Working at a creative agency can be a fast-paced, high-energy, high-stress environment. After all, we are a client-facing industry, which means we are often at the whim of last-minute requests, tight budgets, and quick turn-around times. According to recent research conducted by Fishbowl, over 65 percent of public relations and advertising professionals suffer from burnout. So why is this happening and how can we fix it?
As a strategist, I often want to look at the root of the problem and work from there to find solutions. When it comes to workplace burnout, there are some things we can’t control, but there are some we can — even if we are all working remotely. As we enter one of the busiest times of the year for agencies, I’ve made a quick plan for how to tackle workplace burnout.
1. Review Your Workload and Time Management Strategy
Burnout often comes from feeling buried by work. If you currently feel like this, take note of how you are currently planning and prioritizing tasks. If you feel like everything you’re doing is ad hoc or you solely rely on your manager to tell you what to do, you might want to revise your strategy. It is important that you are in control of what you are planning and prioritizing in a proactive way. One of the best tools I have used to self-organize is Kanban boards. They are visual project management tools that breakdown work into blocks of time and by task.
The beauty of this tool is that it is highly visual. Both you and your boss can see it. It will also let you know if you are going to be overloaded for the week so that you can make adjustments. Write down all your tasks, and then, to better estimate how long things will take you, break down each task into hours based on t-shirt sizes (small – 2 hrs, medium – 4 hrs, large – 8 hrs, etc.). Timings won’t be exact, but it can help you to figure out how long you think a task will take. Based on your time estimations, start prioritizing based on upcoming deadlines and tasks that might need additional review time. Doing this by yourself is great, but it is even better with your manager or team, so everyone knows what you are doing and if you need help or support, which leads me to the next recommendation.
2. Practice Delegating More and Saying No
The Kanban board will tell you how overloaded you are, but it is up to you to make the delegation happen. Throughout my career, I have learned that you can’t wait for someone to help you; you need to go to them. Learning how to parcel out tasks is essential, especially as you look to grow into a more senior role. If letting go of control is an issue, or you feel embarrassed, just start small and then move on to larger tasks. You might be surprised by how willingly others will be there to help you.
3. Practice Mindfulness and Self-Compassion
Sometimes during burnout, you’re so overwhelmed, you feel like you can’t take time to stop and review why you are feeling out of control. Everything comes in as a feeling or sensation and you just react. In return, you become incredibly hard on yourself, nit-picky and agitated. Or you completely shut down. If you start feeling out-of-control, I encourage you to take on the RAIN method. It is a mindfulness tool coined over 20 years ago by Michele McDonald to help confront issues with a lens of self-compassion and loving-kindness. Basically, it allows you to review why you feel a certain way and find techniques to shift the situation proactively without judgment.
RAIN is made up of four principles:
R – Recognize what is happening.
What thoughts, feelings or behaviors are affecting you? Put a name to what you are feeling. “Today, I feel annoyed. The feeling I feel is stressed.” By recognizing the feelings or behaviors you have, it actually makes it easier to overcome them.
A – Allow the experience, thoughts or sensations you just recognized to be – just as they are.
You might not like what comes up, but by allowing yourself to stop and feel what is happening, you will soften your resistance to what is actually occurring. In times of stress, we tend to suppress difficult emotions, which can cause more tension and suffering in our bodies and minds. Have you ever noticed when you are hitting burnout mode your body aches, or you get sick? Yea, it’s a thing, so let’s try to avoid it!
I – Investigate it with loving-kindness.
Ask yourself, without judgment, why you feel this way. Maybe the reason you feel stressed is that you are getting emails and calls 24/7. Maybe it is because you have been working over 50 hours a week and are physically and emotionally drained. Whatever it may be, investigate why you feel the way you do. Then, try to think of positive actions that you can do to better support yourself and your current state of mind. Be kind when you do this and truly ask yourself what you need. The answer will come right away. “Well … I need to set up boundaries with my clients, so they know when they can send emails and phone calls. I need to start saying no to work because I want to set realistic expectations for what I can and can’t do in a week. I need to delegate work to another colleague who has a lighter schedule, so I won’t be in the office till 9 p.m.”
N – Note and nurture what has happened – and let it go.
The last step is to really just recognize that the emotions you are feeling are just a reaction. Your emotional state does not define who you are as a person. Your emotions are fleeting, and by taking the time to be present and kind to yourself, you will find a solution. You are never stuck. One quote I really like from Melli O’Brien is, “No matter how intense and painful the emotional storm, there is always a part of you which is still, silent and untouched.”