“I’m sorry.” This is the most common phrase that I hear from women at the beginning of their careers. A job in Product Management is not easy, but it is rewarding. You don’t have a North Star metric that tells you how good you are as a Product Manager so it forces you to push yourself forward, again and again.
“You need to work twice as hard to be half as good.” Every woman has heard this at least a thousand times. It leads to thoughts like “I’m not good enough,” and “I need to work harder.” As a result, women start apologising for no reason. Constant apologising damages your career at an early stage, because people tend to remember you as a woman who is constantly apologising, and they will assume that you keep making mistakes.
At the same time, as a Product Manager, you don’t have a strict backlog. You always have more things to do: searching for points of growth, interviewing customers, conducting research, etc. The only person who can say “stop working” is you - or your manager, if he or she is wise and experienced. Not everybody has the dream manager so most of us continue working long hours without recognition or a feeling of self-importance.
Having endless work hours, plus thoughts of “I’m not good enough” is a straight road to burnout. Women aren’t immune to burnout; we only tend to think about it when the burnout is real and imminent. We realize and diagnose the burnout in retrospect, which is too late. So, how can you recognise that you are on your way to burnout, and make sure you never reach that point? Below, you can see how performance can peak before falling down into a burnout. Let’s take a look at the average path of the superhero that ends up being burnt out and how to avoid it.
First of all, establish the practice of routine tracking. A diary will help you to get a sense of your optimal workload. At the same time, it will be helpful to track more than simply the list of tasks. If you make notes regarding your overall feeling and other remarkable events, this will help you with general retrospection as well. For example, your notes will help you to analyse your decision-making, your thinking, and your analysis process. It will clarify how you think, how you make decisions, what makes you productive and what makes you demotivated.
If you notice that your workload is increasing, you need to track this process carefully, because you could spot a temporary workload increase or a permanent trend. If it is temporary, then it should return to your comfort level in several weeks. If the workload is still increasing, then try to analyse your thoughts. If you enjoy the additional workload because it makes you feel like a supergirl, then this could lead to burnout if it continues. This is why it is important to have notes that will track what you already have on your plate. The moment you start thinking of yourself as a supergirl, you lose your sense of reality.
Your adrenaline rules your mind and it means you feel less fatigued, your emotions are at a high level of satisfaction, and you try to ignore the stress. Another aspect to take into consideration, when was your last vacation? If you didn’t have a vacation this year, it could be a sign that you might be on your way to burnout. Adrenaline cannot last long and soon enough, you might start feeling stressed but still think of yourself as a rock star. That’s why you put more and more effort into staying at the same level of performance.
The next stage is where you cannot stay as productive as you were before. Your past success does not allow you to ask for help. You think it’s just a bad day and it will get better, so it must be better tomorrow. You start falling in the dark world of burnout. Unfortunately, only during the fall, does the ex-superhero decide to ask for help. At this point, it is not too late to accept all the help you might get, and rest.
Being a Product Manager is not a sprint, it is a marathon.
Here are my top tips for coping if you think you are on the way to burn out.
- Evaluate your self-esteem, work on your deep blocks, fight your inner critic.
- Evaluate the level of impostor syndrome. Make sure that impostor syndrome doesn’t rule your world.
- Get regular feedback from your manager and peers. It will allow you to understand - not guess what others think about you as a professional.
- Create and discuss your career plan with your manager on a regular basis. Your manager will help you to move in the right direction. Having a career goal, and understanding your state decreases the probability of burnout.
- Get a mentor or coach (whichever works best for you).
- Journal your achievements and recognitions
As you can see, being conscious, having a second pair of eyes, and documenting your journey can significantly decrease your fast path to burnout. Yes, it IS that simple. No magic here.
If you don’t know where to start, join a community of women where you can freely discuss both professional and personal questions. Start getting help and help others in return. We can hope that in 10 years time, burnout will not be a hot topic or popular issue.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lilia Gorbachik is a Product Manager, having 15 years of experience in IT, working in different roles: QA, pre-sales, project manager etc. Lilia is also a product management coach who helps aspiring product managers, experienced professionals, and startups.