article by contributing expert Katie Vernoy from Therapy Reimagined
When people talk about therapist self-care, they often stop at the line of “preventing burnout.” How many self-care practices have you seen that focus on avoiding burnout or recovering from burnout? For me it’s too many to count.
Now, I’m sure that many of you, like me, have hit burnout a number of times over the years. Preventing or healing from burnout is a worthy pursuit.
But – what if we could go further? What if we could actually optimize our performance, so we could have a bigger impact, be the strongest version of ourselves, AND avoid burnout?
There are a lot of writers and researchers who have studied optimal performance, so I’m going to share 6 of my favorite tips (and a reading list for extra credit!).
1. Keep in Mind Your Circadian Rhythms, Timing, Energy Patterns, and Logistics
We all have natural rhythms throughout the day.
Most often, that can mean being very productive mid-morning, an energy trough midday/early afternoon, and a boost in creativity in the later afternoon/early evening.
But everyone is different. So, identify your natural optimal times to do the things you want and need to do, tempering that with your immovable responsibilities (i.e., taking kids to school).
Put your highest priority tasks like decision-making and strategic planning during your optimal time (for most, this is in the morning), give yourself downtime or lowest priority tasks in your “energy trough” (for most, midday, with the worst possible time at 2:55pm), and your creative, insight-based analysis during your recovery time (for most, late afternoon).
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2. Focus Intensely
When you’re used to “multi-tasking” (which is really just switching back and forth really quickly) or scrolling through social media, your attention span can disappear.
Single-task, when possible, keeping your sole focus on the task at hand. Remove distractions, build your focus ‘muscles,’ and engage in more deep work than shallow work.
3. Balance Stress and Rest
Make sure that you have times when you’re working at your highest level (barely achievable or just right “Goldilocks” goals)…and sufficient times of rest.
Schedule 50-90 minute blocks of stress and 10-20 minute blocks of rest.
And remember – ‘stress’ can be recategorized as exciting challenges, and ‘rest’ as mindful downtime designed to support the strengthening of your body and mind.
4. Give Yourself Really Effective Breaks
During your rest periods, make sure that you’re not working in any way.
Go outside, unplug from your computer and smart phone, and get active.
Make your break social, when you can.
During some breaks, feel free to take a short nap (less than 30 minutes) or do rhythmic, semi-interesting activities (like walking outside – this is based on the Attention Restoration Theory) to restore your ability to focus, so you can engage in deep work again.
5. Set Boundaries on Your Day
Set start and end times and stick to them!
You need rest before and after work. You will be more productive, more quickly if you limit your time.
Also, when you’ve set hard limits to your day, you decrease decision-fatigue by having a set structure in place.
6. Close Out Your Day Effectively
Create closing-out rituals that include time for you to process the feelings that have come up during your clinical work.
Also, make sure that you complete your work OR put into your calendar the mechanism to follow up, so you can truly close out the practical work (and not have the unfinished responsibility remain in your consciousness until you’re ready to finish it).
When you finish your work day, leave it behind as much as possible, so you can have true rest and recovery before you start again the next day.
All of these great tips are from the books in the reading list below. I highly recommend digging more deeply into all that these books have to offer.
- ‘Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World’ by Cal Newport
- ‘Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience’ by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- ‘Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success’ by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness
- ‘When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing’ by Daniel Pink
So there it is – 6 tips for burnout prevention you can apply today!
Try to pinpoint one or two tips that you can apply right away. Each of these tips will help you increase your productivity and lower your risk of burnout, so pick one or apply them all – you’ll start seeing results the same day!
If you’d like even more great advice for becoming the best therapist you can be, while growing your practice and avoiding burnout, check out Therapy Reimagined 2021.
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