Time is Finite, Energy Isn’t: Figure Out How to Renew Your Energy to Avoid Burnout

At one point, we’ve all felt the effects of burnout. Getting up and going to the job you once loved becomes dreadful, or you put on Netflix for the fourth night in a row after work instead of going out with your friends. Personally, my burnout manifests as a lack of focus, irritability, isolation, and chronic fatigue. So, how do you avoid burnout?

In a perfect world, we could step away from work as often as we like and get recharged and rejuvenated. However, we’re working in America — the only developed country without mandatory PTO, with the second worst average number of PTO days in the world, and nicknamed the “no vacation nation.” That requires that many carefully manage their time off, often opting to treat PTO as a scarce resource they should avoid using at all costs. This, in addition to a culture that glorifies overworking, creates a system where many feel chronically burnt out.

PTO isn’t the only fix for burnout.

I’ve learned that managing time off isn’t the only way we can control burnout. Atomic provides generous PTO, and while it’s one tool in my burnout toolkit, I can also schedule activities other than PTO that recharge me. My colleague introduced me to the Harvard Business Review article “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time” by Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy. They emphasize that as workplace demands rise, longer hours lead to burnout mentally, physically, and emotionally. They argue that energy, unlike time, can be renewed through specific rituals. By rituals, they mean the intentional scheduling and practice of certain behaviors or activities that recharge us.

For example, even though someone might have to work 10 hours a day, they can choose to meditate for 10 minutes in the morning, take a walk at lunch, leave work before rush hour, and finish their workday at home. Through these rituals, their mind and body are more recharged, and they have actively avoided the energy-draining activity of sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

It’s easy to say that there isn’t enough time in our day to relax or recharge and that our responsibilities are too hefty. But by incorporating small activities that give us energy, we show up as more productive, happier people. I’d like to go over the two steps I see as key to implementing more energy-renewing activities in our lives.

Identify your energy-giving activities and how they might relate to your passions.

Sometimes, we’re so stuck in the pattern of just going to work, that we lose touch with our lives outside of work. We all have passions, hobbies, and life goals that don’t necessarily intersect with our professional careers. Figuring out which energy-giving activities work best for you involves a process of self-discovery and experimentation.  Identifying these through activities like journaling, taking self-assessments, or vision boarding is a great start to figuring out how to build activities into your daily life that give you a spark.

Reflect on past experiences where you felt rejuvenated and energized. Consider activities you enjoyed as a child or hobbies that you’ve neglected over time. Think about your greatest passions in life and how you can schedule activities related to them both on a day-to-day basis and during vacation time. Also think about the little things you can do every day to energize yourself, like making it a point to stay in touch with friends you miss or doing just fifteen minutes of exercise.

You might ask yourself:

What activities are so engrossing that they make me lose track of time?

Which activities do I look forward to the most in my current routine?

What environments (e.g., nature, bustling cities) do I find most invigorating? 

Schedule the energy-giving activities.

DON’T skip this step. The authors of “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time” note that the rituals you implement should be scheduled in a way so that they become so habitual they’re essentially automatic. Schedule the walks, hobby time, and other rituals, until they are just a part of your routine.

I’d also like to advocate for scheduling vacations and PTO in advance. That way, you won’t get so engrossed in your work that you don’t even think to schedule a week off. Forbes reports that more than a quarter (27.2%) of PTO goes unused, and more than half of Americans do not use all their paid time off. At Atomic Object, we don’t allow more than two PTO days to roll over each year, meaning it’s a use-it-or-lose-it policy. Initially, I was skeptical, but I realized the importance of enforced breaks for recharging. Some of us literally won’t take the breaks. If you proactively schedule them ahead of time, you’re ensuring you get the renewed energy your body will need.

For example, for months, I chose to not attend a wedding in Europe, opting to save money and PTO. One night, I realized I was ignoring one of my life passions, traveling, and that it’s unwise to let my money and PTO go to waste. Despite it being a very demanding and, at times, stressful trip, getting away for two weeks and embracing my passion for travel left me much more rejuvenated. Simply put, our passions are what give us energy and life, and we need to make room for them.

Renew your energy to avoid burnout.

Think about renewing your energy as a part of your work – studies show repeatedly that you’ll actually be a more productive employee if you’re properly prioritizing your well-being. Be intentional and bake your energy-giving activities into your lifestyle. Your body and mind will thank you for it later.


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