The Age Of Working Smart: How To Leave Burnout In The Dust

By Jennifer O’Callaghan

When I first moved to New York, a television company hired me as their production assistant. Arriving from Northern Canada, I was new to the industry, and the castings, the scheduling- even the coffee runs excited me.  Working on shows I later watched on MTV was a rush. At first, it all seemed so glamorous, I felt like I’d hit the jackpot.  

I wasn’t surprised to be working eighteen hour days, as I’d heard film work could be intense. Post-production sessions were long and demanding. We were on tight deadlines with the networks, and if we didn’t deliver, they’d quickly move onto someone who could. I was able to sustain my energy at first, going straight to bed when I got home at midnight. But, as the months built up, so did my fatigue. I was burning out. Being Canadian, in order to stay in the U.S., I asked the company to sponsor my work visa, which they gladly did. Naturally, I felt indebted to them, so I told myself to just keep going.

Things became more challenging when my mom came to visit that summer. Not only was it difficult to plan quality time, but when we did meet up, I was so tired I could barely string a sentence together. One evening, she attended a show I was working on at NYU’s Skirball theatre, where one of her favourite actors, Kevin Kline was being interviewed. I peeked out from backstage at her beaming face as she sat alone in the audience, and it hit me. Why wasn’t I sharing this happy moment with her? 

Most busy professionals have similar stories. We’ve become immersed in this non stop culture that views running yourself ragged as a badge of honor. But it can have dire consequences. According to Medical News Today, “Burnout can lead to poor physical and mental health, as well as a sense of isolation from other people.” The work as hard as you can method is finally losing momentum, though. The future is about working smart. Fatigue-proofing your day takes strategy. But it’s more than worth it when you rediscover work-life balance and see all you can accomplish by doing less. 

 You’re In Control Of Your Day

Though it might seem like your day is run by the urgency of incoming requests, you’re the one who decides how busy you are.  To keep the ball in your court, engineer your perfect day with visualization. Close your eyes and imagine what pace is being set, and when you’re taking breaks. Look at your calendar and plan accordingly. Add specific reminders for rest, hydration, and a quick workout (even if it’s just a fifteen minute walk).  Get clear on bedtime, when you’ll wake up, even which evenings to limit alcohol if there’s a meeting the next morning where you need to be on point.

When you‘re about to wrap up each night, make a list of the top items that need to be addressed the next day. In the morning, you’ll be able to take care of your priorities first. That way, when the unexpected comes up- as it usually does, the heavy lifting tasks have already been crossed off the list. Designing your day in advance will give you a sense of control so your needs are met first. 

Practice Asking For Help

Leaning on others can be one of the toughest things to do. It can make us feel uneasy to surrender control to someone else. But with repetition, it’s pleasantly surprising to see how understanding and accommodating others can be. Making a request for help doesn’t have to be transactional either. You can shape your ask in a collaborative tone like, “I’m having trouble connecting to a video call. Let’s troubleshoot and see what we can come up with together.” And, the beauty of asking for help? The more you practice, the easier it becomes.

Get Clear On What Really Counts

When we examine the points of our over stacked to-do lists, we usually cross into double digits with what we imagine takes priority. In reality though, it’s usually two or three things that require urgent action, not twenty five. To determine which tasks really count, look at what’s brought you the most success. Is it reaching out to clients? Is it the content you create or your killer presentations? Focus your energy on the projects that get you results.

Jump Off The Overworked Bandwagon  

Another factor that makes burnout an easy vortex to be sucked into is our collective consciousness surrounding work. It’s been embedded in our minds that the more we work, the better our lives will become. We hear others compare notes about how many hours they’ve worked this year in order to get the promotion, and we wonder if we’re keeping up. Switch off other people’s opinions, and look within to create your own terms of success, where you can intentionally step away for well deserved time off, and return stronger, with even more to give.

Missing out on time with my mom those years ago forced me to take action and finally ask for help. I approached my manager and told her how overwhelmed I felt with my workload. Soon enough, two new assistants were added to the team. As awkward as it felt to initiate the conversation, I finally had some balance restored. For months, I’d felt a strong obligation at being given a shot to stay in New York and pursue my dreams. But I didn’t owe anyone my health. Learning to pace myself has provided the gift of longevity to my career. Most importantly, it’s kept me loving my work, instead of resenting it. 

Jennifer O’Callaghan is a Toronto-based journalist and entrepreneur. She has a background in broadcasting and theatre. She also loves to write about creativity and self empowerment. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.