Dear Dr. Karyn,
My husband never stops working and feels guilty for taking time off. I’m really concerned that he’s going to experience burnout. It seems like our culture is just moving too fast. What suggestions do you have to help those get control of their life again and not burn out?
Great question! The truth is we are seeing adults at every stage of life maxing out — whether working at the office 70 hours per week or playing the taxi driver to all of the kids’ activities. Here are three tips for parents to prevent burnout. Enjoy!
This tip seems like an obvious one until we stop and listen to ourselves and those around us. Earlier this month I was at a conference, and found myself chatting with some parents afterwards who were concerned about how they were going to manage the four-times-a-week hockey practices, three-times-a-week week ballet lessons, once-a-week week piano lesson, and two-times-a-week gymnastics classes, multiplied by their three children. It sounded like a two-person full-time job just getting the kids to and from their activities, and I felt exhausted just listening to the complexity and details of their schedules!
The challenge is that this particular mom was speaking as if this schedule had been given to her. The truth is that she had chosen this schedule. Even if our kids beg us, or we feel the pressure to keep up with other families, ultimately, we as the parents have control over what we do or don’t do. We can decide what we sign up for and what we decline. We are the adults.
Even in the workforce, we may think that our employer has control, but the truth is that we are always in control of ourselves. We can either choose to say yes to the demands, or have the courage to tell our employer that his expectations are unrealistic. We can choose to take on the more demanding, high-stress job with more traveling (higher pay), or the lower-stress job (with less pay).
We must remember that life is about choices (some with far more attractive outcomes than others). We all make choices that have rewards and consequences attached to them. So it’s important to own our choices and not play the victim. Owning the choice won’t necessarily make us less stressed, but it can make us feel more empowered, and may force us to think closely about whether we want to make some changes.
I shared on the Canadian television show “Cityline” a concept I learned years ago about rocks and sand: if you have a jar and you try putting sand in first and then rocks, your big rocks will have a hard time fitting. But if you reverse it — put your big rocks in first, then the sand around it — it will likely fit! I’m a visual learner, so I loved this concept right away.
If we understand that we all have a finite amount of energy and time, that’s the jar. Our first step is to think about our big rocks. What are two or three big rocks that are really important to us that we want to tackle this fall? Is it personal? Or is it professional?
The fall is a great time to think about your big rocks. What is most important to you? When you start to shape your schedule, begin with your rocks. Then you can add the sand — things you like to do but are not as important to you.
One of my favorite top-10 classic books is Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People.” A key principle that he teaches is that effective people “sharpen their saw.” They schedule time away from work to recharge, unwind, and energize their emotional and physical batteries. It may seem counter-intuitive, but we are most effective when we stop and take time off, and this process will make us better, more effective managers, parents, and leaders. It’s true, and I have repeatedly experienced this for myself!
This summer, my schedule and stress were higher than usual. Deadlines were fast approaching for a new television show I’m producing, and for the first time in years, I considered sending my husband Brent and our boys to the cottage for our family holiday without me, so I could stay and work in the city and get ahead of my workload. But I knew this concept — that recharging will save you time — and it was time for me to put it into practice.
So I stuck to the plan and took off 10 days to recharge, play, decompress, and simply be. Words cannot express how different I felt coming back to the office. I was restored, fully energized, fully engaged, and I managed to get more done in the first two days back in the office than I would have by dragging myself along if I had stayed in the city. The best part (other than getting a lot done) was that I was me again. I was playful, present, creative, and the kind of wife and mother I strive towards being. This social experiment on myself was a great reminder of how we can know things intellectually, but it means nothing if we don’t live it experientially.
As you start mapping out your schedule at home and at work this fall, remember who’s in charge. Remember your top two-to-three big rocks. (Let go of the sand.) And remember to schedule in recharging time. These three tips not only will prevent burnout, but most importantly, they’ll also keep you grounded on what is most important to you, and who you want to be!
Dr. Karyn Gordon is founder of dk Leadership, the author of “Dr. Karyn’s Guide To The Teen Years” (Harper Collins), and motivational speaker. Visit her at www.dklea