As CTO here at Vacasa, one of my jobs is to combat burnout. Passionate work is a component of a full life. And life is a system that needs to be balanced. When I notice stress from home or work taking its toll on a member of my team, we talk about calibrating their system.
Here’s the advice I offer:
1.) Visualize the right system
Hold your hand so that all five fingers point toward the ceiling. Each of your fingers represents a component of your life system (e.g. Career, Health, Family, Education). We tend to live life linearly, finger-by-finger, focusing on whichever component is in most urgent need of care before moving on to the next.
Now, turn your hand sideways. Instead of focusing on each individual finger, think of your hand as a single stack of fingers.The five previously mentioned components of your life are now part of a system. Focusing on your system’s health instead of linearly on each individual component helps you maintain balance and avoid meltdown. If one aspect is not going the way you want, the other areas that you’ve continued to invest in will help you keep an even keel.
2.) Translate stress signals into outcomes-focused action plans
Earlier in my career, I’d lie awake in bed worrying about all the problems I had to solve that week. The sleeplessness made me grouchy and I was too tired to exercise, so I embraced a new perspective: Stress is just a signal that my system is failing and I need to do something to address it.
I started putting a notepad and pen on my nightstand to record the problems keeping me awake. When the stress siren blared, I’d write the problem down and go back to sleep. In the morning, I’d look at these three or four notes I’d written down and realize they’re not big problems—and only one or two of them actually needed solving that week.
3.) Balance the components
In the IT industry, we have the advantage of glide time and flexible hours. Freedom like that has its pros and cons. When there’s no established delineation between work and home life, you need to find your own balance.
If you’re passionate about what you do, it won’t feel draining to spend all your time doing it. But odds are, some other component of your system is being stressed. I encourage workaholic-prone team members to flip the script and allow time for other neglected areas during what would have been work time: Schedule an hour to see how your partner’s day is going. If you had to work the weekend, take an afternoon for a day-date during the week. Just make sure your emphasis is on outcomes, not presentism. A healthy system requires balance across all components.
Talking with team members about a calibrated life system isn’t a silver bullet for burnout, but it helps. I remember one highly motivated team member whose roommates became concerned and tried all sorts of tricks to get him away from his computer. He told me about their attempts, saying, “I just love my work. At night, I think about what I achieved that day and I visualize the next stand-up and what I’ll say I contributed. If there’s nothing, I’ll research a topic so I have something to contribute.” He was just a passionate worker and never experienced burnout. A couple of years later, he got married and his system priorities changed dramatically.
By Tim Goodwin, our Chief Technology Officer