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Avoiding Burnout When Working in Product Management

Written by
Funmi Alassan Funmi Alassan
Chief Product Officer @ Togetherall
Published
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Product people juggle a lot.

Whether you're a product manager, product owner, or product leader, your responsibilities will vary depending on the industry and sector you work in.

Regardless of these differences, the primary focus for product people is to bring products to life. Products that are valuable, meet real user needs, are commercially viable, are scalable, and most importantly, are aligned to the goals and vision of the businesses we find ourselves in.

To achieve this, we need to be strategic, tactical, excellent at relationship-building and collaboration. We need to enable seamless execution, support, and lead high-performing teams. We need to motivate, influence, and inspire. We need to communicate effectively and excessively. We need to stay up to date with the latest industry, technology trends, and the competition.

We need to do a lot of things simultaneously.

While most of us absolutely love what we do, let's face it, sometimes it can feel like a lot.

If we are not intentional about managing all of these and trying to find some balance, it can be easy to burnout.

So, what is burnout?

WebMD defines burnout as “a form of exhaustion caused by constantly feeling swamped. It's a result of excessive and prolonged emotional, physical, and mental stress. In many cases, burnout is related to one's job. burnout happens when you're overwhelmed, [overworked], emotionally drained, and unable to keep up with life's incessant demands”.

When work is the source of us being burnt out, its impact is far reaching and extends beyond our performance on the job itself. It affects our overall well-being, our relationships with family and friends, our productivity, and our ability to live our lives to the fullest.

“Burnout is a slow, insidious experience. burnout is not afraid of playing the long game. To prevent burnout, we need to play a long game, too.”

Sally Clarke, Protect Your Spark: How To Prevent burnout and Live Authentically.

Most times, burnout slowly creeps up on us. Sometimes, we see the signs and ignore them. Other times, we don’t notice what is going on until it feels like it’s too late to do something about it (spoiler alert: It is never too late).

There are things we can and should do to help us avoid or mitigate being burnt out at work.

Gain clarity on the job to be done.

Being intentional at avoiding burnout starts with a clear understanding of what is expected of you in your role. This enables you to ensure that you’re spending your time on the things that matter most, to the business, to your goals, and to your growth and career development.

While this may seem obvious, it is not always the case. Sometimes, people are unclear about their roles and responsibilities which can lead to confusion, frustration, inefficiencies, and wasted time and effort.

Therefore, as a first step, work with your manager on the following:

  • Understanding the overall business goals. This provides clarity on the company's priorities, what they are trying to achieve, and why.
  • Review your role description. This should give you clarity on what your specific responsibilities are.
  • Set quarterly and annual objectives. This gives clarity on what you need to accomplish to help the company achieve its goals.
  • Define success metrics. This gives clarity on how your progress and success will be measured relative to your objectives.

A good understanding of these not only allows you to focus on the right things but also enables alignment of expectations between yourself, your manager, your team members, and peers.

Don’t just work hard, work smart.

Our focus should not be on working long hours. Rather, we should find ways to be more effective and productive with our time, so we can achieve our goals without burning ourselves out.

Some helpful ways to achieve this include:

  • Prioritise your tasks ruthlessly. Identify the most important tasks and work on these first daily. There are various helpful prioritisation frameworks such as the Eisenhower Matrix, the Ivy Lee Method etc. that could help with this.
  • Delegate tasks. Don't be afraid to ask for help or pass on tasks to other people. Delegate tasks to others so you can free up your time for more important things.
  • Learn to say no (more). Be more comfortable with or learn to say no to requests; tasks, meetings etc. that don't align with your goals. This will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed and stressed.
  • Block out focus time daily. Schedule time in your calendar daily to work on important tasks without distractions or interruptions.
  • Take regular breaks. It's important to take breaks - lunch, walks, air, comfort breaks - throughout the day to avoid feeling overwhelmed or burnout..

Take care of your overall well-being.

To be our best selves, we need to take care of our overall well-being. This means paying attention to our physical, mental, and spiritual health in equal measures.

  • Taking care of your physical health. This means paying attention to your nutrition; eating healthy foods and staying hydrated, regularly exercising a few times a week, and getting enough sleep. When we take care of our physical health, we feel better, have more energy, and are better able to cope with stress.
  • Taking care of your mental health. When we take care of our mental health, we feel more positive, resilient, and can try to enjoy life. To care for our mental health, there some things we can do:
  1. We should find communities that offer social support, and we can be involved in.
  2. We can identify and practise relaxation techniques such as meditation, breathing exercises, yoga to keep us centred.
  3. We should set healthy boundaries such as disconnecting from work related tasks outside work hours and on weekends, having a digital detox every now and then etc.
  4. If needed, seek professional help to help manage whatever you might be experiencing.
  • Taking care of your spiritual health: When we take care of our spiritual health, we feel more connected, grounded, and at peace. Our spiritual health is our connection to something larger than ourselves. It can be found in many different forms, such as religion, nature, or simply a sense of purpose in life. Find what works for you.

By taking care of our overall well-being, we can be our best selves at and outside of work. We can feel happier, more fulfilled, more productive, creative, and resilient. We can also better cope with stress and challenges that come with our roles as product folks.

Already burnt out?

Feeling and being burnt out is not a helpless or hopeless situation, the key is to understand why you are burnt out, what you can do to get out of this situation, and what you can do to prevent this situation.

It could be that in trying to unpick this, you realise that the only way to come out of this situation and prevent it is to leave the team you work with or leave the organisation you work with to find the right environment in which you can thrive.

For some of us, this can be a very scary thought, but can we put a price on our overall well-being?

To the product folks out there, we see you. We know you are doing or at least trying to do a great job. But at the end of the day, there is more to us all than the job. At some point, we most likely would look back and realise that this isn't what really matters most to us. So, for now, let’s do what we do, do it as best as we can with balance, and try not to burnout in the process.

“You will burn and you will burnout; you will be healed and come back again.”

Fyodor Dostoevsky
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Funmi Alassan

Funmi Alassan
Chief Product Officer @ Togetherall

Funmi is the Chief Product Officer at Togetherall, where she introduced Product as a function and leads a team of product managers, designers, and engineers to build and scale a best-in-class digital clinically moderated mental health peer-to-peer community.

She is a strategic thinker with a strong customer focus, and over a decade of experience building commercially viable products across various industries. She is committed to using technology to solve real-world problems.

At Togetherall, Funmi is responsible for the product vision and strategy. Alongside fellow execs, she plays a key role in driving growth and innovation at Togetherall.

Funmi is a strong advocate for equity, inclusivity, and responsible tech.

Outside of work, she enjoys travel, discovering great cuisine, music, and loves to learn new things.

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