How to avoid burnout and achieve work-life balance

We’re all under a lot of pressure. Discover what causes burnout and the steps you can take to achieve work-life balance.

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Last Updated April 15, 2024


To be a better leader and help manage teams more responsibly, I’ve spent a lot of time studying burnout—and ways to achieve work-life balance—in the last five years. So when I woke up a few weeks ago and considered quitting my job several days in a row…things escalated quickly from theory to reality.

My wife is battling cancer (surgery, chemotherapy and radiation), so I’ve been both a caretaker and functional single parent. Between juggling practices, games, den meetings, tryouts, auditions, recitals, swim meets, training runs, sleepovers and play dates, I had run myself ragged.

Not only was I ready to walk away, I could barely get out of bed. Thoughts were running through my head from mundane (Why should I return that text? Does it matter if they miss practice tonight?) to more serious (What’s the point of completing this project? In fact, what’s the point at all?). I’d been carrying too much for too long with no reward, and I was finally ready to drop it all.

And that’s when it hit me. I was suffering from what I’d been studying: burnout.

So, what exactly is burnout?

Burnout is generally defined as a state of physical and emotional exhaustion resulting from prolonged periods of high stress or overwhelming responsibilities. It can manifest as fatigue, irritability, decreased productivity and a general sense of disillusionment. It’s often accompanied by cynicism and detachment from work or responsibilities. Burnout is like hitting a wall—feeling drained and losing motivation to keep going.

Burnout affects various aspects of our lives, including work, relationships and personal well-being. Pause. I want to encourage you to read that sentence again.

Burnout doesn’t happen just at work. Too often, we compartmentalize our work and personal lives. Even in a world that encourages bringing your “whole self” to work, we tend to view burnout as solely impacting—or being created by—our job. However, by recognizing the signs and practicing even just one of the following proactive steps, we can create a healthier approach to our lives to achieve work-life balance.

1. Boundaries are good

One of the primary causes of burnout is over-commitment and the inability to say no. Learning to set boundaries is essential for preserving your well-being. Understand your priorities and allocate your time and energy accordingly, so you can achieve work-life balance. Identify your most important tasks and focus on them rather than spreading yourself too thin.

One of my favorite pieces of advice comes from Michael Bungay Stanier, author of The Coaching Habit. He reminds us that a deliberate “no” to help focus your time and energy is more important than the best-intentioned “yes,” if you cannot follow through. Your capacity is finite, and you can’t spread yourself thin without consequence.

2. Self-care matters

Nurturing your physical, mental and emotional health is another vital step when trying to achieve work-life balance. There are five important aspects of caring for yourself that can help.

  1. Ensure you’re getting good sleep. Depression, confusion and anxiety are all linked to lack of sleep, and none of these are good for your body or your mind.
  2. Fuel yourself appropriately. Eat regular, healthy meals with lots of fresh ingredients and avoid alcohol.
  3. Get exercise every day. This doesn’t have to be a five-mile run or an hour-long gym session; a 20-minute walk does wonders for mood and health.
  4. Be mindful. Find a way to focus and reflect on yourself. Meditation, talking to a therapist, deep breathing or journaling are all great ways to help understand what’s affecting your mood.
  5. Find a way to disconnect from stress. Do something the opposite of your triggers. If you’re struggling with the mental aspects of your job, do a physical activity like gardening. If you’re overwhelmed by managing multiple people, take a solo hike. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s on the opposite end of the spectrum from your stressor.

3. Relationships are important

Surrounding yourself with a supportive network of friends, family and colleagues can significantly contribute to your overall well-being. Share your thoughts and feelings with trusted individuals who can listen and offer guidance and understanding. Building connections within your workplace, joining professional communities, and participating in extracurricular clubs or community groups can provide a sense of belonging and reduce feelings of isolation.

I recognize this isn’t always easy…and sometimes, you may need to augment with professional assistance through therapy or counseling. (Spoiler: I have a therapist I check in with every few weeks.) However it’s achieved, having a support system allows you to seek help when needed—sharing the burden of stress—and achieve work-life balance.

So, how did I achieve work-life balance?

You may be wondering what happened to me. Obviously, I didn’t quit my job. Instead, I refocused some energy on getting a run in every other day. And rather than listening to work-related podcasts while running, I switched to entertaining podcasts that let my mind drift. I spent some time kayaking with a group of men I hadn’t seen in a year, went on a camping trip with my daughter’s cross-country team and took my kids on a weekend hike. And I—brace yourselves—even canceled some projects I had accepted after considering how important they actually weren’t.

It’s your turn to avoid burnout

Remember, avoiding burnout requires conscious effort and self-awareness. You can create a healthier, more sustainable balance by understanding the signs of burnout, setting boundaries, prioritizing self-care practices and fostering supportive relationships. Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish—it’s a necessary step toward achieving long-term success and well-being. Embrace the journey of self-care, and watch as your productivity, happiness and fulfillment soar.

Prioritize your well-being. You deserve it.

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