As product managers, we have to strike a delicate balance between innovation and insanity, almost on a day-to-day basis. Being ambitious dreamers, North Star shooters, and caffeine-powered forces of nature, we often dive headfirst into whatever we’re tasked to build, unwittingly burning ourselves out in the process.
Product management is not always rainbows and unicorns; sometimes we’re herding cats, sometimes we’re taking the brunt from all sides, and sometimes we’re unconsciously setting ourselves (and our teams) up for an epic fail.
A PM’s life is full of adventure and never dull. It can even be a lot of fun. The question is, how do you survive it without getting burnt out?
Burnout can go unnoticed for many days simply because we might not recognize the warning signs. Being self-aware goes a long way in understanding the root cause of how you’re feeling and how you’re reacting to the environment around you.
While being burnt out might look and feel different for everyone, there are some generic signs you can watch out for:
The physical signs might be the easiest to recognize. If you’re feeling exhausted or fatigued despite doing all the right things (e.g., good diet, good sleep, good exercise, etc.), it could be a sign of burnout.
Stress can manifest as headaches, muscle pains, stomach problems, and other physical ailments. We’re all guilty of brushing aside these symptoms, but if it’s happening often enough, you should consider whether you’re burnt out.
Always listen to your body; it’ll give you all the warning signs. You just need to be aware and watch out for them.
If you start finding it difficult to focus on tasks and being less productive than you usually are, you might be burnt out.
For example, you might sense your decision-making abilities starting to decline or find yourself making avoidable mistakes, taking longer than usual to complete tasks, and falling behind deadlines. You might also lose interest and motivation in achieving goals and milestones, as well as distancing yourself from your peers and choosing to be more isolated than be in a collaborative environment.
These signs might not be easily noticeable, but if you start seeing a pattern, then it’s worth considering whether you should lighten your load.
Negative emotions, such as increased irritability and frustration, especially with the little things, can be a strong sign of burnout. Feeling disheartened, depressed, anxious, or a combination of these can also be a byproduct of burnout.
When you start finding yourself being overly critical or pessimistic in day-to-day activities, you probably need to take a step back to reflect whether you’re feeling burnout.
We often project these negative emotions on the people around us, our peers, our colleagues, our family members, and our friends. People will either respond back negatively to you or distance themselves from you altogether. These are also signs you can watch out for.
Knowing you’re burnt out is half the battle. Understanding why you’re feeling burnt out is a whole different beast.
Just like you analyze problems to solve with your products, you need to root cause the reasons behind your burnout. This is the harder part of the process, and surfacing those answers requires honest and patient introspection.
As a product manager, you are juggling many hats and tasks in a given day. You need to be a visionary, a strategist, a problem solver, aligning with stakeholders, resolving conflicts, and continuously adapting with the changing market and customer demand trends.
The immense pressure and burden of these responsibilities, as well as the need to meet tight deadlines, can take a toll on you. You try to take a few days off and are constantly worried about work stuff, then you come back and you have to get through piles of work to get back on track — sound familiar? It makes you vary of even taking a few days off so you don’t have to deal with the aftermath.
Feeling burnout might also be a result of bottled up frustration, not being appreciated for your hard work, not knowing where your career is taking you, or not feeling like you’re creating any impact with what you’re doing, among many other reasons. Whatever those reasons might be, figuring out the “why” will help you overcome your burnout state in the most effective way.
Once you know the “why” behind your burnout state, overcoming it is easy. It’s OK to feel burnt out, but it’s also important to accept and acknowledge that you are feeling that way.
Burnout doesn’t happen overnight, it builds up over time before finally erupting. Watching for the signs and getting ahead of the eruption, will help you rebalance your life better.
Here are some strategies to help you overcome your burnout state:
There’s always lots to do, being organized goes a long way without you feeling like you’re losing track of things.
If you’re working on something that feels too big and overwhelming, try and break it down into more manageable chunks so it won’t feel so daunting. If you feel like there’s too much on your plate, delegate tasks to other team members. It’s understandably hard to let go or worry about tasks getting done properly, but you can’t do everything on your own, so share the responsibility.
Embrace the opportunity for collaboration. Reevaluate your work and be open to feedback, but also set the right expectations with your manager and peers.
Focus on the root cause of your burnout, understand the triggers that set you off, and set well-defined, healthy boundaries that will protect you from them. Take small steps to disassociate your work life from your personal life. For example:
In the pursuit of excellence, we often forget who we are, what really matters to us, and what we want from life.
Be honest with yourself and those around you. Communicate how you feel with the people you trust. This part isn’t easy, but it does help a lot. It helps you get the support you need to not only reassess your situation, but overcome it effectively.
If you feel like you can’t express yourself verbally, try journaling. Make notes about how you’re feeling, both the negatives and the positives. Writing down your thoughts will help clear your mind, and help you get to the “why” of your burnout faster. Do whatever works best for you, whatever feels right.
Kindness starts at home. Be kind to yourself and practice self-love and self-care as much as you can. Take breaks as you need them, even if it means stepping away from your desk for a couple of minutes and just stretching.
Take time for yourself, to do the things you like to do, or just sit with yourself, have some quiet time, and introspect. Pay attention to your daily diet, your exercise, your sleep, and your health needs.
Get in an outdoor run, try a professional coffee making course, or just pamper yourself with a spa day. You’ll start to feel better, more energetic and more positive, and you’ll project this on the people around you.
The trick to avoiding burnout in the future is to be more proactive than reactive in managing your wellbeing and the environment around you.
You know yourself the best, you know your strengths and your weaknesses. Understand what works for you and be aware of the triggers that push you in the way of being burned out, address them head on.
While watching out for signs and recognizing them, there are a few things you can do to consciously avoid future burnout states:
When you’re managing a big project or juggling multiple projects, things can get hectic and overwhelming. Get a good read on how much you can handle, considering the time and resources available to you. Set realistic expectations with stakeholders on what can be accomplished, given the resources.
Don’t take on more than you can chew. You don’t always have to be a superhero, pulling off unrealistic milestones that push you to the edge of being burned out. Oftentimes, the problem is just lack of communication and alignment between people. When you clarify the expectations, and repeat them as many times as you need to, the workload will seem more attainable, without worrying about burnout.
Self care is an important aspect of our lives, arguably maybe even the most important aspect, and we don’t pay enough attention to it. Make it a part of your everyday routine, a non-negotiable part of your routine. You are just as important as all the important things in your life, if not more.
Many of us struggle with making the time for self-care, it doesn’t make you selfish or self-centered, it’s about making healthy choices for yourself. Think about the one thing that you want to do for yourself that makes you happy, do it everyday, even if it’s just for 10 minutes each day. It’s your time — own it without any guilt.
When you’re having a bad day or you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s OK to not feel OK — and it’s absolutely OK to ask for help when you need it.
Foster relationships that you can trust and feel safe in. Whether it’s at work or at home, create a support system that will hold you when you’re feeling down. You can wrangle support in many ways — it could just be sharing a cup of coffee with a colleague, or watching cartoons and having a laugh with a friend.
If you feel like you need to learn and grow, and not seeing many opportunities for it, seek out a mentor, and work with that person to develop your skills.
The best way to stave off burnout is to implement a healthy, sustainable work-life balance. This is a lifestyle choice: something that you do every day with discipline and, eventually, it becomes your daily habit.
You don’t have to make big leaps; you can start small. What’s important is consistency.
Encourage yourself to take these five small steps every day:
Listen to your body, mind, and emotions. Let them guide you to understand what you need and when you need it. Being self-aware will make you feel calm and in control. Even if you’re feeling burnt out, you will feel confident enough to handle each day constructively.
We’ve all faced burnout in our lives at some point or another. How we come out the other end is what matters.
It’s no easy journey, but it starts with knowing that you’re not the only one feeling or having felt this way. It’s also something that you can address and overcome, with support from those near and dear.
Once you overcome the burnout state, you’ll feel stronger, positive, and more confident than you did before. Don’t ignore the warning signs; accept them and address them. Take your time, rebalance and feel the love. The universe has a lot to offer you, all you need is a little bit of faith and grit 🙂
LogRocket identifies friction points in the user experience so you can make informed decisions about product and design changes that must happen to hit your goals.
With LogRocket, you can understand the scope of the issues affecting your product and prioritize the changes that need to be made. LogRocket simplifies workflows by allowing Engineering, Product, UX, and Design teams to work from the same data as you, eliminating any confusion about what needs to be done.
Get your teams on the same page — try LogRocket today.
Kevin Morris talks about the importance of not overly focusing on the inward-facing components of product management.
While running a sprint planning ceremony is pretty straightforward, a lot of work goes into the planning both before and during the ceremony.
Sam Schulte, Vice President, Product Engineering at Inspirato, talks about the delicate balance between innovation and scale.