Avoiding Burnout: What You Can Do To Maintain a Work-Life Balance


We all have too much to do and too little time to do it. As a product manager, you may have already learned how to plan and prioritize a product roadmap. But how can you help yourself do the same? How do you keep yourself from taking on too much and burning out or continuously spinning your wheels?

In response to a Reddit question asking whether there are product roles that exist with a work-life balance, one user answered: "It depends. If you're a PM at an early stage startup, expect to work a lot. PMs at larger established companies (think FAANG) tend to have good work-life balance because the product org is usually large and established. At a small startup, you will be wearing so many hats and it will often feel overwhelming how much work has to get done."

Unfortunately, it’s often common for companies without a product vision or plan to have a hard-driving unhealthy 24/7 work culture. This means unprofessional communication and late-night calls and texts. Product managers are constantly plugged in with a fear of making the wrong decisions. They feel the competitive pressure to find creative inspiration, leading to inevitable physical and emotional burnout.

Luckily, you can avoid the trap, guaranteeing you achieve and maintain a solid work-life balance.

Work With a Positive Company Culture
One of the first steps to striking a solid work-life balance is through finding an organization that offers a positive company culture. Establishing a work-life balance isn’t always up to an individual. A company that cares about the wellbeing of its employees will make it a priority to set the appropriate boundaries. It’s important that your own principles and values align with the company culture in order to create an effective career experience.

As a product manager, you have to define product management for yourself and develop a plan with which you’ll take ownership of a portion of your company's growth. Make a note of what type of product management you are doing. Is it taking large bets in unproven markets? Competitively launching new features? Extending a product functionality to an established market? Or maybe it’s "shipping" with little discussion about impact.

Take a reverse lens approach — what would the company say? If you have insight that your company wants you to focus on building features without validation rigor (feature factory), then you might need to consider a switch. You can tell a great deal about an organization by what it celebrates.

Ultimately, it comes down to finding a company or an organization where you’re supported and encouraged to achieve desired customer and business outcomes.

Related Read: Any company + product manager ≠ a product company.

Manage Yourself
The first and paramount responsibility of anyone who manages products is to manage one’s self (i.e. integrity, character, ethics, knowledge, wisdom, temperament, words, and acts). Getting your own house in order, exhibiting good time management practices and being smart about how to allocate the hours in your own workday (meetings, emails, projects), sets a precedent for your team to follow.

This means you have to stop filling your calendar with back-to-back meetings and block out two-hour slots each day to think, physically move around your workspace, meditate and connect with people.

From there you can set aside some time to reflect on what's doing well and what isn't. What mistakes did you make? In what way could you have improved your performance? What lessons can you learn? Have you clarified expectations? Are you encouraging cooperative communication within the team? These are some of the top questions to think about to help improve yourself as a product leader.

Manage Your Bosses
Manage those who have authority over you, including bosses, supervisors and directors. Do this by asking them what keeps them up at night. Can you understand them? Can you persuade them?

You need to appreciate your boss’s goals and pressures. Without this information, you’re flying blind and can end up taking actions that are actually at odds with their priorities and objectives.

Manage Your Peers
Your peers include those whom you have no authority over — and vice versa (e.g. engineers, sales, marketing, customer service). Can you motivate them? Can you set an example and lead them?

What about their preferred style of working? Do they like to get information through emails, formal meetings, or phone calls? Do they thrive on conflict or try to minimize it? Without this information, unnecessary conflicts, misunderstandings, and problems are inevitable.

Set Your Daily Goals
It’s important to find time early in the day to make to-do lists and set or prioritize your goals. Goals that product managers set for themselves are what then drive the goals across the entire organization. Look beyond short-term goals and set your sights on a long-term vision. Look at the bigger picture and avoid getting caught up in the fast-paced day-to-day routine as a product manager.

What happens if you simply jump into work without a clear vision of what you’re trying to accomplish? This makes you reactive rather than proactive, resulting in a weak product and a product team stuck trying to keep up with competitors — rather than staying ahead of them. Your personal goals should therefore align with your KPIs and your overall professional growth plan.

Related Read: Essential Ingredients to Reach your Product Goals: Here's How to Accelerate Company Growth

Block Out Time
Setting your schedule is crucial to achieving your goals and ensuring you’re both physically and mentally well-rested to be the most effective at work. According to scientific research, your brain continues to work while you rest:
"Studies have shown that the brain reviews your day backwards while you're sleeping. That is, the most recent experience is processed first, then your brain continues to run backwards to consolidate memory. If you don’t make a clear break between work and rest, your brain will keep thinking about a problem and make it difficult for you to sleep." ScienceDirect
Defining boundaries is therefore a key component to managing not only your time, but others as well. It helps set expectations within your team and organization. This means blocking out time in the day for focused work (e.g. strategic proposals) or even some quiet time to sort your thoughts. In addition, this also means setting a hard stop rule at the end of the day to disconnect and turn off notifications.

Unwind With Exercise
Taking time out of your day to exercise, drink coffee or even prep for your commute can help you relax and unwind, distracting your mind from a stressful day’s work. You can take a short walk, run or bike ride every day to clear your mind and take a break from staring at your screen all day. Giving yourself a break and getting some exercise then leaves room for fresh ideas and creativity when planning the next product roadmap.

Make Smart Product Decisions
Curious to know more about our approach to better time management and making smart product decisions? Using SOAPTM, our product management methodology, we’ve provided our expert advice and coaching to a number of companies to make sure everyone is aligned, motivated, inspired and ready to innovate.
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Would you like to learn more about our SOAP™ process? Visit our Solutions page
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Bain Public offers consistent roadmap planning processes & tools for business leaders and product managers organized around what motivates, inspires and improves growth. We offer a variety of blog posts, e-books and approaches designed to help organizations understand their digital strategies, introduce elements of roadmapping and establish product-led change amongst the senior leaders and managers. Our approach, product, expert advice and coaching helps entangle complex technology, people and roadmap dynamics. For more information, visit bainpublic.com or call 514–442–8487.

Thanks to Paul Ortchanian and Abigail Ramirez Villarroel for contributing to this article as well as reading drafts and overseeing aspects of its publication. Also, if you have any feedback or criticism about this article, then shoot us an email info@bainpublic.com.