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Four Simple Ways to Beat Burnout

burned out business woman asleep at desk

Students in the popular Yale University course, The Science of Well-Being, came to class one day and were handed a flyer that said:

“Today’s lecture is about time affluence. To teach you what that is, I’m going to gift you some. There’s no class today.” Their professor Laurie Santos also gave them a list of positive activities they could fill their free time with rather than go to the library and study.

“What was amazing,” she recalls, “was how the students reacted. A lot of the students spontaneously hugged me or one of the TA’s.”

Time affluence—or the feeling of having enough time—is about elusive these days as the quest for work-life balance. As the news tells us, people feel more burned out than ever.

But here’s some good news: “One of the great things that the research on happiness teaches us is that the simple hacks that you can do to bump up your well-being don’t take that much time,” says Santos.

So here are four simple ways to beat burnout and enjoy more time affluence.

  1. Schedule free time. Make it real. And make it sacred.
  2. “We often think that it’s going to be impossible to carve out blocks in our calendar—that time affluence just can’t work for us,” says Santos. “But the fact is that most of us never try. What would it look like if you just today, for [this month and next] just carve out blocks that will be protected?”
  3. Even the idea of doing this makes some people feel a little anxious. But the reality is once you get some free time, you feel like you have more time.
  4. “What we’re learning from the research is that when we’re feeling time-famished, it’s like we’re starving, and so you don’t pick the right kinds of foods,” says Santos. “You’re just like in a really bad state. Whereas if you just gift yourself some time, things can get better. So, gift yourself some. Put it in the calendar. Make it sacred.”
  1. Make time for gratitude.
  2. “This is something we all hear. It’s on Oprah all the time, but we forget how powerful it can be,” says Santos. “There are many cases where our minds kind of lied to us about what makes us happy, and this is one of them. It turns out that the simple act of taking a moment like this to experience what you’re grateful for can be powerful.”
  3. One specific exercise Santos recommends is writing a gratitude letter to someone you care about and then giving it to them. “It turns out,” she says, “that this act of writing a letter of gratitude can boost your well-being for over 30 days.”
  1. Do something nice for someone.
  2. Doing something nice for someone else, especially when you’re in the throes of burnout, may feel counterintuitive, but research shows it can help more than doing something nice for yourself.
  3. “You want to buy yourself a latte or a cupcake or get a quick massage. It turns out that the act of gifting that to someone else can boost your well-being more than you expect,” says Santos.
  1. Watch your mindset.
  2. “The Buddhists talk about when you’re facing something that feels stressful not to hit yourself with what they call the second arrow,” says Santos. “The first arrow is that deadline that comes for your book or a breakup or something bad that happens in your life or traffic or whatever.
  3. “That’s not something you can control, but what you can have complete control over is your reaction to it, and that’s the second arrow. You don’t have to freak out about the traffic. You could reframe it and say, ‘Oh, I got an extra six minutes; I’ll throw on my favorite six-minute song on Spotify.’

Laurie Santos, professor of psychology at Yale University and head of Silliman College, spoke at the 2018 Massachusetts Conference for Women. Listen to her entire session, “Time Saving Hacks to Boss Up & Beat Burnout.”

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