February 10, 2012
Liz published this at 7:29 am
Everything in Moderation
Whenever my grandmother used to visit, she always brought the same advice. “Everything in moderation,” she’d say, and it would apply to basically anything I was doing at the time. Whether it was stuffing my gourd with mom’s superb cooking, or it was playing games with my friends, or it was rocking out on my guitar, she’d always advise me to take it easy. That advice works on two levels, though I didn’t realize that until later in life.
When I was younger I took her advice to mean that I shouldn’t overindulge in anything. Grandma reinforced this notion once I got to college and she continued dispensing this advice. Clearly she knew I was drinking, but continued her mantra of moderation. I can’t, in good conscience, say that I always followed her advice. There were times, albeit brief, when excess became the rule. But Grandma’s voice always reeled me back to moderation.
It wasn’t until she passed away, six years ago, that I started to think more deeply about her advice. I had just graduated college and was starting my first real job, so many of my past excesses were out of the question. Binge drinking ended with graduation; time to wail on my guitar became scarce; even eating heavily was less of an option, since I actually had to pay for my own food. Yet there was a new type of excess creeping into my life. Every morning I’d sit outside the office door, waiting for someone with a key to let me in. At night one boss or another would make me go home, so he, too, could lock up and go home.
This type of excess led to burnout.
Working more seemed great. I was making good impressions with my bosses, and I was sure to advance faster than my peers. It was what I had planned all along: the fast-track to a high-ranking, and high-paying, position. Yet I had not accounted for the burnout that would come with such strenuous work. Soon enough Sunday nights became a burden, because all I could think about was the terror of going to work Monday morning. Getting out of bed became more difficult with each passing day, and it took longer and longer to fall asleep. Excess had begun to rule my life.
Thankfully, I still had Grandma’s advice to fall back on. Something needed to change, or else I’d realize full burnout. That probably meant quitting my job and might have meant seeking psychiatric help. After deciding that I wanted neither of these things, I decided to take action. Using a single vacation day, on a Friday, I got away for a weekend. It wasn’t a tropical beach, or ski slopes, or any typical kind of weekend getaway. It was to a simple bed and breakfast a few hours away. In this time I developed a plan to help avoid burnout. It has been my blueprint ever since.
Here is a full course menu on how to avoid burnout in your own life.
1. Sleep in. Getting to the office at 7 a.m. and not leaving until 6:30 or 7 p.m. definitely took a toll on me. Thanks to stress, I wasn’t even getting to sleep at a decent hour. The first change I made, then, was to pick one day a week and sleep in. This was usually on Wednesdays, which allowed me to recover a bit from Monday and Tuesday, and left me a bit more refreshed for Thursday and Friday. Getting to the office at 9 a.m. just one day a week wasn’t going to negatively affect my work. In fact, it only stood to improve it.
2. Leave early. Again, this is a term relative to my previous habits. Staying late every day might have made a favorable impression upon my bosses, but it was killing me personally. Everyone needs to unwind for a bit after work, and that just wasn’t happening. Getting home at 7:30, getting dinner, and then sitting around for a bit meant I wasn’t going to bed until around 11 — and not falling asleep for a while after that. Leaving early one day a week would provide some relaxation. This usually came on Tuesday or Thursday, which went well with sleeping in on Wednesday.
3. Get away, Part 1. Changing our environments can help change our mindsets. After going on a business trip, I found that spending time in a place other than my apartment provided a therapeutic effect. A new environment also brought new stimuli, which helped keep me fresh. Most surprisingly, I found that the plane ride, especially on the way home, was a great time for redefining my focus. Signing up for more business trips proved immensely helpful in avoiding burnout.
4. Get away, Part 2. It was still early in my career, and I felt as though taking a week’s vacation, even though it was available, wasn’t a great idea. Still, as the business trips proved, getting away could help a lot. Getting away while not working sounded even better. The solution: repeat my weekend trip to the country. It required just one day off every couple of months, and it provided a real motivation boost. With so many cheap hotels(http://www.orbitz.com/) available on travel sites such as Orbitz, I was always able to find a reasonable rate commensurate with my entry level salary.
5. Keep a journal. Maybe it’s because I’ve been writing since high school, but I’ve always found that keeping a written record of something helps ease my mind. Every day before I left work, I’d create a journal entry documenting the day’s work. It actually helped me pick up inefficiencies, which, once corrected, led to a less stressful workday.
Overindulging in anything, whether it be alcohol, a creative pursuit, or more traditional work, can leave us overstressed and burnt out. That’s not to say that these aren’t worthy pursuits — well, alcohol really isn’t — but the over-pursuit of them can have negative effects. It’s just as Grandma said so many times: everything in moderation. It took a while for me to realize that by everything, she meant everything. But once I did, I learned to manage work and stress. It has led to a clearer mind, and a continually budding career.
–ME “Liz” Strauss
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