Causes of burnout

Today HBR published an article about some causes of burnout1. One struck a cord with me, and, as a physicist that went more into the managerial path, I’m sure I’m not the only one:

Workload […]: assess how well you’re doing in these key areas: planning your workload, prioritizing your work, delegating tasks, saying no, and letting go of perfectionism.

I think they’re all tightly coupled: if you’re good at planning, you must have prioritized properly by knowing what you can and cannot accomplish with your time, and if you have prioritized you must say no and you must have delegated tasks. If you’re good at planning, you also can’t be a perfectionist, because perfection is difficult to plan.

I struggle with three of them mostly: delegating tasks, letting go of perfection, and saying no.

Delegating tasks is hard because I can’t let go of perfection, and because I am usually not good at communicating the end result. And I am not good at communicating the end result because I delegate too little: if I were to delegate more, I would learn — from all the times it went wrong — what things are important to communicate.

Since I know that, I also know that the first times I delegate, the end result will not be what I want: again, I can’t let go of perfection.

Luckily I’m learning the hard way that I need to let go quickly in these key areas:

  • Before my last holiday I was real close to losing it, and I felt it and it scared me;
  • As the line of business I am running grew, I let potential opportunities slide, as I didn’t have time.

So, right before the summer, I tricked myself into start delegating. Two things helped me out:

  • My daughter was going to be born (she’s arrived yesterday), so if I wanted to enjoy time with her, I had to have my hands free from work;
  • I said to myself that delegating didn’t mean recognizing that somebody else was better than me at doing a task, in absolute term2 and that I couldn’t do the job just as well: I said to myself that other people had either more time, or more focus, or better tools, or more experience in doing it. In other words, I could do it myself, but it was not efficient.

So here I am now, with time in my hands to write this post :)


  1. Six according to the Areas of Worklife model, but I’m sure there’s more, depending who you ask. [return]
  2. Though this is frequently the case. [return]