Three steps to help you avoid burnout, from Nic Owen.

  • Good wellbeing cannot be achieved without firm boundaries.
  • Good wellbeing cannot be achieved without realistic action.
  • Good wellbeing cannot be achieved without routine.

Quite bold statements, but true.

As a primary teacher, I wanted to be the best. As a mum, I wanted to be the best. As a wife, I wanted to be the best… I wanted to be the best version of me for everyone else. Have the perfect home, the perfect family, the perfect friends and the perfect career. This is where the problem lies. The strive for perfection.

To become the perfect (fill in your own blank) in a world that is far from the utopia we would like it to be, is unrealistic. Yet we constantly put that pressure on ourselves and consequently our wellbeing and mental health suffer.

We constantly make to-do lists that exceed our capabilities and then berate ourselves when we fail. This leads to a spiral of not feeling good enough, feeling down and possibly depression, if feelings are not acknowledged or addressed over a longer period. We reach burnout.

How can we overcome this?

By applying the three points:

  1.  Firm boundaries
  2. Realistic action
  3. Routine

1. Firm boundaries

It’s okay to say “no”. In fact, aim to say “no” more than you say “yes”. When asked to do something, think it through. What will be the impact of this: time, money, skills, relationships? What does your gut instinct tell you? In saying “yes”, will it go against your values and beliefs?

Create a bank of statements you can use to help give you time to think about the proposal:

  • “Can I let you know my decision tomorrow?”
  • “Can you find me at the end of the day and I can give you my full attention, I’m just dealing with X right now?”
  • “Could you pop it in an email so that I can give it some thought?”

Giving yourself time to think through things and make an informed choice will allow you to work through a valid response to the request. This gives you the control you need to protect your time and sanity.

2. Realistic action

It is pointless putting lots of things on your to-do list that you know you will never complete in the time you’ve set aside. I used to put “Mark Big Write” on my Saturday list. Each ‘big write’ would take around half an hour and I had 36 children in my year 6 class! I also had football matches to run my children to, cleaning the house and the weekly food shop to get done – I’ll let you do the maths! This led to that feeling of dread on Sunday night, as I hadn’t finished my marking. Talk about starting your week on a positive note!

Be realistic with the task and the time it needs to be completed. Time management and prioritising my workload were always my downfall. Think small, manageable tasks and write them down after you have done each one. A ta-da list, as I like to call them. A list of things you have done to give a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. Find a better way of working. Speak to your SLT about your workload. Ask work colleagues if they have any tips.

3. Routine

When we look carefully at how we manage our time – what we spend it on versus what we need to do – it becomes quite clear that time can be wasted, although it doesn’t feel like that most days! Creating good morning and evening routines help us prepare for the next day, encourage us to plan things for our own self-care and helps reduce the risk of burnout.

Each morning, think about getting up slightly earlier than usual to give yourself some ‘me time.’ Having half an hour to enjoy a good stretch, read 15 minutes of your book whilst drinking a coffee or cup of tea, exercise, go for a walk, whatever you choose to do for yourself, will help set you up for the day. Protect that time with a boundary, “This is my time, for me.”

Spend time in the evening, preparing clothes, lunches, packing bags for the next day to avoid a rush in the morning. Again, plan some time for yourself –15 minutes reading upstairs in your room away from the hustle and bustle of the house. A quick shower or a hot soak. Protect that boundary, “This is my time, for me”. Developing good routines and creating good habits that allow your day to run smoothly gives you time to invest in yourself.

Life isn’t always easy and things do happen beyond our control. However, when we take care of the things we can control, we are creating a good environment for positive wellbeing to flourish. Firm boundaries, realistic actions and routines are the key things to achieve good wellbeing.

Are you ready to take control to achieve your wellbeing goal?


  • Nicola Owen

    Nic is a primary trained teacher with 20 years experience. She is a mum of two teenage boys, and the Director of Zennic Wellbeing Ltd. During her teaching career, Nic successfully coordinated the pastoral care side of the curriculum. She offers a variety of courses, creative workshops and educational programmes to give people the tools to support mental health and wellbeing.

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