Industry Trends

Managing Your Energy During Burnout Season

Gusto Editors  
Business woman working and making notes.

Do you want to know why you should focus on yourself to manage your energy better? Our time and attention are precious resources. To maintain your well-being, you need to focus on yourself and find out which activities drain you and which are good investments of your time. 

Gusto is proud to help drive the trend towards wellness in the workplace. That’s why we partnered with CPA Academy to bring you a webinar hosted by Amber Setter, a non-practicing CPA and consciousness coach. In “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time,” Amber laid out how to manage your energy by focusing on what you can control.

Amber helps individuals and groups in the business and accounting world incorporate consciousness practices into their career lives. As a coach for CPAs, she merges her awareness of psychology, healing, and meditation techniques with expertise in the accounting industry. Her ultimate goal is to help her clients lead happier, healthier lives. 

Identify what you can control vs. what you can’t

Managing your energy during the busy season starts with identifying activities in which you receive a “low-yield” energy return, meaning that they are not a good use of your time because they drain you or cause you stress. You should start with a rigorous inventory to discover which activities are negative drains on your time and attention. Some of the most common ones are scrolling on social media, watching too much news, and worrying about what other people think about you. These aren’t necessarily things that take up a lot of time, but they waste your internal stores of peace and calm, lower your strength in the face of challenges, and create life-sapping stress. In other words, they need to go!

Woman writing on a notebook.

After you look at these energy-draining activities, break them down into two columns—what you can control and what you can’t control. For example, you can’t control what’s happening in the world. You can’t control the fact that bad things are happening or that the news sensationalizes the negativity. You can control when you watch the news and how often. You can turn off news alerts on your phone, avoid watching the news before bed, and practice self-care if you do find yourself triggered by something you see. Let’s take a look at some other examples:

Things you can’t control

  • Political, economic, and social conditions around the world
  • Other people’s actions
  • Other people’s intentions
  • Laws and regulations around public health or the economy
  • Traffic, lines, and delays
  • Other people’s happiness or unhappiness

Things you can control

  • Who you spend your time with and for how long
  • What you are willing to accept from other people
  • How much extra work you will take on
  • How you manage your time
  • Your attitude
  • What you give attention to
  • Your well-being

Even if something is out of your control, you’re still empowered in the way you react. You can choose to take more control of your thoughts, your attitude, or the way you take care of yourself. 

Taking charge of your inner and outer reactions

Once you’ve identified what you can and can’t control, cut out draining activities such as dwelling on things you can’t change. Then, put your focus on what you do have power over. For example, you can’t control the news and how bad things are around the world, but you can limit how much news you watch.

Maybe you see the negative effects a colleague is having on your life, but you can’t exactly avoid engaging with them. Well, you still have options. You can create boundaries between yourself and that person. Limit your time with them so you’re only talking about work,  or change the way you react to them. When you create a strong internal boundary that keeps you from absorbing their negativity, stress, or whatever it is you feel burdens you. Once you see what isn’t working, you can take action:

“You can really just say, ‘Hey, I’m frustrated by this. This is draining my energy. Wait, can I control it? What parts can I control? Can I change my behavior so that I’m more empowered? Can I change the ramp of thoughts that are running through my mind?’ Those are the ways … you can really energize yourself in a more empowered way.”

– Amber Setter

You have two ways to combat stressful situations. Your outer self takes action to limit draining experiences and cultivate more positive ones. Or, your inner self can work to shift thoughts and attitudes so you feel less triggered or stressed by uncontrollable things.

“Your inner self is composed of your thoughts, your feelings, your emotions, and your outlook. … For me personally, whenever I’m faced with adversity or challenges, I ask myself, ‘What are the gifts in this experience? What can I learn?’ And sometimes this really requires me to distinguish the facts of what’s going on versus the interpretations of the stories that my brain might be telling me.”

– Amber Setter
Businesswoman thinking about work with her hand on chin.

If you can change something, do it. If you can’t, try to avoid complaining about it. We all complain, but it’s a big energy drain, according to Amber. Complaining doesn’t change anything. The more that you complain, the more you’re giving your precious energy and attention to what you don’t want. However, you can flip this, turn the tables, and focus instead on what you do want.

“Behind every complaint is a request. So instead of saying, ‘I don’t like this. I don’t like this,’ make a request for what you need instead.”

– Amber Setter

Much of the inner work around energy management has to do with challenging negative expectations and processing uncomfortable emotions. Sometimes we have to confront the fact that a situation makes us feel worried or concerned, but that doesn’t mean we stay stuck in that emotion.

It’s natural to have fears about money, social support, public health issues, and safety. You can and should take steps to support yourself and protect yourself in all of those areas. But if you still have persistent negative emotions around them, it’s time to take charge of your thoughts, emotions, and attitudes. You can do this through reframing what’s happening, shifting your perspective, and having an inner dialogue with yourself:

“Scared brain sometimes wants to say to me, ‘Hey, how are you going to pay your bills? You’re self-employed. What if no one wants to buy your services? What’s going to go on?’ And I have to say, ‘Well, thank you scared part of me, but I’ve never missed a mortgage payment, and the only time I missed a rent payment was when it was late because it was the busy season, and I didn’t even know it was the first of the month. I’m going to give myself a hall pass on that one.’”

– Amber Setter

Becoming more empowered starts with noticing and taking control of our thinking. Although it may sometimes feel like we can’t control our thoughts, Amber argues we can, at least to a degree. It’s important to understand that you are not your thoughts. You don’t have to believe every idea that runs through your head. But you don’t have to eliminate them or change them altogether. You can see them, let them pass by, and move on. 

Taking a mental break is especially crucial for accountants and other knowledge workers who are intelligent and have active minds. On the one hand, being smart helps you do your job well. On the other hand, overthinking can lead to stress and anxiety. Not only that, you need to save precious mental energy for your work, so you must give your brain a break.

“Start to become strong and get some strength in your patterns of thinking. … [This is] very important for knowledge workers. … You are not your thoughts. You have thoughts, and you can change those thoughts. You can get stronger than them, and that’s how you learn how to move through the anxious thoughts … with a little more ease and grace and fortitude.”

– Amber Setter

As you begin to shift your thinking, have patience and compassion for yourself. You’re changing patterns that have probably been there for a long time. If you feel you are struggling more than normal with anxiety or difficult emotions, don’t rule out hiring a therapist or a coach.

Cultivate inner awareness to create more good in your life

Woman sitting in office holding a pen in a happy mood.

At the end of the day, learning how to manage your energy is a process. It’s a process that requires you to continuously connect to yourself, identify your needs, and check in with how you’re doing. This has far-reaching benefits that go beyond being more productive or avoiding burnout. Being connected to yourself through a regular reflection process can help you create a more fulfilling life that’s uniquely yours.

“The challenge is always going to be uncovering what the inner self is telling you. … To hear that voice, it really helps you to find stillness and drown out the perceptions of others. [That] doesn’t mean you’re not a nice person or you don’t care about people, or you’re not empathetic. … [It means you] really create a life of integrity, which means it’s in alignment with who you are and what you want. You’ve got to really get deep inside to understand what you want.”

– Amber Setter

All this requires is a little bit of time and reflection. Carve out some time for yourself, and put it on your calendar so that you take it seriously. When you do sit down for this process, make it enjoyable. Pour yourself a cup of your favorite beverage, grab a pen and paper, and relish in the process of discovering what brings you more happiness.

“Remember, you are the expert of your life. What is going to energize you the most? What do you truly need?”

– Amber Setter

In this process of discovery, you get to connect with what brings you joy. What are the activities that create well-being in your life? Those could be things that are immediately enjoyable or things that help you stay more balanced over time. For example, going on a walk is immediately enjoyable, while going to workouts regularly can build well-being over time.

If you’re finding it hard to stay on track and wondering how to modify your behavior, begin by taking small steps. Consistency is important.

“My favorite yoga class is 90 minutes. It’s unrealistic that I get to go to that all the time, but I can fit in 30 minutes, and those 30 minutes are going to yield and pay [me] back more energetic dividends.”

Amber Setter

The things that have high rewards will vary from person to person. What’s energizing for one person will not be energizing for someone else. For example, Amber shared that since she has been working from home for years, she would feel energized by going into the office a few days a week to engage with people. On the other hand, you might be feeling frazzled from commuting and drained from talking to people all day. For you, working from home would be more energizing. 

Remember also to be flexible. What is fulfilling one day might change in a month or two. That’s why a regular process of self-reflection is key. Whether you connect to yourself while hiking in nature, on a walk at the park, or by journaling before bed, that self-reflection has rewards that can keep you getting a high yield on your energy management.

Learn more about managing your energy

Reflection is an important aspect of maintaining your energy levels because you need to see what’s working for you and what isn’t. Carve out time for yourself on a regular basis to reflect, whether it’s through a journaling practice, hiking, or spending time in nature. When you find something you don’t like, consider what you can control and can’t control about it. You can then either eliminate it or change your reactions and attitudes about it. Changes can happen on an internal and external level. You can create external boundaries to limit negative influences, and you can create internal boundaries to stop a person or situation from affecting you negatively. Once you’ve determined what’s draining you, consider what you want to replace it with. Finding out what gives you energy is a process in the journey of self-discovery.

There is so much more to learn about your personal energy and how harnessing it can improve your life. To get more insight into this fascinating topic, check out our other articles based on the same webinar: “What Is Accountant Burnout?” and “Energy Is Currency: How to Spend It Wisely.”

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Updated: May 17, 2022

Gusto Editors
Gusto Editors

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