4 ways to fight work burnout with automation

Krystina Martinez
Krystina Martinez / Published April 24, 2020

Even with all the talk about work-life balance, a lot of people still struggle with it—even more so if you work remotely. According to a 2018 Gallup survey, almost half of the American workforce will feel burnout at some point. And this isn't just an American problem; it's even in the World Health Organization handbook of medical diagnoses.

Simple strategies can minimize burnout, but it's hard to establish healthier habits when "rise and grind" culture has made us feel guilty for taking a vacation. If you find yourself high on will but low on power, try out an automatic workflow—which we call a Zap—to gently nudge you to healthier work habits.

Set your schedule

You might set a schedule for yourself in your mind, but it's easy to blur those boundaries, especially when you're working from home. "Just five more minutes to send this last email," you tell yourself, and suddenly you've worked an extra hour. Repeat the cycle too much and you'll eventually burn the candle at both ends.

It's helpful to make your work schedule public for your team. Not only will they be more aware of booking meetings within your working hours, but in some cases, they can keep you accountable if you're working late.

You can keep your team in the loop automatically by creating a workflow to set your Slack status to show when you're outside of your working hours or set it according to your work calendar. This will alert your colleagues when you're offline or in a meeting.

Maybe you're the type of person who needs some brute force to adopt better habits. Force yourself to run on a more regular schedule by connecting a smart LED light bulb like Philips Hue to your work calendar or Schedule by Zapier.

These bulbs aren't just for creating a club atmosphere in a room. The moment my lights shut off in my workspace, I know I need to finish up for the day. Think of it like when a store dims the lights at closing time to get customers out the door.

You can also set up your Zap to switch your Philips Hue to a particular scene to give yourself a 10-minute warning to wrap things up.

Give yourself a break

For whatever reason, productivity used to be measured by how long you were chained to your desk. But we know better now, thanks to scientific research that discovered regular breaks are good for focus. Yet, some of us still fight this ingrained perception that if you take a break from your work, you're not working hard enough. If that sounds like you, try some of these workflows to ease yourself into a regular break schedule.

Go to lunch

When I worked in a grocery store, we had our mandated lunch break and two 15-minute breaks per eight-hour shift, which everyone took. But when I got my first job out of college, I often ate at my desk, and my breaks consisted of walking around the building and hiding in the bathroom.

Yet, so many others work through lunch, take a late lunch, or skip breaks. Though my grocery job was more physically demanding, I would argue that my mental clarity was better because I had mandated times where I stepped away from the work. (The olive samples were pretty clutch, too.)

First, block off time on your calendar every day to step away for lunch. It doesn't have to be the precise time, but a general ballpark will do. You'll find that you won't get booked for meetings as much.

If you try out the earlier Zap connecting your calendar to your Slack status, it'll take care of notifying your team when you're chowing down. When you need an extra nudge, you can also set up a daily lunch bot that reminds you to step away and eat. You can set this up to message you in your work chat tool or even through text message.

Take short breaks

Now that we have lunch taken care of, what about the other breaks? Productivity techniques like the Pomodoro method have built-in breaks because you need them to perform your best.

If a regimented method like Pomodoro isn't your thing, try these Zaps that let you create your own break bot to trigger at a certain time each day, or after a specific meeting.

How you spend your break is up to you. You might find that you need to take a short walk to recharge your focus, or maybe you need to get up and stretch. You can also encourage your team to get in on the action by sending these reminders to a channel in your work chat tool.

Bonus: Take your vacation time

I admit: Like many workers, I'm really bad about taking time off. I wouldn't call myself a workaholic, but over the years I developed a habit of stockpiling vacation days when I worked at places with finite paid time off policies.

If you're like me, you need a reminder every once in a while to take a day off. You can configure any of the above Zaps using Schedule by Zapier to run quarterly by adding a filter step—available under our paid plans.

Here's how to do it: When you set up your filter step, choose the specific months you'd like the Zap to run by using its numbered date format, such as 1 for January. Read more about how to set up a filter step.

A screenshot of a filter step in the Zap Editor. The Zap is filtering by date months matching a specified number.

Set boundaries

I love telling people no. I know that sounds awful, but protecting my time is my favorite work habit I've adopted over the years. Texts unread? Yes, please. Ignoring emails off-hours? You bet.

However, this isn't easy for a lot of people, especially when some jobs require us to be "on" all the time—and I've been there too. You might think, "I can't ignore emails, I'm expected to check them all the time!" Consider this: Is your boss modeling behavior that gives you the impression that you need to check email at all hours, or is it really an explicit requirement of your job? If you're not sure, ask! You might be surprised by what your supervisor has to say.

Snooze notifications when you can

If your organization uses Slack, turn on the automatic Do Not Disturb setting. Click your organization's name in the top-left corner, then click Preferences. Scroll down the Notifications settings until you see Do Not Disturb. Click the checkbox for Automatically disable notifications and select the time block you don't want to receive notifications.

A screenshot of Slack's notification settings. The app has a scheduled Do Not Disturb feature with dropdown menus to select time.

If you need to turn on Do Not Disturb for a portion of your workday, you can either click your name in the upper left corner, then go to Pause notifications and select the time frame you need, or type /dnd 30 min in any channel to shut your notifications off for a specified time period. You can swap 30 min out with any time frame you need.

Filter what you need

Email accounts, however, have varying degrees of snoozification. Microsoft Outlook and Outlook 365 have Do Not Disturb features, but Gmail only offers a vacation autoresponder. Instead, Gmail users can try a few workarounds.

There may be times where you have to monitor your email after you've clocked out. If you only need to watch for emails from one or two people, create a Zap to get text alerts when you receive an email from a specific search string. This allows you to bypass refreshing your email on mobile frequently.

You could also create your own autoresponder, which can be useful if certain people require a response. Zapier can send a reply to new emails based on search criteria or label.

It's hard to fight against a culture that rewards burnout. You don't have to go against the grain alone, though. Give some of these workflows a try and set yourself up for a healthier, and ultimately, more rewarding work life.

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