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June 01, 2021

Health Law Connections

Women’s Network—Crushing Burnout

  • June 01, 2021
  • Angela Han

This article is written in connection to the session on crushing burnout with Angela Han, hosted by the Women’s Leadership Council during AHLA’s Health Law Week 2021.

Burnout happens for one of two reasons:

  • There is not enough time.
  • There is not enough energy.

It follows that the solution is to create more time and energy.

Creating time requires three steps:

1. Audit your time. This means putting pen to paper exactly what it is that you do with each minute that you spend. I use a tool called Timeular to track my time, but you can do it on a spreadsheet or on a piece of paper. To each their own. Let me acknowledge that this part will be painful. You will see that there are so many gaps in your schedule where you are doing things you wish you weren’t spending so much time on. It was painful to see that I was spending hours on YouTube when I thought I had spent only ten minutes. When you see your 24 hours exactly the way they are spent, you will be able to carve out time for whatever it is that you need to spend more time on.

2. Buy more time. You might say you still don’t have time. Did you know that you can make the day have more than 24 hours, and you already know how to do it? You already do that as a consumer. When you order from DoorDash or shop at Walmart, you are paying a vendor for the convenience of getting what you need without having to do it all yourself. Do the same thing for (1) the things you don’t want to do and (2) the things you are not very good at doing. Sometimes they overlap. You do not need to start outsourcing ten different things at once. Start with one at a time and see how much more time you get.

3. Set boundaries. Many people tell me this is the hardest part, but that is only because they believe that setting boundaries means saying no to important people like their boss or family. That is not true. The most important boundary we can set is for ourselves. Use this simple if/then formula:

IF (activity that sucks my time) happens, THEN I will do (alternative solution).

Here is an example: If I am spending too much time writing emails that can be written tomorrow, then I will set a timer for myself to stop at 6pm. Whatever that looks like for you, go for it.

Creating energy also requires three similar steps:

1. Audit your energy leaks. What is draining your energy? It could be that your practice area is not so exciting anymore. It could be that your boss is always criticizing your work. It could be a nosy neighbor who is always asking you to dogsit for them when you are trying to relax. This is the time to remove judgment towards yourself and find out what is taking away your energy. Be honest and candid about what is wearing you down because those are the things that are building frustration and resentment, which likely affect your performance at life and work.

2. Buy more energy. What actually gives you energy? There is no right answer. You could be an industry leader who loves to write Harry Potter fanfiction. You could be a practical general counsel who regularly enjoys hypnotherapy and spiritual work. If you are not quite sure what gives you energy, marinate in silence. When is the last time you got ten minutes of pure silence for yourself, JUST for yourself, and no one else? Go into the ten minutes with the intention of finding what you’re looking for and with the understanding that “I don’t know” is a lazy answer.

3. Set boundaries. Again, a lot of us struggle with this. “What if there is an urgent deadline, and there are always urgent deadlines?” I acknowledge that there are some weeks where there are urgent deadlines. Some industries and some workplace settings may be more demanding, and I am not going to pretend I know what your job is like. But let me start here: where there’s a will, there’s a way. If you are serious about creating more energy and avoiding the path to burnout, there will be a couple things here and there that you can remove from your plate. What are those? Use the same if/then formula:

IF (activity that sucks my energy) happens, THEN I will do (alternative solution).

If writing emails at 10pm is making me feel nauseous, then I will wait until the morning. Somewhere deep inside, I am willing to bet you can think of one thing that you really want to get off your to-do list. What is it?

If you are struggling with taking action on these, which is a common problem, consider the following questions:

1. How have others done it before? Find someone who has accomplished the goals you are looking to achieve. If the goal is crushing burnout, find someone who has done it. I am an example. Find that person and see what you can glean from their journey.

2. Where are people doing it? If you find one person who has done it successfully, chances are, they have also surrounded themselves with people who have done it as well. James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, says, “Join a community where your desired result is the norm.” It could be a local community, a Facebook group, or a LinkedIn group. Whatever you are looking for, there is a group that is doing the same thing you want to do.

3. Who can help me do it? You might have heard this ad nauseam by now: Ask for help. I have multiple coaches, multiple mentors, and a therapist because they help me see what I need to see. We will always have blindspots and weaknesses and learning from others’ guidance (even their mistakes) can help us ask the right questions.

Your burnout may be a combination of lack of time and energy. You might feel like your burnout is too complicated to be addressed by simple steps like these. But let me leave you with this: it will be hard only to the extent that you believe that it is. If you believe that it is easier than you think, it will be easier to find the way.

Angela Han is a lawyer and a life coach. She helps lawyers get results by transforming blindspots into strengths. She is also host of the “Fit to Practice” podcast, where she interviews lawyers on what it means to be fit to practice.