26 Feb Burnout prevention tip 5 – Pace yourself
A perfectionistic mindset can contribute to burnout. While it can be helpful to strive for high work standards, it’s important that these standards are fair and flexible. But, often they’re harsh and inflexible. They can also get wrapped up in unhelpful concerns – fear of negative judgment by others, fear of failure, a feeling that your work is never good enough, fear of getting fired. You may then find yourself working even harder, trying to do more, working longer hours. But, the nagging worry stays and grows. It’s common for this to be associated with feelings of anxiety, depression, frustration, exhaustion and burnout. So here are some helpful tips to keep perfectionistic concerns in check and to prevent burnout:
Set limits around the workday – as much as possible, try to set a typical start time and finish time for the workday. Unless something genuinely urgent requires that you work longer, stick to these times.
Plan fun stuff for non-work time – Things are more likely to happen when they’re planned ahead of time. This can be anything that you’d usually enjoy or find personally important eg seeing friends, doing exercise, going to a show. These links on positive activity and staying connected have more examples.
Notice and counter common thinking errors – common perfectionistic concerns are “they’ll think it’s not good enough” , “it has to be like the finished product” , “if it’s not up to standard, I’ll be fired.” These contain common thinking errors like catastrophising (assuming a worst case scenario), mind reading (assuming the ability to read someone’s mind), black-and-white thinking (seeing things as extremes, so ignoring the middle ground) and fortune-telling (predicting the future). Do any of these seem familiar to you? These thinking errors are a sign that the worry may not be completely right. Consider a more helpful alternative idea that removes one of these thinking errors eg “while it may not be the finished product, it will be helpful to get feedback and I can improve it as I go.” Then aim to act in line with that.
Timebox it – put limits around a work task and aim to do what you can in that time. This helps counter the tendency of perfectionism to cause work time and effort to swell.
Aim for completion over perfection – This is related to timeboxing above. Determine when something needs to be completed, then work work out how much time there is, what’s actually fair and reasonable to do in that time and then work to that. It may mean not doing certain things that perfectionism would require. But, try to experiment with it – more on that below.
Let the first version be rough – you can always polish it – Another way to put this is don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good. Let yourself attempt to produce/do something (anything!) at first. You can then come back to it and improve on what you’ve got as you go.
Experiment – experimentation is a helpful way to test and be flexible with perfectionistic thinking. This means making a small change to a perfectionistic behaviour to test a perfectionistic belief. For example, for a belief like “I must clear my inbox before finishing work”, leave one email unread before finishing work, then see what’s the real impact on you the next day. Repeat the experiment as often as you can. You can even step up to more challenging experiments as you go.
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If you are in a mental health emergency, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14, the Mental Health Line 1800 011 511, Emergency 000 or go to your nearest hospital emergency department.