Do you feel like you’re burnt out, or don’t have enough time? If you do, you’re not alone. Research suggests a modern habit of changing activities more frequently could be partly to blame. Read on to find out more. 

In 2019, the World Health Organisation recognised burn out as an “occupational phenomenon”. According to Mental Health UK, common signs of burn out include:

  • Feeling tired or drained most of the time
  • Feeling helpless, trapped and/or defeated
  • Feeling detached or alone in the world
  • Having a cynical or negative outlook
  • Self-doubt
  • Procrastinating and taking longer to get things done
  • Feeling overwhelmed.

So, what’s causing the growing trend of burn out? A study by Onward suggests it may not be the factors that first come to mind. 

While the report found that many people said they feel too busy or tired to participate in important leisure or social activities, it suggests three commonly cited reasons are “myths”:

Myth 1: We’re getting less sleep

Lack of sleep is a common complaint. Yet, the research found that people are sleeping by around 30 minutes more a day when compared to four decades ago. 

Myth 2: We are working more

While work does take up a significant portion of time for many people, overall people aren’t working longer hours. Since 1974, men’s working hours have decreased by 2%. Women’s working hours increased by 13% over the same period, reflecting the fact that more women are now working full-time.

Myth 3: We are more rushed

It’s a common saying that modern life is fast-paced. However, the share of people reporting they are often rushed has fallen in the last two decades from 20% to 17%. 

If tackling burn out isn’t as straightforward as getting more sleep or reducing working hours, what is the solution? The study suggests a modern lifestyle habit is playing a role. 

The report links rapid shifting between activities to burn out

The report suggests that people are now more likely to rapidly shift between activities. It argues the breakdown in the distinction between different types of time and activities is leading to a rise in burn out as it can make people feel overwhelmed. 

In 1974, the average man changed activity 18 times a day, yet by 2014 this had almost doubled to 31. For women, activities increased from 23 to 37. 

The report adds that multitasking through fragmentation, where you break up activities to do something else, “creates a stronger sense of time pressure and reduces the quality of activities”. 

Fragmentation could mean you’re less productive at work as you are jumping from one task to another without completing them.

It’s a habit that can spill over into your personal life, too. On weekends in 1974, the average person would spend just over five hours on leisure activities, broken down into four episodes, a day. In 2014, not only do people spend an hour less on leisure time, but it’s also broken down into seven episodes.

Breaking down leisure activities could mean you don’t have an opportunity to fully relax and enjoy what you’re doing. 

3 useful tips that could reduce burn out

With the findings of the study in mind, thinking about how you use your time and focus on different activities could be useful. Here are three simple tips that could improve your mental wellbeing. 

  1. Reduce how much you’re multi-tasking: While multi-tasking can be useful sometimes, it can also mean you don’t give activities the attention they deserve, and it’s not always more efficient. If you find yourself doing more than one thing at a time, ask yourself if it’s the best approach. 
  2. Schedule time to relax: If you find that you're always busy and don’t have time for yourself, make it part of your schedule. Even just 30 minutes in the evening doing something you enjoy could be beneficial. As well as reducing burn out, it could boost creativity, concentration, and motivation. 
  3. Put the technology away: Reaching for your phone when you’re watching TV or catching up with friends is common – 17% of people said they use technology while doing leisure activities. It’s easy to do without really thinking about it. So, when you want to focus on a task, put the technology away to minimise distractions.