Depleted? Dispirited? An MBA Survival Guide

A student passed out on a book in front of a laptopa and a cup of coffee, representing someone who failed at avoiding burnout in business school.

Did your motivation fizzle out somewhere between problem sets and case studies? Double espresso shots and Aderall just can’t cut it anymore?

You may be experiencing a common enough phenomenon: burnout.

But don’t assume that it’s only endemic to B-school. In fact, the odds are at one point or another in your professional career you’ll hit a mental wall and raise the white flag – if merely for an afternoon of watching the “Office Space” printer scene. Only 30% of American employees feel engaged at work, according to a 2013 report by Gallup. That number dips to a dismal 13% in a global survey of just 142 countries.

Christine Porath, a professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, addresses this crisis head-on in The New York Times with “Why You Hate Work.” Porath and her coauthor, Tony Schwartz, conclude: “For most of us, in short, work is a depleting, dispiriting experience, and in some obvious ways, it’s getting worse.”

Headshot of Christine Porath, who guides students on avoiding burnout in business school.

Christine Porath is an associate professor at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business

But before you bury your head in the sand or book a one-way ticket to Tahiti, we’ve asked Porath for her top tips to combat finance fatigue, accounting apathy, and the consulting coma. Porath advises developing good habits in B-school – before entering the workforce. Then you’ll be less likely to adopt a crash-and-burn routine later in life.

From working like a sprinter to “having a life” and being polite, a few tweaks and considerations can go a long way to ensuring a productive career and a happier, healthier life.

Here are Porath’s top tips for avoiding burnout in business school and beyond.

Take breaks:

One of my big suggestions is renewal and rehearing. Taking breaks is huge. Studies show that people work best in 90-to-100-minute increments, and after that you see a decline in performance. So take a walk outside and then think about focusing in an absorbed way for that amount of time. Picture yourself as a sprinter and not a marathoner, so working with intensity for short bursts and then stepping away.

In the longer term, vacations, weekends, and being able to set boundaries are all really important. We find across studies that learning is great and it’s part of thriving, but we see diminishing returns if people are not recharging. Our research shows there’s a positive relationship between thriving outside and inside the office. In other words, there’s a real benefit to having a life.

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