What is Burnout?
The experience of long-term exhaustion and diminished interest, especially in one’s career.
Source: Wiki Dictionary
You know that feeling when you’re exhausted but you still have so much to do? Your brain is working at 10% capacity, but you still keep pushing. That’s what we call burnout.
It’s when your body and mind are stretched to the limit, but you have to keep going. All your cells are screaming, “Give us a break!” and you say, “It’s OK. Just one more thing.”
It’s a common trap that we fall into when trying to get more things done. Ironically, working all the time and getting burnt out is counter-productive and we only end up sapping our energy.
Why Is Burnout So Bad?
It Destroys Your Capacity for Work
If you only focus on doing more work, you’re ignoring a critical aspect of your productivity – your capacity for getting things done. Not taking breaks and sleeping enough will get you more work hours but in that time you’ll be operating nowhere near your full potential.
It’s like having a sports car that is tuned to perfection. But at the same time, you don’t put in good fuel, and you’re overheating the engine all the time. How well do you expect the car to perform, even if it’s perfectly tuned in every other aspect?
Your body and mind have a certain capacity to perform. If you take care of yourself well, that capacity will expand. And if you keep burning energy that you don’t have, your capacity will diminish.
It’s a Downwards Spiral
The more burnt out you get, the less effective you’ll be. The less effective you are, the more hours you’ll have to put and get even more burnt out. Get the picture?
It’s not a good idea to try to do more work in, by putting more and more work hours in. Don’t keep burning energy that your body doesn’t have. Don’t sacrifice your long-term productivity just to get a short-term boost.
It’s just like budgeting your finances correctly. Sure you can spend money you don’t have by going into debt, but sooner or later it will catch up with you. Sooner or later you’ll have to suffer the consequences.
You’re Screwed Long Term, Not Just for Today
The terrible thing about burnout is that you can get used to it. If you keep pushing yourself all the time, you won’t even notice that you’re tired anymore. It will just feel like your normal, everyday state.
So if you don’t take care of the burnout now, your whole life becomes one perpetual cycle of not having enough energy, and having to push yourself to the breaking point every day.
It Kills the Passion for Your Job
Even though you might love what you do, being constantly burnt out makes you hate your work. Being in an endless rush to get things done doesn’t let you enjoy and appreciate your work.
After a while, it feels like your whole life is being consumed by it and you start asking yourself, “What’s the point?”
Don’t let burnout skew your feelings about your career. No matter what you do, it will never feel good if your life isn’t balanced.
Practical Ways to Stop Burning Yourself Out
“I have plenty of time to do it later.”
That sentence has gotten me in trouble more than anything else in my life.
Sometimes we waste our energy on YouTube all day and then end up working until 3 AM getting burnt out. And on the next day, the pattern repeats since, “Hell, I was working so late last night, I deserve some YouTube today!”
By default, we’re very unrealistic about how much time work is going to take. We always underestimate it and end up staying up late.
So aim to start your most important work first thing in the morning. That extra willpower you spend on forcing yourself to start early will pay off big time in the long term.
Another awesome way to be more aware of how you spend your time is to track it. Toggl.com and Rescuetime.com are your friends.
Be Careful with Coffee
Do you use coffee to enhance your productivity or to compensate for the lack of rest? If you drink 10 cups a day, it’s probably the latter.
Coffee can give you a nice boost of energy and focus, but again it’s a trade-off. Once your body has been alert and working on 120% for a while, you have to give it some extra rest afterward. Not burn it out with even more coffee.
Whenever you use caffeine, make sure you’re not trying to compensate for the fact that you haven’t taken a break in the last 5 hours. Or that you haven’t slept at all last night.
Don’t Say, “Yes” Too Much
Prioritization is all about saying, “Yes” to the right things and, “No” to the wrong things.
Even if you’re the most productive bear in the world, you can’t get it all done. And if you’re a productivity nerd like me you probably hate saying, “No.” Is it like you’re admitting your limitations right? You want to be able to do everything that comes your way.
Well, that’s a one-way ticket to crazy land. You’ll feel more and more disappointed in yourself with each missed deadline.
A great habit to get into is never to say, “Yes” on the spot. Get into the routine of saying, “I’ll think about it and get back to you shortly.”
That’s a nice way of taking off the pressure to make the right decision immediately. It will also give you the space to think about your priorities and schedule realistically.
What to Do When You’re Already Burning
Say you’ve already screwed up by saying, “Yes” to a ton of projects.
Or you’re so far behind on your work that you’re getting questionable looks from your boss.
Or your final exams are in 3 days, but you spent the last month making sure your browser’s history stays above 1,000+ Reddit entries/day.
What do you do then?
Getting into a panic mode right now is probably the worst thing you can do.
First of all, admit to yourself that you won’t be able to get it all done. You ain’t got time for that.
You have to do a reality check and see how you can get the best out of the time you’ve got left. Prioritize and pick the 20% of the stuff that will get you 80% of the results. If you manage to do that 20%, you might be able to save your skin in the last minute.
When we’re burnt out, we tend to ignore what our bodies need even more. Even if you feel you don’t have time for it, take care of your body’s basic needs. Drink enough water and have a healthy meal.
The time that you will “loose” is nothing compared to pushing your body even further outside what it was designed to do.
Take a Power Nap
Again, that feels very counter-intuitive, but naps have a huge effect on productivity and focus. Even 10-15 minutes can “restart” your brain and get you back on track.
Another benefit from naps is that they do kind of a “mood reset.” In critical situations when you’re stressed out of your mind saying, “Fuck it!” and taking a nap can be huge. You will wake up feeling much better.
Don’t use the “I don’t have a good place to do it in” excuse either. You can always find a way if you’re determined to do it.
I used to do some crazy stuff while working in the office to get my 10 minutes of shut-eye. I couldn’t sleep while everybody was watching, so I used my lunch break to sleep in my car. I also used the office bathroom to nod off for 5-10 minutes every two hours.
You can always find a way if you really want to.
Get Your Blood Pumping
This is especially important if your ass is glued to a desk chair all day. Your body and brain get stale from the inactivity. And the more inactive you are, the worse your focus and productivity will get.
All of your systems work better when you get more oxygen and increase your heart rate. So use your body the way it was meant to be used. Give it what it needs so it can give you the focus and energy that you need.
Again, don’t make excuses. You can always find the time and place for a few pushups or squats. Stretching also feels amazing after hours of inactivity.
When trying to get more things done managing your time will only get you so far. If you really want your productivity to soar learn to also manage your energy.
How to Manage Your Energy Better
- Start with your most important and difficult to-dos
- Use coffee for enhancement, not compensation for lack of rest.
- Learn to say, “No” to the projects that are not important or you don’t have time for.
- Take care of your body’s basic needs first – food, water, exercise and sleep.