You Feel Like a Burned-Out Product Manager — Now What?
December 15, 2016

You Feel Like a Burned-Out Product Manager — Now What?

by Brian de Haaff

Two slides, every day. That’s how a former colleague and friend told me that he put together his annual strategic plan. When I asked him why, he said, “If I thought of having to create the entire presentation at once, I felt overwhelmed. But completing a few slides a day — that I could always handle.”

My friend went on to explain that he had more work to do each day than he could physically get done. And this made it hard to carve out the time he needed to focus on building a compelling strategic plan. Being responsible for his product’s success on a day-to-day basis and directing its longer-term vision was mentally weighing him down. He started to wonder if it was the workload — or if he was just burned out on product management.

Yes, the feeling of burnout can happen to anyone. But feeling overwhelmed does not mean that you are not still the best person to lead your product and team.

So, how do you tell if you really have burnout anyway? It is a tough syndrome to define, but a recent study suggests at least three types: overload, cynical, and worn-out. No matter the type, there is no doubt that burnout is a productivity and health issue — and while companies look for causes of burnout, how to remove the feeling and get busy again can be different (and personal) for everyone.

Our Customer Success team works with product managers every day. To bring you a few proven ways to avoid — and prevent — feelings of burnout, we relied on our own experience as former product managers and those of our colleagues and friends, like the busy product manager I introduced you to above.

Here are a few remedies for overworked product managers:

Remember your goals Do your team’s priorities shift all the time? If so, that is a good sign that your goals are not clear. Weathering that shiftless existence will weigh you and the team down. And besides, managing your product does not mean saying “yes” to everything. Make sure that what you are working on ties back to what you are trying to achieve.

Build momentum Small successes lead to larger ones. If an overwhelming number of to-dos are pulling at you, find one item that is aligned with your objectives and get it done. Quite often, you just need a “win” to pull yourself up and get going again. Let your feeling of accomplishment feed on itself. Find the next small success, and then the next.

Make time to focus It’s a bit of a paradox, but sometimes the more you look at something, the less clear it becomes. Carve out dedicated time, when you can eliminate all distractions and focus on a big project. Just like my friend’s approach to strategic planning, you will find that when you make time to focus you can make real progress.

Embrace your creativity Product management is a creative process. Sometimes, the feeling of burnout is simply a creative block. Take a few moments to focus on something entirely different. It will freshen your perspective and help you reimagine how to solve the challenge that seemed insurmountable.

Give back to others Product managers lead teams. And that means the work you do (and the happiness you derive from it) is amplified across a group of people. There is an intrinsic reward in helping other people be great and in building a meaningful product. While not every day is going to go great for you personally, you can still have a positive impact on others — and that is gratifying.

Finding ways to stay true to your goals, vision, and purpose is important. And doing so will help head off the nagging feeling that you will never be able to do it all.

As a product leader, you are expected to manage the minutia and the big picture. That is not easy. We all have hard days when we do not think we will ever get the work done. But if you think about why you became a product manager in the first place — and maybe borrow some of the techniques we shared — you can get the work done and be happy too.

Product managers: How do you bounce back from feelings of burnout?

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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