How to Overcome Burnout and Feel Like Yourself Again
The № 1 cause of burnout is not having any boundaries.
Exactly one year ago, I sat alone in my cubicle at my office, and I cried.
I remember that moment vividly. It was the moment I knew something was deeply wrong — that I had no motivation left for my work, and that things were spiraling out of control.
I felt like a failure, and I had no clue how to fix it.
Since then it has taken me a little more than a year to recover from burnout, take back control of my life, and lead a life on my own terms and values.
The journey to recovery was excruciating but the results were encouraging. They opened a brand new chapter in my life.
And here is my Story.
Four years ago, I was working as a technical lead. I was part of a great team, I enjoyed the work, and it left plenty of room for working on side projects and some freelancing. We were a close-knit team and we worked, lived and partied together.
My bosses were happy with my work and my team looked upon me as the “God of Code”. I loved coding and more so, writing code which adds value to the team as a whole.
Then about a year back, my immediate boss resigned. A vacuum was created and I was promoted as a manager to fill up that critical role. I was elated to climb up the ladder so soon in my career.
Then the troubles started. My role now changed completely from coding to “managing” the team. I began to soon spend more and more time in activities like project management, client management, and resource management and less on things I enjoyed doing before.
Slowly — enough that I never noticed — I stopped creating code. Because it wasn’t helping me build my career, I felt it wasn’t important. I stopped working on side projects, I stopped freelancing, and instead, I spent all my energy managing and building my team.
Everything began to come on me ultimately. I became a single point of contact for every damn issue.
Resource attrition? Contact Ravi
Client demo? Contact Ravi
Midnight batch job failed? Contact Ravi
I was overwhelmed. I was being pulled in all directions and I began to feel like a rudderless boat with no escape in sight. My teammates started avoiding me as I began venting my frustration on them. They started shrinking responsibilities and left me alone to fight all fires.
I became the favorite punching bag for all; my colleagues, my bosses, and my clients.
I tried to compensate the only way I knew how — by working harder — but that only made things worse. Over the course of a few months, I went from highly productive and motivated, to feeling exhausted and doubting every decision I made.
Things eventually became so bad that I couldn’t make myself care about work, and struggled to motivate myself to do anything. I couldn’t even face my colleagues, so I found the only place I could be alone — my cubicle — and I cried.
I knew something was deeply wrong, but I had no idea what it was, or how to fix it.
My Road to Recovery.
The next day, I consulted a psychiatrist and she told me that what I am experiencing is burnout. All this time I had only heard about burnouts happening to others. This is the first time I was experiencing it firsthand.
“Why me, “I asked her.
“Burnout is not a fatality, it’s an injury. You haven’t dried up your well of creativity, you’ve overworked your creative muscle. You forgot to stretch it. You repeated too many times the same movements, overdeveloping sections and weakening others.” She said.
But, the good news is that you can always get back in shape. Accept that burnout as just another part of that process.
There will be times when you get stuck, and there will be times you marvel at your own brilliance! But rest assured, no matter how you feel in the moment, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel, and you can always break out of your funk.
So crumple up that shame and toss it in the nearest trash can. A mind full of negativity will only cloud your judgment and invite the burnout to stay longer.
And The № 1 cause of burnout is not having any boundaries.
We chatted for an hour and by the time I left, I was clear with the boundaries I wanted to enforce in my life.
No Phones and Emails after 9 PM
I used to be available all the time and this created a bad precedent.
Now I just switched off the phone and emails after 9 pm.
As expected the move was not welcomed. I was given several lessons on “accountability” and “responsibility” by my bosses and my clients. But I stuck to my guns. Then the tides started to turn.
The funny thing about workload is that it automatically fills the time available to complete it. So if you have some work which can be done in 2 hours but you have 3 hours to do the same, you will automatically use the entire available time to complete your work. This is a human tendency. That is why everything should be finite in life including time to produce the best results.
Having said that, everyone now realized that my “freely” available time had now become a finite piece of resource and needed to be used judiciously. My boss began to schedule meetings during my working hours. My clients would now only approach me during my available time.
And my team members started taking complete responsibility during my off-work hours. My objective of delegation with accountability was finally achieved.
And bit by bit, I started feeling like myself again. My creativity started to come back. I started writing code again.
I Quit all WhatsApp Groups
These groups started out as a helpful addition to the messaging app, but the situation lately has gone mad. I’m in 12 regular official groups, and about 40 ad hoc semi-formal ones.
Then there are family groups: immediate family and extended family, with baby photos often appearing on duplicate across them. What can you do? You have to respond! “So adorable! She is so big already! (emoji with heart eyes)”. My brother has a long-term girlfriend but isn’t married yet — so we have two groups of differing levels of familiarity, one with her, one without. (Sadly, the chats are interchangeable — no one knows why this charade even exists.)
And a major cause of burnout is listening and responding to every notification that stems out of these groups.
The worst part is: you can’t leave. It’s a mortal sin! The social consequences of “Ravi has left the group” far outweigh wading through the emoji chatter. It’s the equivalent of turning your back and walking away.
But I just exited all groups at once. If someone wants to reach me, they can text me a message. I can choose to answer if required whenever I want to. I am in control now.
And at 9 pm it’s time to put the phone on flight mode and pay attention to the other (physical) people in the room.
And the Most Important, ME Time for Myself
Just like sleeping, I never used to make time to work out.
But working out is now just part of my weekly routine. I’m not big on going to the gym, but I do really like to run. Running allows me to clear my mind. Whenever I feel like I need some inspiration, I run outdoors. Running slows me down, allows me to see the world around me, and gives me a great way to burn off excess stress and gain clarity on my ideas.
In the same way, I have now time boxed intervals of time for investing in freelancing work and my passion projects. Having a side project allows you to stay in control. You play the role of designer and client. A side project is a great way to learn and make some extra cash — and if you’re having a horrible day at work, you can always count on your side project to help you stay grounded.
And the most important, family time after 9 pm every day without fail. and I am once again enjoying the company of my little daughter. I have found 1000 different ways to make her smile and I am relishing the undivided attention I am getting.
As Regina Brett has rightly said.
Your children get only one childhood. Make it memorable.