4 Habits to Change Your Life by Avoiding Burnout

It's easier to burn out than you think. Here's how you can balance life again.

If you feel that you have successfully balanced your work life, family and social and everything that is important to you, stop reading this article.

If you continued reading, you’re like most people who are often totally consumed by work, forcing everything else in your life to take a back seat. This was not a goal you set, but rather it creeps in over time, sometimes years. You probably have a strong work ethic, sense of responsibility and may even love your job.

At some point, out of nowhere,  you can become overwhelmed, and even burned out. We use the term “burnout” a lot in the world of business, but we often underestimate just how serious it can be, and how easily it can happen. I’ve seen this happen countless times–strong leaders who have a fantastic work ethic and drive ending up having to step down after a while because their work load was overwhelming and unrelenting.

There are ways to prevent this “burnout” from happening and like everything else, you need to be aware of the issue, decide what changes are necessary and execute. Here are four daily habits to keep in mind:

1. Set the tone with a daily routine.

When I became CEO of American Express Bank, I was faced with leading a turn-around of a company operating in 40 countries with different products, cultures, times–everything. I started a process that I still follow to this day. While a lot of my work week was scheduled in advance, I knew I had to make time for the really important stuff, as well as the unforeseen things that happen during the day that need attention, but could not be anticipated, even last night.

I began by working out in the gym (I was lucky that we had a gym in our building) and used that “alone” time to think about what I needed to accomplish that day. By the time I showered, and had a quick breakfast, I was at my desk at 8 A.M. ready to go.

I then reviewed my schedule for the day, and made changes based on what I thought about earlier that morning, and made sure I kept two 30 minute blocks of “free time” for things I knew would come out of nowhere. My assistant then notified everyone who was affected to make sure everyone was in the loop.

At the end of the day, we took a quick look at tomorrow to see if anything needed to be changed based on what happened today. Establishing this routine really allowed me to accomplish more, and doing it in a much less hectic, chaotic, stress inducing environment.

2. Delegate more.

A big part of your job as a leader is to hire strong team members to work with you. It is amazing to me how many leaders refuse to effectively delegate and insist on being involved in decisions and details that are better left with the person running that unit.

This one is simple. If you have strong leaders, let them know it is their responsibility to run their units, keep you informed, and not check in with you on everything. If you have a leader who is not strong, try coaching them to improve, and if they do not improve, change them.

3. Change Your Meeting Process

There are too many meetings in every company, period. In fact, I devoted an entire chapter in my book to dissect the problem and offer a number of suggestions.

Here are five tips you can implement today:

  • Schedule meetings for no longer than 30 minutes.
  • Ensure that attendees are essential for the discussion and not multiple people from the same department.
  • Ensure there is an agenda and specific outcomes to be agreed to by end of the meeting.
  • Turn phones off.
  • End the meeting on time.

4. Turn off “work mode.”

I think many leaders get better with this as they get older–I certainly have. Many of us have responsibilities that go beyond 9-5 and it is virtually impossible to totally disconnect.

Like everything, balance is critical. When I get home at the end of the day, I like to spend time with my wife and doing all of the personal things I didn’t get to do during the day.

I don’t keep the phone in my hand until I go to sleep. That gives me a few hours of “away from work time,” which is very much needed. I check my phone right before I go to sleep to see if anything happened that I need to be aware of, and that’s it until tomorrow.

Obviously, you have to craft your own routine for yourself so it fits your needs. Having one will give you the balance you need. Good luck.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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