After a long and busy season at work, the tiredness of your body and mind can usually be relieved by a good sleep, a relaxing weekend, or a short holiday. The tiredness that is harder to deal with is emotional weariness. Your emotional tank needs to be refuelled regularly. Trouble is, when it gets low it does not fill quickly. It requires a slow-trickle refill. A strong session at the gym or a good sleep does not fix things when you are emotionally drained.

Driven people are highly motivated to complete the project in front of them. They know how to push through. They work hard and long and build their careers on being known for getting stuff done. However, over time, especially when your personal life is also very demanding, your capacity to bounce back can become compromised.

Burnout is real and can happen to anyone. It creeps up on you. The fact is you can be functioning at a very high level, seeing great results, but living on the edge of burnout. Often the last person to become aware of the warning signs is you. People close to you become aware that you have less compassion and empathy. You may be restless and more irritable than usual.

You struggle to enjoy time relaxing away from work. Your capacity for self-awareness is lessened. If you are honest with yourself, you may be inwardly bored and crave excitement or comfort. This is the space where even strong leaders can become vulnerable to excessive behaviours – an affair, overeating, or drinking too much.

If you find it difficult to relax when you get time off work or feel flat after the completion of large projects or after big decisions are made, it is a sign you need to invest time in refilling your emotional tank. Research indicates that we can become addicted to our own adrenaline, and then struggle to wind down and relax. Too much adrenaline running through our bodies is also a leading cause of heart disease.

5 tips to ensure you always have energy when you need it

  1. Make time for activities that replenish you every week

    It is essential you discover what replenishes you; activities you enjoy, in which you lose track of time and after which you feel renewed and refreshed. This will vary from person to person, and could be sport, gardening, exercise, reading, crosswords, a yard project, and so on.

  2. Build margins into your days

    A margin is a space at the side of a page which helps define the page and in which nothing is written. Do not fill every spare minute with scheduled activity. You need time to be, to go for a walk, to reflect on your day, to clear your head, to have a massage, whatever works for you.

  3. Create a structure that keeps you in tune with the natural rhythms of your life

    • Take a day off every week without fail – even machines need regular maintenance and servicing.
    • Take a long weekend every 4–6 weeks – everyone needs downtime at 25–35 day intervals. This is important, even if you feel good, so you can build your emotional reserves, and not always be living on the edge of burnout.
    • Take a week off work every quarter – this is a great way to be continually refreshed through the year. Extend one of these breaks to three weeks to round out your year. This way, you will have energy to enjoy a family holiday.
  4. Create an energy map

    Work with a mentor (or someone close to you who can challenge you) to observe and map the energy levels in your life. Even when you have very different weeks, your life will have certain rhythms to it, especially when observed weekly over four weeks.

  5. Build your schedule around your energy map

    Schedule the most important meetings, decision-making times and high-performance activities for when you are likely to have most energy. This will give you that edge you need to win more often.

    If the times are out of your control, seek to adjust your life (bedtimes, and so on) to ensure you have energy for when you need it. This may cost you a little planning and discipline, but the benefits will be huge.

As a burnout survivor while in a senior leadership role, I am passionate about helping busy leaders become more self-aware and learn the lessons that will enable better personal and corporate health. These tips are some of the things my wife and I have implemented, and that have enabled us to run successful businesses and build a great lifestyle for ourselves and our family.