Banish Burnout — Part 2

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Set Healthy Boundaries —

In this installment, we look at Setting Healthy boundaries, guidelines for Project Management and Time Management, and enlisting an Accountability Partner.

Not saying no, but wishing you had can cause frustration and stress for many of you. This behavior pattern happens when you have not been taught how to say no or have not seen effective role models demonstrate how to say no. Saying no is simply a skill that is easy to learn.

Like all new skills, it just takes practice.

Of course, in the workplace you may feel you are supposed to say yes to any request that comes from your boss or one of the leaders. But where do you draw the line?

In this tool you learn how to set healthy boundaries by identifying the feeling of overwhelm, communicating your needs, asking for feedback, and saying no at work, at home, and to yourself. And then, finally you learn how to manage your projects and plan your time.

MANAGE UP

First it is important to note that there are many untrained or unprepared managers in the workplace who were promoted for technical skills, not emotional intelligence or project management skills.

In that case you may need to manage your own workload and manage up. That means being strategic about helping your boss and team with projects and, more importantly, communicating your needs after getting to know them. Daniel Pink, author of When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, advises when managing up to keep in mind: What’s in it for the manager?

It has been widely documented that people leave bosses not companies. What part can you play in developing a good relationship with your boss?

One of the key facets of a strong relationship is TRUST, and trust is built by spending time together. 

  • If your boss does not invite you, then you can invite him or her to coffee, just to “get to know each other better” or “understand the goals for the team”.
  • If you feel hesitant, you could say you just want to make sure you are tracking properly with all of your projects because you want to perform well.  Just ask for 10-15 minutes. It will likely expand into 30. If the manager has not articulated his mission for the team,. Ask him. This time well spent will create goodwill and will help  you understand what makes your manager tick and vice versa.
  • Find common ground by studying her LinkedIn profile before you meet. At some point, you will want to ask for something or need to push back on an issue. The trust you are developing now will strengthen your position for the future.
  • Try to end every encounter on a positive note that lingers, so that the next meeting begins with that positive tone.
  • Any time you bring a problem to the boss, try to bring a constructive solution as well, and try to make that solution a win:win.

IDENTIFY BURNOUT AND SET LIMITS AT WORK

Do you recognize the warning signs when you begin to feel overwhelmed by too many responsibilities and demands? Do you push ahead no matter what?

Here are a few signals that your workload may be causing you to feel the beginnings of burnout:

  • Mental or physical exhaustion
  • Feelings of ineffectiveness
  • Disengagement or isolation
  • Higher sensitivity to feedback
  • Avoidance of everyday situations, especially your least favorite work tasks
  • Snapping at co-workers, customers, or family members
  • Sleep problems
  • Digestive issues
  • Engaging in angry outbursts
  • Feeling resentful

Each of these negative signals is a symptom of extreme stress. Communicate your symptoms to your manager or at least to your accountability partner or mentor. Remember, no one knows how you feel if you do not tell them, especially your manager. They can’t read your mind.

Now that you realize you are reaching your limits it is time to set boundaries with your manager. When communicating that you are feeling overwhelmed, or on the verge of it, it’s important to stay calm and to speak rationally. That is the best way to engage your manager. Also, consider, when appropriate, demonstrating your case with specific evidence such as time needed to complete a project compared to how many days remain before the deadline.

Remember: there are things in life we can control and things we can’t. You may not be able to control everything about your work, but you can certainly ask for what you need.

Communicating that a project is our of control is not really saying no, but rather letting your manager know that the workload is out of balance. So setting boundaries is sometimes about knowing when and how to communicate the status of a project. You are not really saying no to your boss; your are simply communicating that the situation needs attention. 

ASK FOR FEEDBACK

Sometimes just getting some acknowledgement goes a long way towards reducing your stress and avoiding the feeling of burnout. When your manager writes a personal email to thank you for going the extra mile, it shows that your boss cares, appreciates you, and is thinking of you. 

Your manager may not know what kind of positive reinforcement appeals to you. If you can’t communicate this information during the regular course of work, consider bringing it up at review times. 

Also, don’t be afraid to let your boss know when he or she tells you about a problem, that you would like some positive feedback to balance the criticism. 

Here are some example of different types of feedback:

  • A figurative pat on the back
  • Positive reinforcement or a personally written letter of thanks
  • Personal meeting to give feedback
  • Acknowledgment in front of other staff members or at an office celebration
  • Gift card to your favorite coffee shop, bookstore, or other establishment
  • Extra mentoring to training to set you up for a desired promotion. 

What type of feedback and positive reinforcement do you desire?

In order for feedback to be effective, it has to be delivered in a form that specifically suits your personality and work style. It won’t do much good for your manager to thank you for a job well done by giving you a gift card to a steak house if you’re a vegetarian. Also, a generic thank you email to 500 people may not feel genuine. 

As with all of the work you do to set healthy boundaries, it’s up to you to identify your needs and then communicate them. 

MANAGE YOUR PROJECTS: PLAN YOUR TIME

Time management can be a huge source of stress, usually because you are overloaded, or you place too many demands on yourself. You may simply need help managing your time. Time management skills can help you reduce the emotional burden of being disorganized with your time. 

Can you remember the last time you felt overwhelmed because you had a huge project that made you feel nervous or stressed? Or maybe you felt overwhelmed because you simply had too many items on your “to do” list, or because everything on your list seemed equally important. Suddenly you procrastinated because the very idea of the project overwhelmed you, and you didn’t know where to start. 

Whatever major project you have to do, the best way to take control over it and your nerves is to break it into smaller chunks and prioritize them. Every major project has parts or tasks, that often have to be done in a certain order. One of the keys is knowing where to start and how you will proceed.

Always think, “What most needs my attention at this moment?” when asking to shift  priorities.
—- Neen James

There are 2 different types of projects:
1. One-Person Project
2. Multi-Person Project

The One-Person Project, or your own piece of a bigger project, and it primarily involves only your time (and perhaps that of an assistant). The One-Person Project includes, for example, interviewing users for a software development project, writing a book, completing a report, doing the taxes, developing a plan for a website, writing a speech, organizing sales leads, or marketing using social media. 

The Multi-Person Project includes, for example: planning a major event, developing a major piece of software or hardware, auditing a corporate department, developing a sales plan, or designing and implementing a wellness program. In general, the multi-person project would include a number of resources, people, and budgets. Any multi-person project is usually facilitated by managers and team leaders.

(Editor’s Note: There are several time management planners, trackers, calendars, and reminders, software, apps, and more; as well as the Project-Task Planner, Task Lists, and/or the Hourly Task Planner in this Toolkit, available to you.)

ENLIST AN ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNER

Engage an accountability partner of buddy for guidance. This person should be someone you trust deeply and with whom you can share your frustrations as well as celebrations.

I cannot stress enough the importance of an accountability buddy, mentor, or best fried at work. In Permission to Feel, Marc Brackett stresses that “social support has been demonstrated to be a highly effective buffer against the adverse effects of stress, due to its influence on promoting healthy behaviors.” Brackett goes on to point out that social support can affect your health.

Your accountability partner is there to challenge you and help you become aware of your responses to stress and the ways you manage or fail to manage it. Having built-in support can help keep you on track with setting your boundaries and your limits. A partner can also help you determine what steps to take when you’re beginning to feel burned out, whom to approach and how to approach them. 

In a report entitled Why We Need Best Friends at Work, Gallup found that 63% of people who have a best friend in their workplace are twice as engaged in their work. Otherwise, without a colleague in the company to commiserate with, work can seem lonely and isolating. 

With a well-thought-out daily plan, be sure to make time to be with your best friend to exercise (e.g., taking a walk around the Company grounds, using the workout room), taking a break from your work. 

You might also consider doing role play exercises with your partner. For instance, if you need practice talking to your manager about re-assigning excess projects or asking for something else you need or want, you could play out the scenario with your accountability buddy so you will be better prepared for the actual conversation with your manager. 

One way to work with your accountability partner is to set a regular meeting day with the added commitment that you’ll be available for each other on an as-needed basis. Whomever you choose, make sure that person has the time and the capability to work with you. 

Think about your ideal accountability buddy. Ask yourself: “Do I need someone just to listen and offer gentle suggestions, or someone who will challenge me to stretch?” Think about what type of schedule will work for you, keeping in mind that your potential partners may have limited availability and you may have to bend to their schedule. 

It is critical to be respectful of other people’s time. If you think this person is very busy, I recommend putting a limit on the number of meetings and the amount of time for each. For example, when you ask your colleague or friend to be your accountability partner, you could ask for 4 meetings of 30-60 minutes each.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. People like helping other people and have gotten help themselves along the way. If they are not available, they will let you know. Enlisting help from a coach or accountability partner is one of the best ways you can grow your career and understand what steps you need to get there.

This article contains excerpts from Litvin’s book Banish Burnout Toolkit™.

About the Author: Janice Litvin is a certified virtual presenter and SHRM recertification provider who teaches that replacing your employees is much more expensive and time-consuming than helping them be well. She draws on over 20 years in the human resources field, 10 years in the IT industry, studies in psychology, and experience changing her own behavior in response to stress using cognitive behavior therapy. The action-oriented tools provided in her books Banish Burnout: Move From Stress to Success and Banish Burnout Toolkit™ help you uncover your reactions to stress and learn how to re-script them. For more information, visit https://janicelitvin.com/.

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