Eight Tactics for Dealing with Professional Burnout

Carlos writes in:

I’ve been working at the same job for the last six years. I used to love it but lately I’ve started dreading going to work. I can’t really put my finger on a reason why, either. I’m considering quitting but I am very afraid to take that leap with the economy the way it is. Got any suggestions?

Once upon a time, I was in a similar situation. For me, it really boiled down to three factors, two of which had little to do with the job. First, I felt like my dream of being a writer was slipping away from me. Second, I felt like I wasn’t spending enough quality time with my children. Third, the aspects of my job that I loved (my great coworkers and the creative work) were often buried behind minutiae, maintenance, and paperwork.

Even in this situation, it took me more than a year to choose to walk away. Much like Carlos, I was very afraid to take that leap for financial and career security reasons.

That year was not miserable at all. In fact, when the time came where I could walk away, I found myself having a lot of last minute second thoughts because I actually liked my job so much. It was the non-job aspects that finally called me away.

Here are eight key things to try when you’re feeling professionally burnt out.

1. Reconnect with your core work.
You were hired to perform a certain task, right? Get back to that task, which is often the part of your job that you love the most. Take a break from all of the extra stuff – the paperwork, the committees, the office politics – and just focus on the work that you enjoy.

You might have to get a bit of buy-in from your boss on this, but most bosses will be receptive. After all, you’re requesting to focus on the task that they hired you for.

2. Plan for the next step.
If you were to quit, what would you do? Develop a detailed plan for doing this. On one level, it might just be escapism to help you deal with a rough patch. On another level, you might be putting together the blueprint for a powerful life goal for yourself.

Make the plan as detailed as possible, then start taking action on those little details. Actually moving forward on such a goal can bring it to life in a very powerful and life-affirming way.

3. Build new relationships.
If you’re feeling burnt out with the circle of people you work with (and office politics in general), reconsider the group you’re associating with. Look for new people in your office – and outside your office – to adopt into your inner professional circle.

New people offer new insights. They offer new opportunities and connections and ideas. More than anything, though, they offer new attitudes and new perspectives, which might be exactly what you need right now.

4. Share your gifts.
Open up a Twitter account. Start a blog. Link to interesting things that you’ve discovered. When you’re on Twitter, follow and converse with people in your field. On your blog, link to articles by people in your field that you find interesting.

Most importantly, share the things that you know. Over a long period of time, with consistent activity, a thoughtful blog becomes a powerful resume in and of itself. Never mind the fact that it’s also a potential way to earn some money, too.

5. Learn something new.
Jobs can sometimes become frustrating because you’re stuck in an intellectual loop, doing the same thing over and over again. Many jobs can change radically if you take the time to learn new ways of doing things.

Look for opportunities to expand your education. Take some classes. Read some books. Focus on learning some new techniques. They’ll breathe new life into your current job and open the door to better ones.

6. Talk with your supervisor.
This works particularly well if you’re a longstanding productive employee, because a supervisor will actually pay attention to what you have to say. If you’re chronically underproductive, this is a bad route to take.

Just have a meeting with your supervisor and lay your concerns on the table. Ask for some help in coming up with a plan to solve those concerns. Your supervisor may be able to handle some of them and offer solid advice on how to handle other aspects.

7. Build an emergency fund.
Sometimes, the pain of a job comes from a sense that you’re completely tied to it financially: that without the job, you can’t possibly survive financially. Take a hard look at how you spend money. How much of that spending is really necessary and life-fulfilling?

Learn some frugality. Cut down on your needless overspending. Start socking away some of your money. Build up a cushion – and don’t give into the temptation to spend it just as you start building it. Quite often, the long-term presence of a healthy emergency fund can make life seem a lot more tolerable.

8. Build an exit strategy.
If none of these tactics work, it might actually be time to leave – and leave soon. Polish up your resume and get in touch with the people you know in your field. Seek out that next position so that when you make the leap, you leap into someplace safe.

Good luck.