How to Prevent Burnout in the Lead-up to Christmas

Merilyn Speiser , 22 November 2019

The lead-up to Christmas may be a magical time of year for some. But for many of us, it’s much more about increased workloads, stress and trying to stay on top of it all. Merilyn Speiser explores what you can do to avoid suffering burnout in the Christmas busy period.

We all experience a lack of energy from time to time, but in most cases a bit of relaxation or a little time away from work can fix it. However, burnout is a kind of lethargy that can’t be cured by a simple meditation session or a long weekend in Byron Bay.

Have you ever become so exhausted or demotivated that you forget what you’re doing or what you’re saying? Have your enthusiasm levels plummeted to the point where you can’t face getting out of bed in the morning? Maybe you’re feeling angry and frustrated or you’re eating or drinking way more than normal? You may very well be experiencing burnout.

Burnout can be defined as the loss of meaning in one’s work, coupled with mental, emotional, or physical exhaustion as the result of long term, unresolved stress,” is how one US-based mental health expert puts it.

If you’re a practice owner or a senior manager, and you find yourself afflicted by these feelings at Christmas time, that’s a serious issue indeed. So, what can you do? Try implementing the following HR strategies in the countdown to the holidays.

Be realistic about what you can achieve at work

Although positive workplace culture can increase at Christmas, as business owners and busy managers, many of us still have the tendency to take on too much. That can sometimes be a good thing – it’s probably part of what got you where you are. But it’s a very bad thing at this time of year when the work is piling up and the deadline of Christmas is in front of you.

The first step in avoiding burnout is to be realistic about how much you can get done between now and when you take leave. This means working normal days, not 18-hour ones.

To achieve this, write down everything you have to do or all the goals you want to achieve by the end of the year. Then work out what really, absolutely needs to be done by then and what can wait until 2020 – even split your tasks or goals into ‘essential’, ‘nice to have ticked off’ and ‘not necessary’. Then tell yourself it really is only the essentials that need to be completed.

Limiting what you need to achieve this way can help clear the mind and immediately start the process of de-stressing you.

Clean up your office space

Now that you know exactly what needs to be achieved by Christmas, it’s time to organise yourself and your work area in order to achieve it.

Go through your files, your emails and all the paper on your desk and organise everything in line with what you intend to accomplish by the end of 2019.

If something isn’t needed, get rid of it. When something needs to be acted on to complete your essential work, put it in your ‘to do’ bucket. If something is in the ‘nice to have ticked off’ or ‘not necessary’ bucket, put it to the side. And file what you can away. If someone else can do it, delegate it.

If something can be knocked over right now, clear your mind by acting on it.

By getting everything cleaned up and out of the way, you’ll help limit the intrusions and hopefully become better focused on doing just what needs to be done by the holidays.

Stop saying yes to more work

With Christmas coming up, you’re likely to start getting more requests than normal – whether that’s from clients who want their work finished by the end of the year, or staff or managers pressing you to complete it. But if you want to keep your mental health in check and avoid a burnout, you’re going to have to start saying no.

After all, you’ve seen your list of what needs to get done and you’re focused on achieving it. Do you really have time to take on any more?

Set realistic deadlines

For anything you can’t get done in the lead-up to Christmas, tell people when they can expect you to deliver. That shouldn’t be your first week back at the desk after holidays either. Otherwise, you’ll just be deferring your burnout until January when you arrive back with a mountain of work on your desk. Tell them to expect it in February if you can.

If that sounds uncomfortable, remember that under-promising and over-delivering is always a better strategy than over-promising and then damaging your health to deliver it.

Leave your work at work

One of the hardest things for any business owner or manager to do is to actually leave the business. But again, if you want to get a proper break and avoid burnout both in the lead-up to Christmas and when you come back to the office, you’re really going to have to.

So, go on, write that out of office message and activate it on your email account before you go on leave. Change the voicemail message on your phone and stop picking up calls from work-related numbers or numbers you don’t recognise. Let them leave a voicemail.

If you must check in with work over your break, limit it to a certain time each day and let people know when that will be.

Prevent your burnout

There’s little doubt you’ll need to work hard in the lead-up to the holidays – and chances are you may have to work much harder than normal. But that hard work shouldn’t come at the expense of your health.

By setting parameters, you’ll be in a much better position to stay energised and focused in 2020.

Merilyn Speiser is Principal Consultant at Catalina Consultants. This is an edited version of an article that first appeared on the Catalina Consulting blog, and is republished here with permission.