Preventing Burnout

By Stuart Rose / 08 Sep 2021

Business consultant Stuart Rose shares advice on the importance of maintaining your own production capability and avoiding burnout

You must be exhausted! Since restrictions lifted across parts of the country the pent-up demand, coupled with healthy bank balances through money left unspent on holidays, has seen the aesthetics specialty boom to unprecedented levels. This is great, right?

Like many things in life, it’s a bit like the curate’s egg – good in parts. In terms of generating positive cash flow, employment, and a general buzz in the industry it is, without doubt, great news. But life is a marathon, not a sprint. The latter covers ground quickly but burns up energy and is never sustainable. What the industry has lived through after the lockdown has been a sprint, and the phenomenon known as pandemic burnout is on the increase.1

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently published research to show the impact that excess working hours have on our morbidity and mortality. Working 55 hours or more a week was associated with a 35% higher risk of stroke and 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease, compared with a working week of 35-40 hours.2

Businesses are built on people, and they can only function properly if those people can function. For that to happen we all need regular rest and recuperation which, as this article aims to convey, are mission-critical for sustainable business success and for our own personal health and wellbeing.

Sharpen the saw

The concept of sharpening the saw was originally developed by Stephen Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.3

He describes the seventh habit (Sharpen the saw) as the principle of balanced self-renewal. To remain productive, we need to nourish our production capability. So, what does this mean? Before we delve deeper let’s take a look at the analogy that Covey uses. A walker in the forest comes upon someone sawing a fallen tree trunk. At their feet is a great pile of logs but there are many more to be cut. The woodcutter is toiling away and sweating profusely, barely able to look up as the other individual approaches and asks what they are doing. “Sawing logs. Can’t you see!” answers the irritated woodcutter. “Why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen your saw. I’m sure it would be quicker and easier,” suggested the onlooker. “I don’t have time to sharpen my saw,” the woodcutter says emphatically, “I’m too busy sawing!”

We can all see the way this plays out. The saw gets blunter, the cutter becomes more exhausted, and progress slows until either the saw, the woodcutter, or both, break.

Sawing logs is one thing, but in the world of medical aesthetics the consequences of professional burnout can be profound. If things do go wrong, they can have a substantial impact that could be expensive in both time and money. So, how can aesthetic practitioners ensure they have time to sharpen their metaphorical saws?

Getting sufficient sleep

Our brains are amazing. They comprise only 2% of our body weight yet consume 20% of our energy.4 Therefore, working hard for a long time consumes a lot of energy and generates a lot of waste metabolites. Sleep is the very best form of recuperation since it allows the brain to fully detoxify, and to transfer new knowledge and memories into the equivalent of the brain’s (energy efficient) hard drive, freeing-up the brain space for the energy-heavy tasks of new learning. A recent study by University College London and the University of Sydney showed how important rest and exercise are. Investigators found that those who did not sleep well, or exercise regularly, had a staggering 57% increased likelihood of premature death. Specifically, their risk of cardiovascular disease was 67% higher and cancers 45% higher.5

So, exercise and sleep fall squarely into no-brainer territory, but there are many other things that we can all do to keep ourselves in good physical and cognitive condition and avoid burnout.

Personal management

Countless writings, lectures and business seminars have talked about time management. In his book, Covey inverts the paradigm3 and utilises a tool initially used to optimise military resources. He talks instead of personal management. Time carries on, regardless of what we try to do to it. So, better to accept this and focus on ourselves to make informed decisions about how we manage what we do in the time available. Understanding this concept has real applications in the world of professional development and managing burnout risk. It may help to apply some everyday situations to the four quadrants (Figure 1). Consider your clinic and how you would act in four scenarios.

Scenario #1

A patient with nose blanching after nasolabial fold filler (Quadrant 1: important and urgent). This is a top priority and warrants immediate action. This is a real emergency and needs your time.

Scenario #2

Ensuring your emergency bag is properly packed, ready to use and all drugs are in date (Quadrant 2: important but not urgent). This may get overlooked, particularly when you are really busy, since there is no emergency situation and no obvious stimulus. To do this we have to proactively plan the time and build it into our routine. When done properly it allows you to deal with the Q1 situation above calmly and effectively.

Scenario #3

Time-limited offer (in your email inbox) for discounted clinic stock from your distributor (Quadrant 3: urgent but not important). Every time we open our emails, we see that the time limit is approaching. It constantly attracts our attention and has a much higher likelihood of getting addressed. In reality, there will always be offers and this could be delegated to others.

Scenario #4

Updating the brand colours on your website (Quadrant 4: neither important nor urgent). The consequences of not addressing this are virtually nil but because we are emotionally attached to such things, we often devote substantial amounts of time. In reality, if the colours remain unchanged the world keeps turning! Covey’s observation is that those people who do make time for Q2 activities ultimately have fewer Q1 crises in their lives over time.6 They effectively rebalance how they spend their time and, because they have delegated their Q3 activities and abandoned their Q4 ones, (until they really do have spare time), they have become more effective in what they do. Not regularly checking the whereabouts and contents of an emergency kit could lead to terrible outcomes which end up consuming so much more of our time in the long run than addressing them, (whilst they sit within quadrant 2), in the short-term.

Your personal MoT

How we manage our cars is a good real-life example of self-management, particularly with regard to time and money investments. Consider servicing and MoT. In the UK the average cost of a full service for a medium-sized car is £205.7 For an MoT it’s £55.8 Do we spend the same amount of time and money on our own health and wellbeing? Anecdotal research provides an overwhelming ‘no.’ Unless somebody is part of a corporate health scheme where their employer prompts and funds a full health check or the NHS prompts us for periodic health screening, we tend to continue in our busy lives focusing on the here and now and only addressing health when it becomes an important and urgent (Q1) issue.

The reality is that, if we actually spent the same £520 (half a day, once every two years) on our health as we did on our cars then we would likely be able to maintain our production capability better and, statistically, live longer. An annual health check is a classic Quadrant 2 activity, but it requires us to plan it in, protect the time and make that investment. According to Jim Bruckbauer, Q2 activities of self-renewal are broadly split into four categories:9

  1. Physical: Exercise, sleep, nutrition, health checks/screening
  2. Mental: Reading, thinking, planning, problem-solving, writing, painting/drawing
  3. Social/emotional: Relationships, conversations
  4. Spiritual: Meditating, prayer, thought

So what can you do?

The first thing to recognise is that it is incredibly tempting to keep turning the wheel, treating patients, and keeping that cash register full. So, the approach to building in Q2 time is to be pragmatic and gradually evolve your way of working and living. Try this simple step-by-step plan:

Step 1: Try to allocate your typical week into the four quadrants. You can do this with just post-it sheets on a wall and move things around until you’re happy that everything is in the correct quadrant. Then roughly allocate the amount of time you spend on each and add them all up. This way you will have an approximation of your typical working week and how much time you spend on each quadrant.

Step 2: Once you’ve identified your Q4 tasks, (neither important nor urgent), try to simply stop doing them. The world won’t stop, and you will free up time.

Step 3: Then see if you can delegate your Q3 (urgent, not important) tasks to another team member. If you run a small and lean practice this may not be practical, and these could become tasks which you decide you will no longer do or perhaps look to outsource.

Step 4: Re-allocate some or all of the Q3 and Q4 time that you freed up into Q2 activities. Actually plan them in your calendar and make them sacrosanct. Some simple practices could be things like ensuring you take a break for lunch every day, even if it’s only half an hour. Schedule-in another break in the day, possibly at a time when you usually feel like you’re flagging a little. In that time, you could catch-up on this month’s edition of Aesthetics journal, plan some annual leave with your family, even just snooze for 10 minutes! It is all time well spent.

Food for thought

Like so many of life’s most important things, properly looking after ourselves is not as easy as it seems. It does require effort, but maybe think about it this way. If, five years from now, you hadn’t sharpened your saw, would you wish that you had?

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