Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle: A Non-Fiction Review

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking The Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia NagoskiBurnout has become increasingly common in modern society–especially in the United States. Especially among millennials. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, especially among women.

Why is that? What can we do about it?

Emily Nagoski and her identical twin sister Amelia Nagoski tackle these questions in their book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle (2019).

Find it on BookShop.

If you make a habit of reading up on self-care and anxiety, some of the information the Nagoskis share will be familiar. The book is also very gendered with a focus on what burnout and stress look like for women (cis and otherwise) although I would argue that the information on dealing with stress applies to anyone who reads it. (In this vein, the book has a very specific view on the way the patriarchy impacts stress.)

What works really well here is how the information is presented (and how it’s read if you choose to pick up the audio book which is read by the authors). The book is broken into three parts (What You Take With You, The Real Enemy, and Wax On, Wax Off) which examine what the stress cycle looks like, external stressors and how they often disproportionately impact women, and how to put the advice shared in the book into practice.

Each chapter has a TL;DR section breaking down key ideas. The book also pulls in pop culture references like The Hunger Games and Star Trek to unpack some of the science and practices covered. Although founded in research and experiences from actual women, the book also creates two composite women “Julie” and “Sophie” to demonstrate the experiences and practices being suggested as they move through their own stress cycles.

The great thing about Burnout is that is founded in positivity and the idea that we are all doing the best we can. If you are stressed and suffering from burnout, it isn’t a flaw or something to fix. It’s a symptom of a bigger problem–perhaps job dissatisfaction or difficulty asking for help.

A lot of the tone here is a little twee and precious–particularly on audio, but it doesn’t make the advice less sound. I can see why this wouldn’t work for everyone but it worked very well for me. A lot of the advice here is common sense but also framed in ways that helped me absorb and internalize things that I may have previously known to be true but not quite believe for my own life and experience.

Burnout: The Secret To Unlocking The Stress Cycle is an excellent resource for anyone looking to bring more balance (and obviously less stress) to their lives. The chapter on rest, in particular, should be required reading for everyone. Definitely worth a look if you’ve found yourself overwhelmed of late and, honestly, who hasn’t?

If you want to unpack more about why women are particularly likely to suffer from burnout and explore how science often fails to research and address concerns specific to women also be sure to check out Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Perez.

Possible Pairings: Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Perez, Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life by Marie Kondo and Scott Sonenshein, Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less – and Achieve More Than You Ever Imagined by Scott Sonenshein

Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life: A Non-Fiction Review

Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life by Marie Kondo and Scott SonensheinHow many times have you left a meeting that could have been an email? How many handouts and papers accumulate on your desk over the course of a week? How often have you been taken away from work you want to do to focus on tedious but seemingly endless tasks at work?

If you’re like most people (particularly those who work in offices or computer-heavy jobs), the answer is probably a lot.

What if there was a better way? In Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life (2020) organization expert Marie Kondo works with organizational psychologist Scott Sonenshein to translate Kondo’s by now ubiquitous KonMari method to office and work life.

Find it on Bookshop.

If you are familiar with the KonMari method from Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (or her show on Netflix), a lot of the ideas here will be familiar or even common sense. What different and makes this book so valuable is the specificity used to apply this advice to a work setting ranging from office work, digital life, to interpersonal relations.

Co-author Sonenshein, an organization psychologist who researches how to make work and careers more rewarding, brings in scientific data to support findings and helps shift focus from the home to the office.

Chapters and sub-headings help break down all the information provided starting with Why Tidy? and what to do If You Keep Falling Back to Clutter.

From their the chapters have granular focus to tidy: Your Workspace, Digital Work, Time,  Decisions, Your Network, Meetings, and Teams. The book ends with ways to Share the Magic of Tidying and Spark Even More Joy at Work.

It’s important to note that every idea here won’t be applicable to every work scenario–partly because of the focus on office work and partly because not every employee will be in a position to say “I don’t want to go to this meeting.” That said, as with the KonMari method in general, readers are able to take as much or as little as they choose to apply to their work life. The tips here are invaluable when working in a shared office space but, for me, have been equally helpful in the past few months as I work from home.

In general the crux of the book is the focus on quality over quantity and to seek meaningful work and connections rather than saying yes to everything and every one. Joy at Work also centers the idea of work as accumulated experience (even if it isn’t “fun” work or work that feels like a learning experience) and also on choice as you ask yourself to choose what you want to keep to build your ideal workspace and, eventually, your ideal work situation.

You might be asking yourself how Joy at Work is any different from Kondo’s first book (or Sonenshein’s first book for that matter). The key thing here is the way Joy at Work drills down on both digital tidying and also interpersonal relations. Intuitively it makes sense and is a next step from the original KonMari method but it’s nice having it spelled out here.

I finished this book feeling inspired and energized to get back to what I love about my job. It also helped me visualize what I needed to make my work from home space make sense during quarantine. Changing up work habits and tidying work things hasn’t been easy, especially while working remotely, but the progress I made largely came from internalizing the advice given in Joy at Work.