Choose your battles to avoid burnout

I’ve been in two self-diagnosed burnouts throughout my career. If you know me you may think: “no wonder!”. I also had a couple of early indications of it happening again, in those cases I would step back and take actions to prevent it from happening. I can tell you, if my self-diagnose was correct, it sucks. If it wasn’t correct, it sucks anyway. I’m not really interested in the specifics of medical diagnosis here, although if you think you are going through a burnout I advise you to look for specialized help. What I want to talk in this blog post is what was for me the major cause of getting to feel defeated.

I was feeling defeated because I was fighting battles I shouldn’t.

When it happened, things that previously I considered important weren’t important anymore. I had no energy or willingness to engage into discussions. Everything I was doing seemed to suck. People would try to cheer me up and I would only think how an impostor I’ve been. I got to strongly believe I was not good at what I was doing, I don’t deserved my job or my position, I don’t deserved people respect, so I would be a zombie for weeks going from one meeting to the next, doing little code, rewriting whatever I wrote in the previous day thinking it sucked.

The first time it happened I was living with friends that made me turn back, they don’t know it, I didn’t at the time, but with time I got to turn back on track. I just really got to understand what happened after the second time it happened. The second time was 5 years after the first and I was a little bit more experience to recognize what was happening, I had seen it in others, heard about it in trainings, in diagnosis from colleagues and any way I was in the same path, in a burnout feeling everything I did sucked and I sucked after all.

A couple of days after it happened, I was clearly in a different mood and a more experienced colleague had probably noticed something wrong was happening. He didn’t mentioned it, but over a coffee he mentioned something that I never forgot:

“Choose your battles. You can’t win them all, so choose carefully the ones that will make the difference.”

That week I reviewed my goals, made sure to review the my Personal Purpose System (a one page system I developed some years ago) and to incorporate elements that would help me choose battles I can make the difference and that will make the difference to me.

After years practicing that mindfully and also learning Project Management I got to believe that the root cause for all stress in life is simply communication, either yours with others or yours with yourself.

I selected 5 tips to you to start choosing the battles that import the most to you are while better communicating this to yourself and to others:

  • Set goals: Setting goals for your year and break them into quarterly or even monthly goals is the first step. Try to come with a number that make sense to achieve what you are looking for in the different areas of your life. I personally categorize my goals in 3 categories and try to not have more than 3 in each, so I end up with 3 to 9 year goals and 3 to 9 quarterly goals. I recommend that you learn about SMART goals and OKRs, both are tools that can help you to set goals that are inspiring though meaningful and achievable goals.
  • Measure what matters: Having goals is part of the solution, but if you don’t set key results and measures that help you know if you are on the right track, they won’t be much useful and you may end up starting new battles that don’t really help on your goal. For instance setting a goal “Loose weight next year.” will not really help you as there is no measure attached to it. Also make sure to not only measure the end result like “Loose 10kg next year.”, this may help, but you can get better if you also include the “how” to measure your goals. “Loose 10kg over the next year by reducing carbs and running at least twice a week.” this is a better goal, with more things to measure and more room to break down into quarterly goals.
  • Be open and transparent: writing down your goas is the first step, but making sure that the people that can help you get there understand it is also important. Make sure your family knows you want to loose weight is as important as making sure your colleagues and manager understand you want to be the expert in a subject, this will make people understand your decisions, your inputs and even help you to have the more opportunities to achieve your goals.
  • Manage Expectations: Your goals should be achievable while possibly inspirational, they should not be too easy, nor to hard. This seems very hard to do at first, and it is. To set goals is a craft that needs time to mature and to get better at. So the best thing you can do is to get to know yourself, your limits and thus manage your expectations. Also if you are sharing your goals with other, be open to feedback and make sure to consider and incorporate it if you feel its appropriate. Also make sure to manage expectations you have on others, some of your goals will not only welcome, but will actually need input from others to be achieved and thus it become more important to be transparent and to manage expectations.
  • Delegate: Another craft that can lead you to be a master at choosing your battlers is delegation. This is hard, but once you know your goals it will become easier to identify what you should delegate.

Each of those topics would possibly become their own blog post with it’s own nuances and techniques, but understanding the basics of those can help you to choose the rights battles, stand out in the crowd and be happier, all at the same time while avoiding a burnout.

A new year is approaching fast and time based milestones are the best ones for goal setting. So take the opportunity to start a fresh new chapter in your life.


One Response

  1. Eduardo Luis Rhod says:

    Muito bom o post Felipe. Me fez pensar bastante. Parabens.

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