take care of everything that needs to be done, while still preserving your sanity.

If you’re anything like me, this concept might seem comical at first. Shouldn’t everything you hand over to your manager or boss be perfect? Isn’t that what you’ve been hired to do—perform at the highest level possible?

Yes and no. Yes, you should aim to impress, but it’s also important to remember that trying to get every single task perfect every single time is impossible—and frankly not worth your time and energy, especially if it comes at the expense of you being engaged at work. Says Elizabeth Grace Saunders in a recent 99U article, “consistently sacrificing your health, your well being, your relationships, and your sanity for the sake of living up to impossible standards will lead to some dangerous behaviors and, ironically, a great deal of procrastination.”

Her advice? Do your best, focus on what’s most important, but then set some boundaries for yourself. “Instead of saying, ‘I’ll stay up until this is done,’ say, ‘I’ll work until X time and then I’m stopping. I may end up needing to ask for an extension or complete less than perfect work. But that’s OK. I’m worth it.’”

If this is really tough for you (hey, perfectionists), remember that you can always walk away from a less-than-perfect project and come back to it later, with fresh eyes. “Instead of aiming for brilliant out of the gate, do the basics and then recognize that with almost anything you can refine, edit, and iterate,” writes Saunders. Think back to when you wrote a research paper in college. How many drafts did you write before handing in the final copy? Probably quite a few—and that’s okay because it means you were improving with every page and allowing yourself to evolve based on what made more sense.

Satisficing involves recognizing that not everything will get done in one day and that, no, it will not be perfect. Some projects will be spread out across days, weeks, even months. And yes, you might need to create 15 drafts before getting to the final version. But that doesn’t mean you’ve failed—it means you’re taking care of yourself. And isn’t that what’s going to make you a better professional in the long run?

Photo of burnt out person courtesy of Shutterstock.