Robbie Stakelum: Four tips for preventing burnout


Life coach Robbie Stakelum looks at what we can do to manage commitments

The summer break was great for disconnecting from work, leaving behind stress and getting some essential time to just relax. However September marked the back-to-school season, not just for children, but also for the working adult as we inevitably face the return to reality. Holding on to that sense of calm in the face of deadlines, events, reporting and office politics can be a challenge, so let’s explore how to prevent burnout as we head back to work.

“September marked the back-to-school season, not just for children, but also for the working adult”

In December 2018 I suffered a burnout, I was pushing myself too hard both at work and in my personal life, I wasn’t managing any sort of work-life balance, indeed the concept was totally alien to me and I had unconsciously put myself on a road to burnout. In the aftermath of that burnout I did a lot of soul searching, I wanted to ensure that I didn’t repeat the same mistakes again (I’m quite proud to say I have not!) but in that process I realized that the roots of my burnout had started that previous September. Having had a relaxing summer, I was fully energized for work and wanted to hit the ground running. I was too eager and quickly overcommitted myself. While at the same time, I had started a course that I was ready to give my all to. Both in and out of work I was spreading myself too thin.

In my experience, I was the architect of my burnout. We often associate burnout with toxic workplaces where managers micromanage and harass staff and tear you down, while that does happen it’s not the only recipe for burnout. You can also be passionate and committed to your job, or you can be a chronic people pleaser or a perfectionist where you struggle to set and maintain healthy boundaries which mean you overburden yourself with work and stress.

“When it comes to burnout you have to examine your own behaviors, mindsets and beliefs that contribute to burnout”

When it comes to burnout you have to examine your own behaviors, mindsets and beliefs that in a strange sort of cocktail contribute to burnout. Those are the things you can exercise control over. This doesn’t rid your employer of any responsibility around contributing to burnout, however it is a two way street, and often I see clients who exhibit the same burnout causing behaviors in multiple jobs.

So let’s focus on the factors you have control over.

Don’t be afraid to say NO

Saying ‘no’ doesn’t mean you’re incompetent or unprofessional. On the contrary ‘no’ actually means you are fully aware of your resources, priorities and what needs to get done. Clients I work with are so driven to please others that they don’t realize that it comes at a cost to them. You have limited hours in a day so don’t spread yourself too thin.

“Saying ‘no’ doesn’t mean you’re incompetent or unprofessional”

A helpful motto for those who struggle with saying no and setting boundaries is to remember ‘Everything you say yes to requires a no somewhere else in your life’. Agreeing to take on additional work, travel or projects comes at a price somewhere else in your life. Similarly saying yes to going out for dinner, drinks or socializing with friends, can also mean saying no to much needed downtime to relax. It’s a balancing act you need to cultivate over time.

Communicate Effectively

A blunt ‘no’ has a poor return on investment. You are acutely aware of your workload and priorities, but others are not. Don’t simply tell your colleague something is not possible; you need to communicate it effectively. Clearly explain your workload, your priorities and propose a time frame when you can offer them support. You may not feel like you have the time or patience for that conversation but trust me it’ll cost you less in the long-term and avoid some tense conversations.

Remember most people are so caught up in their own world they forget what is going on around them, if you don’t communicate effectively how can you reasonably expect others to be able to meet your needs?

Let go of Perfectionism 

Remember ‘Done is better than perfect’. A contributing factor to burnout is compound stress, the culmination of increasing workload as you struggle to complete tasks. One solution here is to talk to your manager about workloads, but often I find clients struggle to finalize a task until it is ‘perfect’.

“Perfection is a myth, and pursuing such unrealistic standards often means you can’t delegate tasks to others”

Perfection is a myth, and pursuing such unrealistic standards often means you can’t delegate tasks to others, for fear they won’t do a good enough job, and you effectively hoard tasks and live under high levels of stress and pressure for prolonged periods, which is not good for either your physical or mental health.

Find a way to destress

Life will always have moments of stress that are sadly inescapable, and you need to have systems in place to release stress. We hold stress in the body and so walking, running, the gym, yoga, swimming, pilates and other physical activities are helpful to both release endorphins and discharge the stress. 

Find, and plan for, activities that you enjoy that can create some distance between you and your job such as reading, cooking, being in nature, gardening, the cinema etc. You don’t need to do everything, but just try out different activities that work for you, and provide a healthy way to discharge stress. For example, after a bad day you may de-stress by meeting friends for a drink or takeaway, and in the moment that can feel like a healthy way to de-stress. However if you always turn to drink and unhealthy foods to manage your stress it will negatively impact your physical health, as your body is not getting the nutrients and energy it needs, which can impact on your sleep cycle which then lowers your resilience to stress the following day, kick-starting a vicious cycle of stress.

Year on year we are seeing a rise in burnout from work. It’s normal and ok to feel stressed at work, but it doesn’t have to be chronic or result in burnout. By setting boundaries and saying no, communicating your needs and situation effectively, letting go of perfectionism and planning activities to discharge your stress you’ll be in a better position to prevent burnout. 

Robbie Stakelum is a Brussels-based coach, supporting clients feeling lost and disconnected to find a sense of purpose by capturing clarity and building balance. Want to work with Robbie? You can find out more about his coaching practice, set up a free discovery call or find out if coaching is for you by checking out or get in touch direct with Robbie by email via