Typically, over the course of a year, we all face challenges, pressures and setbacks in both personal and professional spheres. We can end up feeling emotionally drained, physically tired, and even negative towards those closest to us. This results in a noticeable detrimental impact in workplace productivity. This decline also seeps into our social lives, physical health, even our economic well-being. The symptoms of burnout can leave us feeling zombie-like.

The effects of burnout can cloud our inspiration and ideas, and leave us feeling creatively empty. And since we exist in a highly creative industry, this is a real worry. It helps create a vicious cycle of burnout affecting work, work not being up to scratch, which puts pressure on you, which creates more burnout.

Then we factor in the added effects of Covid-19. The impact of this pandemic has added a great deal of extra mental, physical and emotional stress to our lives, and has forced workforces globally to quickly adapt to new scenarios. Whilst we did, and continue to do so, in fantastic fashion, we are all aware of the increased effort this required. 

Burnout can happen at any time. If steps aren’t taken to reset and recharge, we face major difficulties going forward. So it’s incredibly important that we know how to prevent or stave off burnout. 

The team at SparkPost have gathered our thoughts and, along with some of our great friends in the #emailgeek community – who we are SO grateful for (especially during these challenging times) – we have some ideas and tips to share about how to prevent burnout and recharge your email inspiration.

Chad S. White, Head of Research, Oracle Marketing Cloud Consulting

While we tend to talk about burnout as being directly related to one’s job, my experience is that it can have very little to do with your work. I think burnout is about emotional exhaustion, which probably everyone has experienced over the past 2 years.

For my part, my two youngest sons struggled with remote school for nearly a year, we canceled two major family vacations, I worried about my immune-compromised wife catching COVID at the hospital where she works, and my wife’s mother was hospitalized 6 times before passing away a few months ago. All of that has been tremendously stressful.

Some of the things I’ve done to stave off burnout include:

  • Getting extra sleep
  • Trying to relax more and push off un-fun, non-urgent household projects
  • Spending more time on activities that bring joy to my life, such as the sci-fi novel I’m writing
  • Focusing on long-term and retirement planning, such as our plans to open a B&B in 15 years
  • Meeting with a therapist (which I stubbornly resisted)

If you’re feeling burnt out, you might need changes at work or changes elsewhere in your life. Make sure you’re seeing the whole picture and be kind to yourself.

April Mullen, Director of Brand and Content Marketing, SparkPost

Burnout is the repetitious cycle of depriving yourself of the space to rest, seek inspiration and to set proper boundaries to operate at your best performance as a professional. It’s deeply toxic physically, mentally and emotionally. As a work-obsessed person, I have struggled with horrible bouts of burnout in the past. I am ever a work in progress, but here are some rules I follow to prevent burnout to remain a high performer in fast-moving tech: 

  • Rest is a requirement, not a luxury. I used to pride myself on going on bouts of little sleep and rest and wore it like a badge of honor. I thought it made me someone that was unstoppable. Don’t think like this. Get rest. 
  • Get your nutrition right and hydrate. I now focus heavily on eating food that fuels my body and gives me sustained energy. I also now pay attention to the amount of water I drink each day, as I used to be chronically dehydrated. Seems so simple, but these changes have been a positive change for me. 
  • Exercise is critical in creating physical power that manifests as mental strength. As I become stronger, I feel unstoppable mentally too. I believe in myself more as I push through physical boundaries. I have a trainer that helps me stay focused on my goals for both nutrition and exercise to support me along the way. 
  • Make time for your people. I realized in a past burnout zone, I had neglected the very people that remind me of who I am and lost myself in my work a bit. If you find yourself using work as an excuse to miss out on real or virtual face time with those you love, you’re already far down the burnout path. 
  • You don’t need to give up every night and weekend. High performers will get a lot done in a reasonable number of hours. I’ve learned the hours I work are a lot more productive and creative per hour, when I’m not working all the time. Sure, I still pull long hours from time to time when a deadline warrants it. But I definitely limit overwork–especially on weekends. The mind needs time to rest and experience joy outside of work to bring inspiration to the work. 
  • Practice ruthless prioritization. You have to be agile and constantly shuffle the work based on what fast moving organizations need. If something flies to the top of the list, then something moves down. The only constant is change, so get used to always making decisions on what you’ll get done right now and let other things slide down. Don’t let others distract you from what you need to get done, especially if you know their need is not as impactful to the business as what you have at the top of your list. This is challenging when you’re a people pleaser like me, but one of the most important aspects of growing as a leader. 
  • Get a career coach. Getting a coach was like having a therapist for work. I was able to sort through my shortcomings that led me down the path of burnout from a professional that is focused on coaching tech industry women. It was a game changer.  
  • Build your board of directors. Seriously. You need a squad to share your personal challenges and how to navigate the complexities of being a leader in tech. Women, especially, need this and it’s why I co-founded Women of Email. 
  • Know your value. Knowing the weight of my contributions means I have the confidence to say “No” or “Yes, but (insert boundary on timing, scope, etc.).” Turns out, people respect boundaries and will even help you ruthlessly prioritize when you are transparent. 
  • Recognize the signs of burnout before they become destructive. For me, the signs were my Apple Watch reminding me to breathe more often than usual, feeling dizzy just sitting at my desk and many other indicators. Don’t ignore the signs of physical and mental fatigue. It will be crippling when burnout starts to impact your health. 

Guilda Hilaire, Director of Product Marketing, Salesforce

Sometimes I find that we don’t take enough time to slow down and prioritize the important things in life. Mental health should always be at the top of that list. The more we talk about mental health, the more comfortable we will be in developing effective coping mechanism that will allow us to create balance. I wanted to bring awareness to this day & share a few ways I take care of my own mental health in hopes of inspiring someone to do the same or whatever is the best method for them! Let us not only celebrate the importance of mental health but make it a point to prioritize it. Today and always.

Starting making this your reality:

  • Creating time for Rest & Self-Care such as reading, working out, dancing, going for a walk, yoga…getting enough sleep
  • Connecting with your community (Family/Friends/Colleagues/Therapist)
  • Getting rest & not overworking yourself
  • Setting boundaries between work life and personal life
  • Journaling daily or finding ways to express your feelings

George Schlossnagle, Founder and Distinguished Engineer, SparkPost

I think burnout is a real issue and a psychological reaction to stress. If you are suffering from burnout or think you are, I highly encourage people to seek professional help. Much like depression is often (falsely) viewed as a weakness or something to be ashamed of in our culture, I think burnout is often treated as something that should be ‘toughed out’. I would encourage people to never feel ashamed or reluctant to take care of themselves. Reach out to support networks, including professional advice, early and often.

Elliot Ross, Taxi for Email + Email Evangelist, SparkPost

Burnout can take many forms, and isn’t a binary thing — You can feel burnt out but still productive for example. One thing I’ve learnt is to understand when you are feeling burnt out, whether it’s from work or something else, and take action. Often the longer you put it off, the harder it is to recover from. Action could take many forms, but can be as simple as having a cup of tea, a walk, or taking longer time outs. I find that doing things that put your mind in a different space means that you can process things better and find ways forward. Ironically in lockdown, I realised I had previously used my commute to do this.

If you have longer term, more sustained feelings of burnout, then there’s likely something structural you should address. That could be getting more sleep, having stronger boundaries between work and life, or making a bigger life change. Big changes are hard, but one way to achieve them is to set realistic goals and find a small way to move forward every day.

Keep taking care of yourself

At the time of writing, we live in a world of uncertainty, challenge and change – on all fronts. Emotional exhaustion is a real problem for many people, whether caused directly by workplace pressures or by external influences. It’s absolutely vital therefore that we realise, understand and practice methods of self-care and mental well-being. 

The email marketing community is a vibrant, passionate and brilliant one. But perhaps more than that, it is an intensely caring one. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your colleagues or fellow #emailgeeks if you feel like you need support. With such a community behind us, our email inspiration will surely hit ever higher heights!