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Tired, anxious and overworked?

Tired, anxious and overworked?


Three habits a coach can help clients overcome to avoid and recover from burnout.



The number of people caught up in a burnout epidemic characterized by exhaustion and emotional detachment that lowers efficacy and erodes self-esteem has climbed so high that WHO has added burnout to a list of occupational phenomenons[1]. Higher Education is certainly not immune. Mental health and workplace stress levels are climbing for students, academic and professional staff[2]. Increasingly, internal coaches will encounter clients looking for help to cope with increasing work demands. Effective education on burnout and practical tools and solutions are desperately needed. I invented a tool called the Grid™  that answers this need.

My work supporting leaders in highly demanding roles across academic, professional and research areas shows that instead of focusing primarily on work, a coach often needs to adopt a far more holistic approach. By helping the client see themselves within their total life, their self-care practices, how they work and what they do, as well as the sort of career that will prove satisfactory, can help clients regain vital clarity, an internal sense of agency, and motivation needed to make positive changes.

Below I briefly discuss three unproductive habits that clients often bring to coaching that will benefit from being constructively explored in a coaching relationship and ideas on how as their coach we can do that.

Habit 1 – Seeking to prove oneself.

As human beings we seek love and approval is often its second cousin. Many of us will work hard to get approval from supervisors, bosses, institutional leaders and our colleagues and peers. Approval tends to quench inner anxiety making us feel safe and accepted, which meets our basic needs. However, the downside of this for some is becoming too invested in proving one’s worth by giving too much.  This sets up a potentially dangerous imbalance where we work too hard to prove our worth. (Also see Habit 2).

Coaching tip: Help your client explore their motives for seeking approval with open, curious questions such as “I’m really curious about who’s opinion matters to you and how come?” or “Help me understand what makes you seek approval?” I would also encourage coaches to explore a series of specific positions with clients in an embodied way and the impact they have on the client’s internal resourcefulness. These positions are “ me seeking approval”, “me having/not having approval” and “me no longer needing external approval”.

Habit 2 – Working harder.

One need not look hard to be presented with the popular belief that hard work underpins success. In academic environments this often translates into extreme commitment, self-sacrifice and suffering. Working with many clients on realizing their career aspirations, it quickly becomes obvious that keeping your head buried in hard work with no exposure will likely help you disappear rather than thrive professionally. What is needed instead is a healthy balance between work and career development, as well as other aspects of the client’s life that fuel insight, creativity and help the person rest and recharge.

Coaching tip: Help your client explore the meaning of working harder and the likely outcomes from doing more. In my first book Get Productive[3] I shared an exercise (Get results that are worth the effort, Activity 32) that I found incredibly useful in helping clients realize that working harder is often not the answer. Use insightful coaching questions and brainstorming options to consider what they could do instead. For example, does your client battle an inner perfectionist that slows everything down or are they so keen to stay in control they refuse to delegate work?   Exploring these avenues is often very fruitful in helping clients understand what they need to keep doing and what they have outgrown.

Habit 3 – Putting one’s own needs last.

This habit comes from a faulty belief that looking after oneself is selfish.  The fear of attracting scorn or being seen as self-centered or even narcissistic drives many to softly deprioritize their own needs. Over time however, this can create habitual ways of working and being that risk burnout. The payoff for it is clear – being nice feels good. I advocate being kind and helpful to others and oneself.

Coaching tip: Help your client explore the impact of their current habits and actions in relation to their wellbeing. A useful reframe for many clients often comes from repositioning help not as “kind” but in fact selfish. Watching the client’s response as we do this can be very illuminating. ​ Some help may have a good intention but end up disempowering others. Giving too much help can also exhaust one’s energy reserves. I have seen the dynamic of having a “duty to help/rescue” ​ at play in supervisor-student relationships and in teams and collaborations.​

If you’re working with clients in this dynamic you may also wish to help your client learn how to be helpful by coaching others to develop internal capacity.

In our chat on burnout and how we can help clients avoid it, we will explore these and other habits that can get us all into trouble and how to recognize them with four questions:


  1. How do we recognize burnout?
  2. What habits and ways of thinking risk burnout?
  3. What effective approaches to positive behavior change could you try?
  4. What measures of health, wellbeing and optimal functioning could we use to track where we are?


  1. Get Productive Grid by Magdalena Bak-Maier
  2. Video Lecture on Future of Work, June 2019 (20min)
  3. Blog – How feeling safe at work delivers lasting resilience, good performance and boosts staff engagement (8 min read)
  4. Blog – Going from Drained to Energized: the Alchemy of Making Time Count (5min read)
  5. TRAINING FOR COACHES Resilience coaching with the Grid™ Masterclass Sept 3rd 2020 in collaboration with Coaching at Work Magazine

Blog author Dr Magdalena Bak-Maier, Neuroscientist, Productivity and wellbeing expert, Grid™ Inventor, Author, Top Performance Coach and Founder of Make Time Count. The Grid™ is a holistic tool that aids productivity and wellbeing. Magdalena raises awareness on the cost of burnout and how to prevent it through keynotes and works with individuals and organisations to teach the Grid™ approach across UK, EU and USA. As a consultant she assists leaders in creating empowered, healthy and vibrant workplaces that nurture healthy performers. Sign up for her monthly newsletter at



[3] Get Productive by Magdalena Bak-Maier, Capstone Press 2013.