15 Questions to Avoid Burnout

This week, I lead a seminar on “burnout” for instructors. Ironically, I’d been feeling disengaged, exhausted, bored, and unmotivated myself. Sometimes, I have weeks when teaching and writing seem to have lost all meaning. 

I’m burned out. 
I decided to work through the same questions I ask graduate students and instructors this week, and by the end, I find renewed zeal for teaching and writing. The questions help us pinpoint sources of burnout and make prompt changes. Maybe these will help you or someone you care about. 
Reflection Questions for Burnout 
 1. Some psychologists claim burnout is about a lack of balance between the social, creative, physical, emotional, and vocational parts of your life. Can you identify what’s out of balance in your own life this month? What do you need more of, and what do you need less of?
 2. Have you recently felt like your work has no meaning? Take a moment and reflect on what is meaningful to you about your work.
 3. Sometimes burnout comes because we’ve lost our confidence in our work. Has something happened recently that made you feel inadequate, unintelligent, or unprepared? Counter this experience by reflecting on three areas of expertise you have. What makes you great in your work? 
 4. Do you feel emotionally absent from your work? What is causing the biggest distraction from your work? How can you be emotionally present?

5. Do you feel like you have enough autonomy? Why or why not? 

6. How long has it been since you’ve encountered the mystery and wonder in your field? Have you lost your curiosity? What can you do to rediscover it? Are you studying something new?  
7. Do you tend to have “fallow seasons” and “fruitful seasons” of your work life? Is the spring generally less energized than the fall?  How do you manage the year in terms of productivity versus “hibernation?”

8. What do you love most about your work? What brings you the most happiness in your career?

9.  What do you love least about your work? Why? Is there a way to reform this activity into something enjoyable?

10. Some psychologists suggest that burnout often flows from toxic or oppressive work environments. Do you find that you’re mostly around cynical, negative, complaining folks or hopeful, positive, celebrating folks? Are most of your work conversations embittered and resentful?

 11. How do you set appropriate boundaries with your workload? Are you “always available”? What can you do today to make yourself less available even while increasing your emotional presence?
 12. One doctor told me that the average person cannot list five ways to relax after a stressful day.  Can you? List five ways you know help you relax.

13. In a department where you might not be recognized or receive awards, where will your value come from?

14. In what ways are you exercising creativity during the day?

 15. Do you feel isolated? What can you do to reconnect with people and become part of a flourishing community?
These questions might direct us to sources of burnout. I hope you feel renewed in your work today.

Is there anything you would add to this list?


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One thought on “15 Questions to Avoid Burnout

  1. Thanks heather, I needed this right now. I was sitting here watching this this little trail of smoke rise up from my desk – ready to throw a cup of water on it and finish it. Today i went to visit my 85 year old mentor who literally has more spark than me. She blew on my coals and started the flame again, as did your post today. So this is my addition. Feeling burned out? Find someone who will blow on your coals and start you up again. Find a wind storm to get you blazing. Never forget to tell your friends how you're feeling.
    Find people who celebrate you, not just tolerate you.. They will fire you up.

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