6 Tricks to Avoiding Burnout at Your First Job


I was out to brunch a couple Sundays ago and over our eggs Benedict and seasoned potatoes, my friends and I got onto the subject of being a “yes-woman.”

One of my friends was commenting on the fact that currently she was not only expected to do her own work, but had been volunteered to put on an event at her place of work as well.

“I guess it’s just because I am normally up for anything. I want to be indispensable at work, so I tend to say yes when it comes to doing extra little things. But, like, right now I have so much on my plate and really don’t have time for this,” she said sighing and taking a sip of her water.

“Yeah,” agreed my other friend, “we’re yes-women.”

Both of them looked so weary as they talked about this, taking slow bites of their poached eggs and hollandaise and resting their heads on their hands.

The conversation really struck me. The word “indispensable” lingered in my mind. That’s what we all want isn’t it? The security of knowing we’re a necessity. But is the process of becoming indispensable to our workplace having a negative effect on us?

Jacquelyn Smith writes in her article for Forbes, “17 Ways to Be Indispensable at Work,” that you should be willing to go the extra mile. You should consistently be contributing new ideas, taking up “responsibilities that aren’t required of you,” and volunteering for projects that others don’t want to do.

I don’t think this is bad advice. It’s actually very helpful and true. Being willing to go the extra mile will definitely help you stand out and be seen as a positive asset to the team by employers.

But, with smartphones and tablets, are we going too many extra miles? Stephanie Walden makes an important point in her article for Mashable, “Why Today’s College Graduates Must Be Self-Sufficient,” that (especially at our first jobs) we are more susceptible to getting burnt-out because we don’t know how to leave work at work.

In their post for The New York Times, “Why You Hate Work,” Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath explore the causes of burn-out for employees. They write, “the rise of digital technology is perhaps the biggest influence, exposing us to an unprecedented flood of information and requests that we feel compelled to read and respond to at all hours of the day and night.”

This combined with our desire for “meaningful” work can create a lot of frustration. Schwartz and Porath break this down into four work traits employees desire: renewal, value, focus, and purpose. The truth is, you’re most likely not going to get your dream job right out of college and though I encourage you to try to find purpose in your everyday work, it can be difficult to come to terms with the fact that your job may not always be your favorite thing to do.

Realizing that we’ll have to do work that isn’t always ideal while also being connected to this work 24/7 is a serious recipe for frustration and feeling fed up with our jobs.

Don’t get caught in this rut! Here are some tricks for avoiding burnout at your first job.

  • Schedule “me time”

Stephanie Walden quotes Darrell Silver, co-founder of Thinkful in her post. His advice is that workers should actually schedule non-work times into their work week (and weekend for those who are tempted during off-hours). During these times, there should be a conscious choice to unplug from anything work-related. Give your brain time to focus on other things.

  • Learn to say “no” the right way

Saying “no” can be really difficult (ahem the intro to this blog post) but sometimes it’s necessary. Everyone has a limit, even the most “workaholic” of us all. Forbes makes it easier on us by giving us a slideshow of alternatives to flat out saying “no”.

  • Plan at least one thing you can be excited about each week

Plan something non-work related each week to look forward to. It can be anything from having a solo Frozen sing-along in your bedroom to a round of three-on-three with a few of your friends at the basketball court. Having these little rewards will give you something to look forward to that doesn’t have to do with reaching a goal at work.

  • Re-think your attitude toward work

I recently wrote a post about finding meaning in work (no matter what you do) and also talked with Dirty Jobs host, Mike Rowe, about work and its bad PR. In our interview he talked about how it’s become a part of our culture to complain about our bosses and jobs. “Work” has got a bad reputation as something that’s getting in the way or our happiness.

Take a good look at your situation. Are you really unhappy? Or are you annoyed about your boss and work because it seems like everyone else is?

  • Talk to your coworkers about what they’re working on

Take a lunch break with coworkers from different departments. Sometimes when you’re highly focused on one particular part of your job, it can be difficult to see the big picture. Regaining that perspective can help remind you what you’re working for and inspire you all over again.

  • Give yourself a non-work related challenge

Challenge yourself with something non-work related. Maybe a physical challenge. Recently at work my entire pod has been participating in a plank challenge. Every hour, on the hour we plank for a minute. It’s such a small amount of time but allows us to take a break from our computers and totally refocus our minds before returning to whatever we were working on.

Joel Gascoigne, the founder and CEO at Buffer, makes a great point in his post for Fast Company, “6 Simple Habits to Keep You Consistently Happy Every Day,” when he says that having a non-work related challenge allows him to be successful even if everything at work is going “south.” It’s one of his key points to staying happy. It can be easy to start to define your life by your work but this can totally limit your perspective and cause major unhappiness if everything at work isn’t going perfectly. Having an outside goal allows you to see that although one area of your life may not be going perfectly, that doesn’t mean that you as a whole are failing.

It can be incredibly difficult to turn off our work mode, especially at our first jobs when we’re trying to find ourselves in this new phase of our lives. We want to be indispensable. We want to disprove those stereotypes about our generation being entitled and lazy. We just have to be careful not to start to define ourselves by our work and have such a pinpointed focus that we lose the rest of us. That’s how we start to feel burnt out and become unhappy with our jobs.

Homework time! Be aware that burnout is something that can happen (especially for recent graduates). Challenge yourself to unplug for a few hours every work week and weekend. Set goals outside of work. Make sure that your job is just one part of your life and not what defines it.

P.S. Have some other tricks for avoiding burnout at your first job? Tell us in the comments!


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