Finding the sweet spot at work — the middle ground between not being productive enough and working too hard — is difficult.
But having that balance is essential.
The consequences on either end of the spectrum can make you miserable. Since success and misery don’t go hand in hand, overworking can be as detrimental to your career as being underproductive.
With that in mind, here are some ways to keep that balance between productivity and burnout.
How do you keep resentment from poisoning your outlook on life?
The first step is to admit it:
How does that feel? It doesn’t make you a bad person. To solve any problem, you have to identify it first. And “I’m unhappy” is a more solvable problem than “I don’t like my boss.” Identify the things you can change about you.
Keep a positive mindset
There’s no shortage of tips for increasing productivity and avoiding burnout. But they all require a key ingredient: positivity. If you don’t have a fundamental belief in yourself, what you’re doing or what you’re capable of, “life hacks” aren’t going to help.
Positivity isn’t about results or outcomes. It’s an internal process. You have to find that something inside of yourself to spark action. Identify positive aspects of who you are before you look at what you do.
For example: Rather than saying, “I know how to create and manage accounting spreadsheets,” start with you: “I’m a hard-working accounting professional who people count on.”
That’s where you find your spark: Who you are. What you do should be an extension of who you are. If you have a positive self-image, the quality of work and productivity will follow.
Take care of yourself
Much like productivity-killers, such as a disorganized work area or cluttered computer desktop, your mind and body can bog you down with unnecessary delays if you don’t make caring for them a priority.
Take regular breaks, stand up and move around throughout your day, decorate your work area, do jumping jacks, listen to music or do whatever it takes to keep your mind and body refreshed. You’ll know it’s time for some self-care whenever you feel your positive mindset or energy slip.
Feel like yelling at your computer while you’re knee-deep in an aggravating task? Don’t push through it. Take a deep breath, take a walk, and see how things look after a couple of minutes.
Give your mind and body a chance to reset.
Dedicate time to creating a workstation that allows you to move through your workflow as efficiently as possible. Declutter by throwing away papers that have been sitting on your desk for more than a few weeks. Can’t throw it away? Stuff them in a folder labeled “For Later”. Just get them out of your way. They’re psychological reminders of something you feel bad about not doing — and they’re keeping you from focusing on more important tasks.
Try to dedicate yourself to one task at a time. The efficiency of multi-tasking is a myth, and multiple studies show that working on too many tasks at once leads to more errors, delays, and stress.
Find yourself getting bogged down in calls, emails or meetings? To the extent possible, contain these reactive tasks to a chunk of dedicated time, and keep them from spilling over into your regular, proactive workflow. Try relegating calls to a one-hour window. Check emails only after you’ve gotten 20 in your inbox. And ask those people managing meetings to have an agenda and a hard stop time.
Want an expert level tip? Track how long it takes to do each task, then use that information to set artificial deadlines for yourself. This could seem like extra work on top of an already full plate, but think of it this way: Tracking time and measuring productivity is how great managers run effective teams. You’ve got a great opportunity every day to be your own best manager — your own amazing team of one.
Do the hardest thing at the best time
Only you know when, how much, and what type of energy you have to expend during your day. Are you a morning person? If so, do your most mentally demanding task in the morning. Do you take a while to get warmed up? Take care of low-hanging fruit first (get your inbox to zero or manage your task list) and then move to the hard stuff. Sometimes the “hardest” task isn’t actually difficult. Sometimes it’s just the most mentally draining. The sooner you get this task done, the less time and energy you’ll spend dreading it.
If you do everything you possibly can to be productive and prevent burnout — and still find yourself being overworked (or underutilized) — it might be time to move to a new position that suits you better. You can always connect with an Aerotek recruiter to learn about opportunities in your area.