Lately, the issue of “burnout” has been on the minds of many professionals as they feel overworked and overwhelmed. Many career experts have addressed how to identify the tell-tale signs that it’s time to leave your job. You’re not sleeping well, you’re feeling anxious and stressed, you’re lashing out and impatient, and your outlook is cynical. Your health—mental, emotional, and physical—is probably suffering, and your relationships could be, too.
Once you’re convinced it’s time to leave your job, what do you do? While it may be appealing to just walk away, it’s a good idea to have a plan for “in the meantime.” Unless you have already set the wheels into motion, it’s unlikely that your next opportunity will come overnight. It’s a good idea to set yourself up for success before you put in your notice. Here’s how!
Make financial preparations
Don’t just quit without a plan for meeting your financial obligations. Do you already have several months’ worth of expenses saved up? What are alternative ways for you to generate income while you are out of work? Three months of living expenses is a common recommendation, but I would try for six or nine. Also consider emergencies and other unexpected expenses. Decide how you will manage them should they come to pass. If it turns out that you will be scrounging for your next meal, now might not be the time to quit and remove your financial safety net.
Decide where you’ll go next
Will you start a business, try your hand a freelancing, or search for another traditional job? Whatever you decide, be sure you map out your plan for achieving your goal. Whether you start a business or a new job search, some of your activities will be similar: reaching out to your networks, identifying the skills and resources you need, and creating a support network. If you decide to start a business, you may want to get a business coach or use some of the free resources accessible to you (such as your state’s Small Business Services center). If you’ll be transitioning to a new field, allot for extra time to help you navigate through that process. Figure out where to look for jobs, how to revamp your resume, whether you’ll need to freshen up your skills, and who you can reach out to during your search.
Figure out if you need to enhance your skills
Identify any skills you’ll need to improve before you leave your current job. The reason is twofold. One, if there is an opportunity to gain the skill at your current job, jump at the chance. Two, if your new career requires a certification or additional studies, you may need to revisit your financial situation and see how feasible it will be for you to take on the added expense.
If you can stomach remaining at your organization for a few more months, use the time to be mindful of the work that you do and the accomplishments you achieve at work. Take notes and include anything relevant on your resume.
Cement your work relationships
You may have lost touch with some people you used to work closely with at your job. Before you leave, reconnect in a way that feels authentic. You can rely on your contacts’ networks and resources, but you’ll want to manage your relationships in such a way that your friends and colleagues don’t feel used. Reconnect and show your coworkers your interest in them as people, not just coworkers. Don’t let the next time they hear from you be on LinkedIn with a request for a recommendation. Imagine if the shoe was on the other foot and act accordingly.
Start putting out your feelers and ask questions. Turn to your networks and contacts, even people who are not in your desired career field. You never know who knows someone who knows someone. Ask questions that will help you get a view of different landscapes throughout your field and related career areas. What are the top skills that are sought after among new hires in your field? Are there any new skills you’ll need to gain entry into your career area of interest? You can (and should) continue these inquiries even after you leave your job, but it’s a good idea to get started as soon as possible.
Develop a schedule
As part of your exit plan, be sure to coordinate a schedule for how you’ll spend your days when you no longer have a job to go to. You don’t necessarily have to set it in stone, but blocking out your time will give you a sense of purpose. Many people find out all too quickly that having nothing on their schedules day after day leads to quite a lot of time spent in pajamas, binge-watching favorite shows, and eating ice cream out of the gallon container. And that tends to lead to… inertia, which doesn’t get you far when you need to find a job.
Reactions to new-found time after leaving a job can vary greatly. Some people may already have a ton of ideas for using their time for professional pursuits and pleasure. Others may panic. Once the thrill of not having to set an alarm wafts over you, there can be the sinking feeling of not knowing what to do with all the time you now have. When your routine is gone, you may feel unsettled with nothing in its place. Have an idea of how you will structure your time.
Factor in time for rest and rejuvenation
Let’s face it—your job was taxing and zapped your energy, otherwise you wouldn’t have left. Definitely take the time you need to get back to your very best you. You deserve time off, but temper it with the action plans you created so that you can keep momentum up and find your next opportunity on your own timeline. Apathy tends to breed more of itself, so make a conscious effort to maintain your stamina and keep your momentum up. Time for rest and relaxation is a part of the schedule you’ll be creating, not the only thing on the roster.
Set up alternative methods of learning new skills
Consider volunteering, taking on a side project, or setting up a pro bono project. While you’re not working, it’s essential to keep your skills fresh and gain new accomplishments to add to your resume or professional bio. Also identify opportunities for coursework, seminars, or certifications.
The decision to leave a job can be a difficult one. It may feel daunting to stick it out a few extra months when it’s already been taking its toll, but by setting your safeguards in place, you can get to your next step with more confidence and a great sense of security and control.