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Avoiding Burnout: Design Your Work to 80%

Updated: Jul 8

This weekly twork* is part of our series to make work better together - get it direct to your inbox.

Avoid burnout plan work 80/20
Photo Unsplash by Jessica Lewis

Burnout is costing us our well-being and our bottom line

Do you feel on the verge of burnout? If so, you're not alone. Many of us (sometimes or always) feel like we’re limping towards the next holiday or break, just barely hanging on. 🤯

This state of constant overwork isn't just exhausting; it's detrimental to our creativity and problem-solving abilities. When we're burnt out, it’s harder to think clearly and come up with ideas or solutions. We’re stressed out and stressing those around us. 

Burnout is not just a personal issue; it's a workplace epidemic, (41% in Ireland) costing companies millions, increasing employee turnover, and resulting in more time off for sick days. And guess what? It’s not just the daily stress workers have to worry about. According to Gallup about “three in four employees in the U.S. experience workplace burnout at least sometimes -- and about one in four experience burnout either “very often” or “always.”

But, what can we do? 🤔

Like so many complex problems, there is no silver bullet but small habitual, sustainable, cumulative changes will make a huge difference. Here’s one to start with by reframing your capacity to work and setting more real expectations.

Design your work to 80% capacity!

This week's Twork is about designing your work for 80% capacity, always leaving some wiggle room. Many of us tend to design our work for 100% capacity, we promise and push ourselves to do more, aiming for maximum productivity.

But things never go to plan. The unexpected happens, more gets thrown on your plate, something takes longer than expected or your laptop randomly slows to a halt. 

When you’ve planned your work to capacity (100%) it means you’ve no room to manoeuvre. If something goes wrong, you’re already at breaking point or too busy to take input or see opportunities.

It means we are playing Icarus, we are hovering too close to burnout. When shit hits the fan we go into flight, flight or freeze mode and it’s all we can do to try to get through, increasing stress as we have less control and stamping out creativity as our amygdala takes over the brain.  We end up limping through or counting down the days to a holiday, where we may not even get to unwind (if this feels like you, learn how to ‘Switch off when you switch off’!)

By switching our work design from 100% to 80%, we can create a more sustainable work environment. This doesn’t mean we should fill only 80% of your schedule with meetings or deep project work. Instead, aim to design about 60% of your work, leaving 20% for unexpected tasks and interruptions, and another 20% as free, flexible time for creativity, learning or improving your network. So what does that look like:

  1. Plan for Flexibility: When scheduling your week, intentionally leave gaps. These gaps will absorb unexpected issues like technical glitches or urgent tasks, preventing them from derailing our entire schedule. Or even consider taking control of your schedule with our ‘Meeting Detox’ Twork!

  2. Embrace the Unexpected: Understand that things will not always go as planned. Wi-Fi might break down, apps might fail, and projects might hit roadblocks. By planning for only 80%, we have the bandwidth to handle these issues calmly and efficiently rather than also adding stress to our workload. 

  3. Focus on Creativity and Network Building: Use the freed-up 20% to develop your creativity and professional network. Engage in activities like learning, reflecting, or networking, which are crucial for long-term success but often overlooked.

  4. Reflect and Adjust: Regularly assess your workload and stress levels. Adjust your plans to ensure you’re not slipping back into the habit of overloading yourself.

Managers - top tweak to the twork

As leaders and managers, burnout will cost you dearly. Burnout lowers engagement, and productivity and significantly increases absenteeism and attrition. 

Every week ask your team what their workload levels are. We do this in A Better Work at our weekly team meeting. It takes less than 2 minutes out of our Monday Move Meeting. We have a scale of 1-10 and it’s a race to the middle. 

🟢 4-6 - this is a good comfortable manageable level of busy

🟡 1-3 - means we have a fair bit of free time (we encourage and embrace honesty here). We don’t promote the busyness badge of honour. We celebrate your free time and know there's capacity available if someone is overloaded, or it's an opportunity to experiment, learn or recharge.

🔴 7-10 - means you are very overloaded. This might be ok for a week or two. It may trigger a one-to-one to help prioritise or simplify to ease the burden or a handover or support from elsewhere on the team. More than two weeks at this level means we need to prioritise addressing this as a team and solve it. 

Thriving, Not Just Surviving

Designing for 80% helps create a healthier work-life balance, reducing the risk of burnout. It allows us to be more creative and effective in our role, as we’re not constantly operating at maximum capacity. We’ll have the capacity to deal with the unexpected (inevitable). We'll find it easier to solve problems and come up with new ideas, making our work more enjoyable and fulfilling.

Moreover, when unexpected challenges arise, we'll have the mental space to deal with them effectively, rather than feeling overwhelmed. This fosters a more sustainable work environment where we can thrive rather than just survive.

Let’s Make Work Better Together

We can all benefit from adopting the 80% rule. Let’s support each other in this journey towards a more balanced and productive work life. 

Share your experiences and let us know how you get on with this week's Twork. Together, we can make work better for everyone.

Take care and stay well!

Michelle Wallace


A Better Work

At A Better Work we work with our clients to make work better and more fulfilling. It's not about happiness, it's about feeling a sense of accomplishment, and building teams that work brilliantly together in good times and bad.

If you want to elevate your team's performance while creating a more engaged work environment. Check out our new ‘Strengths-Based Teams Development Programme’ which gives you the tools and strategies to unlock your team's true potential.


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