Time for some real talk about the real world. College does not prepare you for your future full-time job. There, I said it. College can prepare you for your future field or for the projects you’ll take on, the responsibilities you’ll handle or the stress you’ll have to face. But no college prepares you for the day-to-day, the routine, the full-time work-life balance. No, you start your career grinning and bushy-tailed, excited for your new found professionalism- just to have that magic drain with each passing day. When the tasks your assigned start to feel tedious and meaningless and you find yourself saying “I need a three day weekend” after every weekend, you know you’re getting burned out.
Trust me, I’ve been there- hell, I am there. I understand that it can be a struggle sometimes. Sure, you like your job but some days you just feel so drained from it. Sometimes you’re not sure whether you need a new job, five shots of tequila, or just a good night sleep.
But from my experience, I’ve found that my habits and my mindset are often what causes my burnout, not my job. Because of this, I’ve figured out what often helps me get out of my ruts. Here are a few tried and true ways to help avoid burn-out:
1. Plan something to look forward to during the week
Sometimes it just feels like we’re living for the weekend, right? Just continues dread until TGIF. But what if you could look forward to Wednesday night as much as Friday night? Fun doesn’t have to be saved for your days off. Plan something fun or interesting for Tuesday or Wednesday. Wine Wednesday, anybody? It can be big or small- dinner with a friend or just a movie you’ve been wanting to watch. Having something to look forward to during the week will break up the monotony of your workweek.
2. Set a work-to-free-time “switch”
One major problem I’ve had has been with letting go of work stress even when I am out of the office. I can tell myself it’s time to relax, but my mind is still stuck on whatever I have to do at work tomorrow or tasks I should have finished that day. When your work-mind sticks around during your free-time, your time off can feel anything but free.
A work-to-free-time “switch” is a specific action or activity that can be used to signal that work time is over. It can be a five-minute dance session to let go of any anxious buildup from the day, a yoga video to stretch out your stiff muscles, a run, or an episode of your favorite show. Setting this switch and working it into your after-work routine will help take you into your evening with a relaxed, me-time mindset.
3. Set daily goals
After you’re in your job for a while and you’ve gotten used to your responsibilities, it can feel like you’re just running through the motions. Instead, go into your workday with something to strive for. Set a goal or two, big or small, that you can accomplish for that day, work-related or otherwise. Set how many tasks you want to complete or how far you want to get on your project by 11 am, then by 2 pm. Or set a non-work goal- like striking up a conversation with five different coworkers by end of the day. Daily goals give a little extra purpose to your work and help you feel more accomplished.
4. Be intentional with your free-time
When I started getting into my weekly routine, it became clear to me that my form of “relaxing” was having the TV on while I mindlessly scrolled through Instagram until it was lights off. It turns out I didn’t feel relaxed at all, plus I always regretted not getting something done during my evening. Being intentional with your free-time means giving more attention to your actions. Youtuber Rowen Tsai nails this concept in her video How to Be a Productive Potato. Binge-watching a show on Netflix is fine, but you can get so much more out of it if you concentrate on the storyline or pay attention to the storytelling elements. That way you don’t reach 10 pm and realize you’ve missed most of what you’ve watched.
Being intentional with your free-time can also involve doing something more active if you’ve been sitting at a desk all day (i.e. the yoga video or the run from the work-to-free-time switch). It’s about doing something enjoyable and beneficial- something to make the boring weekday nights a little worthwhile.
5. Talk it out
If you find that you still feel burned out, drained, and unmotivated regardless of the tweaks to your habits and routine, it may be time to consider the other potential causes for your unhappiness. I for one am a huge advocate for open dialogue on personal subjects. That’s not to say every workplace allows for that same open dialogue. It’s understandable that some people may feel like they can’t discuss how they feel, or how their work has taken a toll on them, without facing repercussion. But you have to understand that there is always someone out there you can talk to. A friend, a family member, a trusted professional. Breaking down what you’re feeling exactly and why can clue you into whether this job is aligning with your passions and values or if your mental health is at risk. Do what’s right for you.