Stop, Drop, and Roll

Avoiding Occupational Burnout

Fire-fighting. In some organizations, it seems to happen on a daily basis inevitably resulting in casualties along the way. You may even be one of them.

While there’s glory in being the Phoenix that rises from the ashes, we might be better off avoiding burnout in the first place.

Heeding the Signs

From an organizational perspective, what appears to be important can easily be sucking dry your most valuable resources. You might notice that days are filled with expensive back-to-back meetings. Perhaps, too much time is being spent on shiny objects and the next big thing. Projects start to drag and go well beyond budget. Every hour an executive is overreacting to some metric that missed its year-over-year comp. Left unchecked, your most valuable resource, your employees, will begin to disengage and fly on autopilot.

At an individual level, most days you’re stuck in back-to-back meetings filled with people that don’t even need to be there…including you. Because some industry expert said that X is going to be the next big thing, you’re suddenly asked to drop what you’re working on and get a new project started. Because the project doesn’t really align with the organization’s mission or values, there’s ongoing and endless debate about how to complete the project on time and within budget. You’re questioning why the project is even a priority and no one seems to have a good answer. Later you get blamed for the failure of the project even though you advised against it. After running around frantically trying to keep everyone happy, you feel exhausted and begin to disengage.

Making the shift from simply getting things done to focusing on doing the right things

What are the right things? Of course, that depends on the organization and the individual. Those who work in “fast-paced environments” are especially prone to resource-sucking tangents and running around in circles. Regardless, it’s important to occasionally pause and evaluate your current activities to assess whether your initiatives are moving you in the desired direction. Failure to do so can be quite costly. Some estimate this corporate waste could be costing the U.S. upwards of $3 trillion each year. (There are likely more impressive stats I could cite, but you get the point.) Exaggerated or not, that’s a lot of wasted Time, Talent, Energy.

If you’re feeling like you’re on fire—and not in a good way—it’s time to stop, drop and roll.

Stop, Drop and Roll

Stop: Unplug. Slow down. Go quiet. Get some sleep. Then with a clear head, take stock of your current resources and make sure you’re investing them in the right things. Are they serving your purpose? How much are they moving the needle in the right direction? Despite sunk costs, is any reallocation needed? Do you need to add a missing ingredient to the mix? Better yet, should you drop something unnecessary? These decisions can be tough, but that’s why you get paid the big bucks.

Drop: Keep what’s working and drop what’s not. That whole sunk cost mentality makes this easier said than done. Then, there’s the addictive juggling act. As an experienced “multi-tasker”, you like to juggle. You even think you’re pretty good at it. When balls start to drop, you might as well drop them intentionally. Focus on less but the most important.

And on the team side of things, trying to preserve relationships you’ve invested in can make letting go a challenge, even when the relationship is unhealthy. After you’ve done everything you can to make a relationship work, if someone is headed elsewhere, you’ll need to drop them off or let them off the bus. Switching roles, perhaps you need to get off the bus you’re riding.

The art of adding by subtraction is risky. Being smart about the process mitigates the risk. We are more nimble without the unnecessary baggage, but let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water.

Roll: Once you put out any existing fires, prevention is the key moving forward. Make sure you have momentum in the right direction before you get on a roll.

Oftentimes, we set our own fires. With the daily noise, hustle, and bustle, our attention is distracted and we lose our way. Next thing you know, we’re backpedaling or just spinning our wheels. Sometimes we need to just roll with it, but most of the time, we should be paying attention, avoiding the unnecessary fires, and course-correcting.

In this fast-paced environment, we find ourselves in, it’s easy to catch on fire and burn out.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” – Benjamin Franklin

Fires can be dramatic. Preventing them doesn’t have to be. Allocate some time today to remind yourself where and who you really want to be. Assess how you’re getting there and make any necessary adjustments.

Everyday alignment is not a big deal but it can make a big difference. Keep calm and roll on.