There are work projects to finish and perhaps exams in the family. Not to mention the pressures of organising holidays or gifts. Burnout is a real possibility.
So what is burnout really? And how can you avoid it before the holidays hit?
More than being really tired
The third symptom (cognitive impairment) means sufferers find it difficult to focus and retain information when reading. They tend to scan material – with some women reporting it as akin to “baby brain”.
In severe cases, immune functioning can be compromised (so that the person may report an increase in infections), blood pressure may drop and it may be difficult or impossible to get out of bed. Predictably, such features (especially exhaustion and cognitive impairment) do lead to compromised work performance.
‘Good people’ at greatest risk of burnout
While burnout was initially defined in those in formal employment, we now recognise the same pattern can be experienced by those meeting the needs of children and/or elderly parents – with such needs typically increasing over Christmas.
In essence, “good” people – who are dutiful, diligent, reliable, conscientious, and perfectionistic (either by nature or work nurture) – are at the greatest risk of burnout. Breaking down tasks into realistic goals can stop them from becoming overwhelming.
Six tips for avoiding seasonal burnout
Here’s how to achieve that:
Prioritise tasks: Rank tasks based on urgency and importance. The Eisenhower Matrix, by author Stephen R Covey, puts jobs into one of four categories: urgent and important, important but not urgent, urgent but not important, neither urgent nor important. This helps you see what needs to be a top priority and helps overcome the illusion that everything is “urgent”Set realistic goals: Break down large goals into smaller, manageable tasks to be achieved each day, week, or month – to prevent feeling overwhelmed. This could mean writing a gift list in a day or shopping for a festive meal over a week. Use tools such as calendars, planners, or digital apps to schedule tasks, deadlines, and appointmentsManage distractions: Minimise distractions that hinder productivity and time management. Research finds people complete cognitive tasks better with their phones in another room rather than in their pockets. People with phones on their desks performed the worst. Setting specific work hours and website blockers can limit distractionsChunk your time: Group similar tasks together and allocate specific time blocks to focus on them. For example, respond to all outstanding emails in one stint, rather than writing one, then task-switching to making a phone call. This approach increases efficiency and reduces the time spent transitioning between different activitiesTake breaks: A 2022 systematic review of workplace breaks found taking breaks throughout the day improves focus, and well-being and helps get more work doneDelegate: Whether at home or work, you don’t have to do it all! Identify tasks that can be effectively delegated to others or automated
Sophie Scott, Associate Professor (Adjunct), Science Communication, University of Notre Dame Australia, and Gordon Parker, Scientia Professor, UNSW Sydney.