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Preventing Burnout and Optimizing Your Time and Energy

IntuitLife Woman in yellow sweater stretching while working from home

In a world with ever-increasing demands, your time is finite and personal energy needs to be renewed.  The fear and uncertainty that we have been faced with is daunting. I have tapped into my inner strength more times than I can count with a lot of deep breaths along the way.

While I know I am not alone, trying to be a good mother, a supportive child of aging parents, and a compassionate leader takes energy. What I have learned is that I have to also make time for myself and do things that recharge me. It’s never been more important to find ways to actively manage stress and anxiety and maintain a healthy work-life balance than today. Small actions add up and help prevent burnout for ourselves and our teams. 

The World Health Organization defines burnout as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. There are three common characteristics that include: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job, and reduced professional effectiveness. 

Be honest with yourself about your state of mind, and ask for help when you need it. Protect your personal energy. Don’t know where to start? Try asking yourself, “What do I technically have time in my schedule to do?” but also, “What do I have the energy to do right now?” Rather than looking at the workday as simply intervals of time, we have an opportunity to think about our day as distinct blocks of time that enable us to align our ‘to do’ list to our energetic ebbs and flows.

Companies around the world are exploring more ways to take care of their employees, including Intuit. In addition to the holiday season, many employees will start to return to working in person and commuting back to offices, making it especially important for employees and managers to understand that there are unique challenges and an increased risk of burnout for many as we make this transition.

Our team created a guide for our managers and employees, sharing helpful tips for preventing burnout and renewing your energy.

Identify the critical few priorities for you and your team

Overcommitment is often a direct result of not saying ‘no’ or not creating and maintaining healthy boundaries. Overcommitting not only stretches our own capacity, but if you’re a people manager, it can stretch the team’s capacity as well. Saying ‘yes’ where you can and ‘no’ or ‘not now’ when needed will help prioritize what is most critical. 

Prioritization is a challenge and is one of the things our company has learned through this pandemic. We know how to pivot, do it fast and still deliver for both our employees and our customers. The goals that we set for ourselves in 2020 and what ended up accomplishing were very different. As we explored ways to improve our employee experience, we leaned into what we were hearing from our team and determined what would make the most impact. That approach sometimes shifted our short-term priorities while also  enabling us to stay on track with the critical few long-term priorities. 

As you prioritize, remember that the answer doesn’t always need to be yes or no. It may not be the right time or other things are more important. I believe in the old adage that if everything is critical, nothing is critical. Instead, help provide context and be transparent with your decisions so the team is along for the journey. 

Create and protect focus time

Assess where your time and energy goes in your day, and use techniques like time blocking to help create intentional focus throughout your day. The more we split our attention between tasks, the more energy we use and the less efficient we become.  Research shows that the brain takes 25% more time to complete tasks when we toggle between multiple tasks. And when repeated over a long period of time, this start-stop process of switching from one task to another leaves us inefficient and exhausted.

As we looked at our own data, we found that fewer than one quarter of our engineers had a block of 4 hours or more of uninterrupted time to code per day. Leveraging both the data and feedback from our engineers, our tech organization introduced a “No Meeting Afternoons” initiative for all Tech ecosystem employees with a dedicated block of time for engineers to focus on important work. We’ve seen progress in increasing uninterrupted time but have more work to do. We are continuing to explore ways throughout the company to encourage the reduction of meetings as well as asynchronous tools that can help teams collaborate while protecting focus time.

Whether you block some of your own time off for more intentional thinking or work with your team to propose ways to prioritize some uninterrupted code, there are many different ways to create dedicated focus time.

Take daily “recovery” breaks

Whether you are working virtually or working in person, try to take breaks after every 90 minutes of intense work. People can recover a great amount of energy in a short time if the break involves doing something that allows them to truly disengage from work. Examples include taking a short walk or even practicing a few moments dedicated to mindfulness.

I have always been the type of person that is always thinking about what’s next and what is on my to do list and how do I just get through as much as possible. Giving myself permission to take a 30 minute walk in the middle of the day was hard, I saw it as a luxury, now I think of it as necessary for my focus and well-being.

Take time off

Taking time off is a critical component of recharging for ourselves and our team. Research suggests that working long periods of time without breaks contributes directly to burnout. Time off can give you the chance to relax and find something that you enjoy, even if you never leave the house.

Plan ahead and connect with your manager on your time off. Be sure to add your vacation to your calendar, pull together a coverage plan and let your teammates know when you’ll be out so that you can feel prepared and disconnect from work during your time off. 

The past year and a half has shown us that it’s never been more important to focus on our well-being and take time away from work to restore our energy in a meaningful way. After connecting with countless employees, managers and leaders, we introduced “Recharge Days,” which is coordinated, company-wide paid time off to allow everyone the chance to unplug from work, rest, and recharge. Taking time off as a company has helped ensure that employees do not feel the pressure of being off work while some of their peers are working, allowing for everyone to disconnect together.

I have learned to embrace mini-vacations more often and found value in stay-cations where we stay at home and discover new hobbies or take on household projects as a family.

Tips for People Managers

If you manage a team, you can have a huge impact on helping your employees prevent burnout. 

Check in regularly with your team to understand their needs, then tailor work to meet their needs along with the needs of the team, such as agreed upon “no meeting” times.

Be sensitive to the physical and emotional demands of the external environment, their jobs, and personal life. Partner with your employees  to identify what is causing pressure. Work together to create solutions that can help.

Ensure your employees know the impact they are making; create a line-of-sight between the work they are doing and the difference it is making for your organization. Support may also take the form of regular performance feedback, opportunities for development, and emotional support from you, all of which have been shown to be effective “buffers” against burnout.

Prioritize the mental health of yourself and your teams

Focusing on your mental health can sometimes be out on the backburner with so many competing priorities. Remember that it’s important to take care of yourself. If you’re a people manager, don’t forget to role model balance and focus on well-being whenever possible. Everyone should prioritize time to decompress and unplug from work–and often, you can set the tone and be a positive influence for your team. 

By helping teams prioritize, creating dedicated focus time, supporting the individual needs of your team members, encouraging breaks and time off, you’ll be building healthy habits that help both you and your employees prevent burnout. 

At Intuit we care deeply about the health of our employees so that our team members around the world can do the best work of their lives. This includes providing benefits to support the health and well-being of our employees (and their families). Interested in joining our team? We’re always looking for great talent. Visit our careers website to learn more and apply for open roles. 

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