The Space

noticing burnout

Dec 10, 2023

This one starts with some important questions, feel free to come back to them at the end if feels like a lot to start with as you transition from weekend to week...

Are you getting enough sleep?

How is your nutrition?

Where are the breaks in your schedule?

What are you doing for self care?

These 4 questions are ones that I have purposefully, and unintentionally, ended up asking pretty much all my coaching clients since 1st December this year. As much as it's a wonderful time of year where people are celebrating, it can also be a time where deadlines and stress are in the mix.

I remember Christmas Eve 2007 very clearly. We were 'minor negotiation points' away from closing a £100m deal. As is usual on Christmas Eve, the office closed at lunchtime. As Project Director I told my team to go home and enjoy their break. Everyone left except one person, let's call him Chris. At 2.30pm I (again) asked Chris to go home to his family, and said I'd happily wait for the call.

Thing is, we were both anxiously waiting for news to confirm the deal had been done.

In order for us to be able to not have this project looming over us during the break with our families we needed to know.

I can tell you the phone rang several times that and it was not the call we needed.. that eventually came at 4.15pm to much relief!

I am sure in one way or another you can relate to deadline stresses at this time of year... stresses at the office and/or at home... or even simply shopping.

I feel compelled to say that it's the ability to take stock and make space for reflection that enables one to know when to push, when to pull, and when to pause.

That 3-4 hours of waiting by the phone enabled Chris and I to talk about work, career plans, and create time to discover other 'project niggles' as a result of the unexpected space. We became aware of new things and ended up with an even 'cleaner' project close, and we put plans in place for newly discovered potential derailers to be risk managed.

Making space to reflect really helps to avoid derailment and burnout. Researchers Kelly P. Gabriel and Herman Aguinis of the School of Business, The George Washington University's article 'How to prevent and combat employee burnout and create healthier workplaces during crises and beyond' is clear on the how and what of burnout (the article is open access so anyone can read it). The piece includes some great recommendations, and it hints towards stating the need for space to pause and reflect, but doesn't say it as directly as I am. We all need to avoid burnout!

I know many of you reading these words are leaders and coaches, I believe the aforementioned article will help to expand your understanding of burnout (it did with me!). In the experience I shared with you earlier I was on the verge of burnout, I just couldn't see it then.

What I was able to do was have a gentle conversation with Chris about some important matters. Isn't it amazing that we can advise others and always need advice ourselves? That is why I will always work with a coach myself!

Today, I see how successful Chris is in his career, he is CEO of a construction company, and he mostly has balance at home. I beam with delight and pride knowing that our conversation(s) contributed to this career trajectory and an overall stability which is a big achievement if you ask me - I know it i not straightforward to have both.

On Friday I was coming back from a meeting in Belgravia and I overheard two men in their 20's having a conversation about how one of them was asked to work everyday through Christmas. Yes every single day! His friend said 'Even if you don't celebrate Christmas, or like your family, you need some time off.'

I took this one sentence as an invitation to reflect on the need for pausing, and came to conclude that this young man was basically saying we all need to rest once in a while.

That opportunity gave me permission to have an unplanned nap yesterday afternoon, to plan a longer break than is necessary as I travel to Scotland today, and to plan in pockets of purposeful reflection over a cup of something warm in the next few weeks as things slow down or intensify in the day-to-day!

I am noticing that I used the word 'plan' a lot there...

I'm not quite sure why I'm talking with you about burnout... I had expected to write about the fact that next week is a big week for me.

I am attending my PhD graduation ceremony on the same day as my birthday. The graduation is taking place at the University of Glasgow's Bute Hall, a building which was the inspiration for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series of books and films! My young nieces may even be more excited than me!

Maybe I'm writing about burnout because the space created at this time of year provides an opportunity for us to reflect on our own self care... and by doing it earlier in December we might avoid end of year burnout...

Hence the simple and impactful questions I shared at the start of this email.

It's a good list – is there anything you'd like to add? Please let me know by replying to any email I have sent to you (you'll hear from me every Sunday at 6pm UK once you've subscribed to The Space).

Other things I have found useful for creating a pause this week have been a variation of the 3 minute breathing space I created. I was introduced to Mindfulness Based Stress Relief (MBSR) as part of the Masters in Applied Positive Psychology I did in 2011. I decided to train with Michael Chaskalson and developed my own 60 second breathing space practice that I use all the time when I am on the London Tube –often as a sardine in a packed train tin I need a breathing space. It works. You can find Michael's audios here. Enjoy!

One other thing, as you can see this week I've played with the style of the email a little and my recommendations are seeded throughout – is it better or worse or something else? That feels like it's enough for now, until next week, all my best,


The Space

PS – Because I know some people still have not heard of Charlie Mackesy I have add in this post script. For the last few years I believe have been a significant contributing factor to Charlie's book continuing to be a global success! I pretty much recommended it to everyone I know and have given away over 50 copies! If you're looking for a present for somebody, or want to buy a gift for yourself, then I really, completely, totally, utterly recommend his book The Boy, the Mole, The Fox, and The Horse. It feels as if reminding you of it, and even sharing the title with you if you haven't come across it yet, is a gift. The image below is an example of his writing and imagery...

(c) Charlie Mackesy

PPS – I had a meeting with my adult niece yesterday and I read this email to her asking for feedback... she said 'I love your emails (posts). They hit the right balance between the number of words and what you are trying to convey – it's the perfect amount – and it's easily digestable. I look forward to the recommendations every week.' I was delighted that she felt the emails were useful and I hope you do too :-)

See you next week!


The Space

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