Burning out or boring out?
Being bored only proves what inspires you, therefore what you enjoy.
~ Bob Kenerson (my father), said many times in my childhood
It felt like déjà vu all over again. Ground hog day. The same work projects ticked along day after day, week after week. I was comfortable in my job, enjoying the team I was on and grateful to be working at a good company. In my day-to-day work though, I was frustrated with the lack of progress on pushing forward with a particular project and slowness of a partnering team in their ability to deliver. Same ol’ story from the project team with the same ol’ dependencies: short on resources, the technology needs an overhaul, competing priorities, changes in leadership re-directing work, lack of urgency in completing work, and so on. I was dependent on them to make progress and the ripple effect was my feeling stuck and uninspired. I knew I was capable, the frustration increased and the passion was gone. The project felt like a drain. The words “burnt out” came to mind.
Historically, my best work-related thinking comes in two ways. First, in a small group of creative people where we trust each other to spout ideas and iterate together. Second, when I’m not at work. Well, not behind my computer. The inspiring thinking usually comes when I’m out on a walk, surround in the greens and blues of Mother Nature’s mountains and water in my area. That’s when I clear my head and the “what if” scenarios usually emerge.
This became more real and relevant during the Coronavirus lockdown where on my daily walks, I was able to clear my head. My workload skyrocketed to lead Coronavirus-related projects, and there simply wasn’t enough hours in the day for some work. I was told to dial down on less valuable and urgent work. So, going back to my burnt-out scenario, what if I stopped being on that particular project team? What if I stepped away and became a reviewer of work, instead of the primary partner and a creator of the work? What if I asked a direct report to step in with a new perspective and a fresh voice? What if I pitched to my boss that I could divert my time to other — perhaps high value—activities for Coronavirus and beyond? It felt risky admitting that maybe I was not the right teammate for the project anymore and my time was better suited elsewhere. But it also felt like something to regain my work sanity, inspiration and potential new opportunities – not just for me, but for my direct reports and my manager.
Using Self unLimited’s handy Value Exchange Cards, I played with the cards to surface what I currently value most at work.
It had been a few years since I had done this in the Self unLimited class with Helen Palmer. Things that surfaced:
What I am seeking from my work experience: clear vision; social impact; values + purpose alignment; use my brain and experiences to challenge me with healthy, advancing outcomes; avoid boredom and monotony of projects not aligned with my skills and interests.
Wait. Say that that last part again. Avoid boredom and monotony of projects not aligned with skills and interests.
Carrying on to the next exercise in using the cards, I identified how I best thrive and where I share my expertise:
New challenges, stimulating work, opportunities, and experiences, with a variety of projects, focused on work product creation
Stating the obvious. The project I was struggling with wasn’t due to burn out as I originally thought. It was due to boredom. Dad was right: boredom helps you understand what you truly enjoy doing.
That realization resulted in three actions:
- It led me to prepare for a conversation with my manager at annual goal setting time. It was a chance to articulate the circumstances where I thrive. The self-reflection was healthy exercise and empowered me to have a confident mindset about what I wanted to do for project work, mainly more aligned to having a business and social impact. While committed to the organization, my manager’s team and my own work, I was basically admitting – and risking – that I wanted to track off particular projects where I wasn’t finding inspiration. Timely given the Coronavirus pressing needs and activities.
- I was able to review my team’s resourcing plans and confirmed my hunch that delegating the core team role to a direct report was a viable solution. It led to a much-promised opportunity for him to do new project work with new stakeholders. And it had the ripple effect where he could delegate more to his direct reports thus giving them development opportunities.
- I made a promise to myself to remove negativity in my mind and my words (as much as possible within my control) for project work. Time to step away from the pessimism and drain. Time to put new rules in place for positivity and find the inspiration.
The results so far? It’s still early days but the headaches and stress of the repetitive, “bang my head against the wall” work for that specific project has been reduced. My role has shifted to reviewer – a much better arrangement. My direct report is playing a larger role and there’s been refreshed burst of energy for both of us and the partnering team. My manager gets my time and attention as a project manager of two critical projects for the entire firm sponsored by Executive Leadership Team. While not everyone has the luxury of delegating, based on my experience I encourage everyone to think outside the box on how to rotate roles– including taking the risk of stepping away.
Learning from my experience, turns out I wasn’t burnt out, I was bored out. Going forward, I’ve made an additional promise to myself: do a mental check of work projects on an informal inspirational scale, just to set my own expectations. A “low” rating means the work has to get done, and while it may not give me any inspiration, it’s part of the job. The risk of boredom is real but can be managed. A “high” rating means I will probably give my heart, soul and extra hours and effort because it’s inspiring and fulfilling work. While we can’t always pick and choose, I’m hoping the “highs” are more than the “lows.”
Author: Lisa Weber
Lisa is a passionate advocate for Self unLimited thinking which lead to her role as Self unLimited Ambassador. She uses tools and practices from Self unLimited in her own workscape to help her shape a rich and satisfying experience of work.