My One Secret to Avoiding Burnout
In a hyperconnected and highly productive world, it can be easy to get swept up in trying to be all things to all people at once. How do I stop?
We’re ambitious people. Sometimes, our ambitions can overwhelm us because we don’t know where to start. More frightening is when we don’t know where to stop. I first learned the term “burnout” in college when staff would tell us to balance our overall well-being with our academic goals so that we don’t burn out.
First, I’m a huge Beyonce fan but don’t compare yourself to Beyonce, as I do.
Currently, I am the creative director of the best product community ever, working on a product project team as part of Product Buds Project Jam initiative, adding content to my podcast while being a guest on others’, and releasing an app of my own with a partner from college.
Outside of the team meetings I have for the different things that I’m involved in, I have started market research for what may develop into my small business if the need is evident for my solutions. I am also working part-time as a public speaking coach, writer, and graphic designer even though my school made us sign a waiver that holding a job down during school isn’t ideal.
Oh, did I mention that I HAVE CLASS FOR 9 HOURS EVERY DAY?
I am a full-stack web development student at the Flatiron School’s software engineering immersive bootcamp. Let’s not talk about the homework on nights and weekends. Nonetheless, last night, I was on a call for 4 hours catching up with a close friend. The night before, I was on a call for 7 hours catching up with another friend. I still manage to fit in streaming services approximately every week and go for walks while listening to audiobooks or discovering new music to maintain my health.
In this past week, I’ve attended a prototyping workshop, a branding workshop, a resume workshop, an interviewing workshop, a job search masterclass, a group mentoring session, and had 10 informational interviews. Unfortunately, I missed 3 events that I had wanted to go to. My goal is to have a dream PM job before I graduate in July but putting my all into the job search is a full-time job in and of itself. As you can infer, I don’t think I have the space for full-speed-ahead job hunting.
So, if you got tired just reading that, how the hell do I do all of this every day?
If you want to manage all your big dreams while still having a life and some sleep, say no often. During some calls this week, I was asked to get involved with projects that are making a valuable impact on others and align with my goal of building empowering communities. However, I have to be extremely realistic.
What is in my heart doesn’t need to come out of my mouth.
Even though my desire is to give my best to the people who approach me to join their clubs, I know that I cannot commit myself to that only to end up disappointing them, even though my heart was in the right place. I cannot let my desires in an ideal world be what leads me to saying yes when every part of my schedule in the real world is clearly telling me no. Just because I really want to doesn’t mean that I need to tell them that I really will.
Everything that I agree to takes up moments of time that will now not be allotted for something else. There is opportunity cost to manage. As product managers, we have to be great at ruthless prioritization and declining gracefully on the job. Surprisingly, people who may be great at doing that in the workplace may not translate it over into their personal life. However, if you want to actually enjoy the things that you do rather than feeling overcome by them, you will need to make hard decisions about what you can truly give yourself to based on the facts of the situation rather than the feelings that are involved.
Product managers have to pick the most pressing need that aligns with the organization’s mission and has the highest impact. Maybe the company you work at has clear outlines for overarching near and long-term goals allowing you to say no more easily. However, you may not have sat down with yourself recently to decide your own targeted near and long-term goals; that would give you the vision to see what needs to be said no to. This process doesn’t have to be all that serious as it may sound. For me, Netflix gets said yes to because my joy is a priority. Could I have read a product management book in those 2 hours I spent watching a movie? Yes. However, I made a decision based on my needs.
No one can tell you how to prioritize your own life. Prioritization is based on prioritizing for an outcome. You decide for yourself what outcomes you seek to achieve out of your own life. As I write this, I know that in the coming weeks, I will need to say no to more and more non-work things as people start to come to me for help and collaboration more frequently.
How do I respond?
I tell them that I am incredibly grateful for their consideration.
Because I am.
I tell them that I will consider it.
Because I will.
From there, I see if I can attend fewer workshops or spend less time on Facetime the next week to incorporate this new, meaningful activity into my schedule.
Sometimes, the answer is yes. Often, the answer is no. It may feel heartbreaking to refuse things that you’re genuinely are excited about. In my opinion, being known as someone who can’t be relied on is an even greater heartbreak. According to my values, I must be genuine, authentic, honest, trustworthy, empathetic, compassionate, reliable, encouraging, and a person of integrity. Those are my north star. Making promises I can’t fulfill is in direct opposition to my values so I will choose the difficulty of saying no over the difficulty of not being satisfied with the person that I see in the mirror.
Take some time out to have a meeting with yourself and evaluate what your big picture goals are. Let those decide your commitments so that you can keep the fire within you strong instead of burning out.