Until very recently, if you had asked me to make a list of all the things I valued, it wouldn’t have even occurred to me to put myself on it. The list was long with everything I’d always wanted: a super job, a super man, and an overall super life. But I wasn’t devoting any time or effort into becoming a super woman first.
Then I had a breakdown. A complete and total mental, physical, and emotional breakdown. The developmental trauma I ignored or numbed with work for so many years finally kicked my ass. And only then did I have no choice but to make myself a priority.
Of course, I had experienced setbacks before, but my burnout and subsequent breakdown was the first and only time in my life that I fell down such a deep, dark hole that no one else could get me out of it. No one could swoop in to rescue me. I had to rescue myself.
Throughout my personal search for a way to get—and stay—better, I yearned for a playbook to tell me how to win the balance game without losing my career or myself. These are the 7 steps I followed to go from burnout to balance and find success. Give them a try! I know you can do it.
Define balance for yourself
How many times have you heard the phrase “work/life balance”? I hate that term. First of all, since when is your life siloed? If you’re not happy in one aspect of your life, you’re not happy. Period. It’s your one life. Second, I don’t know about you, but my “work” is a pretty big part of my life. Thinking of your career as something standing in opposition to everything else in your world is guaranteed to make you miserable. Balance looks different for everyone. Balance isn’t even the same for one person over time. Right now, balance might mean putting 90 percent of your energy into your career. Ten years from now, that number might be 50 percent. It all depends upon what you value at any given time, what you want to achieve, and when you want to achieve it. You get to decide what “balance” means to you during each chapter of your life.
Say yes to saying no
The wrong move is to say “yes” if you don’t have the available bandwidth to do another task; an even worse move is to say “yes” passive aggressively, or “maybe” when you know it would take a miracle. There’s an oft-repeated business saying that goes, “If it’s not a ‘hell yes,’ then it’s a ‘no.’” That means, if it’s a “maybe,” then it’s a “no.” If you work for yourself, noticing when your immediate reaction is a “maybe” will be a litmus test for which people to work with and what projects to take on, especially if your inclination is to say “yes” to everything. If you work for someone else, checking your reaction can help you assess whether or not you can realistically take on more work.
Work less, do more
I get that some of your workday is dictated by others (i.e., your boss and clients) and those commitments likely can’t be tinkered with. But you can and should make more conscientious choices about how you spend the time you can tinker with. For example, be very aware of the calendar invitations that you accept. If it’s from your boss or client? Yep, you probably have to go. But if it’s a group meeting that you could easily digest in note form later on from one of your colleagues, decline. Others will come to value your time only if you value it first.
Start each day with intention, not your inbox
If you want to make the most of each day, you first need to know (at least roughly) what the cadence of your day is going to look like. Of course, stuff comes up, and your weekday schedule, like mine, changes a lot. But giving yourself a foundation, any foundation, on which to construct your priorities for the day will only keep you building a more productive life. You can’t control the chaos (we all have our own version of it), but you can control your response to it.
Set boundaries and stick to them
Setting professional boundaries doesn’t mean that you have to be super rigid or tough. Give yourself some wiggle room to get involved with new adventures, projects, and deeper professional connections (and understand that sometimes you have no choice but to say “yes” to that urgent task your boss just assigned you). Keep the context in mind. If a colleague has an issue and genuinely needs your help, the Super Woman thing to do is help a sister out. But, if this becomes a regular thing and starts to eat up your time or makes you uncomfortable, then you gotta tell that woman to fly on her own.
Put your phone down
The average adult touches her or his phone eighty times per day. I can’t think of anything else you do voluntarily eighty times per day. Not eat. Not hug. Not even smile. Our phones can be some of the best tools out there, but only if we keep them solidly in that “tools” category of our lives and not make them an obsession. Set up a DIY tech maintenance plan: Get your news from a newspaper instead of your phone, invest in a watch and an alarm clock, make lists on paper, buy a calculator. It’s time to bring back some of these time-honored tools that do the job just as well as (and sometimes better than!) the phone.
Making time for your Emotional Wellness is something only you can do. Sure, your tribe of supporters can help you stick to a healthy schedule, but only you can manage your calendar in a way that allows for the practice of self-care every single day. And only you can know if you haven’t done that—and if you’re starting to feel the effects.
It’s important to remember that there is no secret to ending burnout. Balance is a skill and you can become skilled, not in remaining balanced at all times but in being able to regain your balance when you need to. And as with any skill, even the masters must practice it over and over again to become and stay proficient. Balance is constantly in motion. It’s active—and something in which you must be an active participant. It’s something you do. All. The. Time. You got this!
A version of this article was originally published on Entrepreneur.