No one wants to admit they’ve fallen behind or into burnout. Being vulnerable is hard enough, but to show signs of weakness in this fast-paced world is career-suicide. We’re supposed to be accomplishing something from the moment we wake up to the moment our head hits the pillow.
The funny thing is, I’m a proponent of productivity. Not in the sense of ‘the more things you accomplish in a day, the more successful you are’ but in a ‘get your priorities in order and you’ll reach fulfillment’ way. The problem was, burnout was building underneath me and I chose to ignore it.
Every moment, I was trying to live in perfection — get work done, host a podcast on topics I know nothing about, write on Medium every day, start a coaching business, finish editing my novel for publication, finish writing the third book in the series… I wanted to have it all. I started to make everything a priority, thinking I could handle it all.
I needed a wakeup, and I got it by way of a near-car-accident last week. It forced me to reevaluate a lot of things, and I spent the weekend in recovery mode, setting myself up for a new outlook on my productivity. No, I’m not free of the feeling of burnout, but I’m not as close to the boiling point as I was. Here are some strategies to combat the physical and emotional burnout you might be feeling.
My bedtime is precious, and I don’t like variation in my routine. The closer I got to my breaking point, the more I noticed that I had lost that precious dedication. I was staying up later to get work done, ignoring my wind-down routines, and tossing and turning, all while trying to keep my same wake-up time.
This weekend, I nixed all of my morning “productivity” plans. Usually it’s my favorite time to write, but instead I chose to prioritize my sleep and recovery. I eliminated my alarm and let my body determine my schedule in the morning. It was refreshing to move my schedule back a few hours to recover where I needed it most.
Take the time to fully recover and get the sleep your body needs. Push engagements until the afternoon and free up your morning to move slowly.
Here’s the hit or miss. When burnout hits, the last thing I want to do is run or work out in any way. Sometimes getting fresh air is nice, and getting out for some sun is always good for you, but it’s important not to push yourself. If you’re physically exhausted, it’s okay to take a break. Do I need to repeat that?
Often, people get burned out because they push themselves in every aspect of their life, including working out. Understand where your body is, and know that it’s okay to take a few days off to recover. Just like you need to recover from injury, taking a few days away from your workout routine (especially a strenuous one) can help you reset your mind and body.
Reevaluate goals and values
My long list above was starting to wear on me. Despite only setting three priorities in the day, I found myself trying to cram more of them into my day. I never felt satisfied after completing three because I still had four other goals that weren’t getting attention that day.
In looking back at my yearly writing goal, I took a hard look at the things that weren’t contributing to my goals and values. I found a way to combine the work I was doing for my coaching business with the writing for Medium. It became one priority that had dedicated time on the weekday.
My second priority fell on writing my third installment of my novel. It gave me joy to write my story again instead of editing. Despite having a deadline for the second novel, I moved that priority down on the list for my own sanity. It now has a time and place to be worked on during weeknights.
My third priority, work, is vital for my survival (money, insurance, etc.). Instead of focusing on the things that overwhelmed me, I looked into what I could do that I was good at and started finding tasks that I could truly enjoy. Sure, I have tasks I’m not quite thrilled about, but surrounding that task with things I enjoy helps me get through it.
Determine your top three priorities and stick to it. Make sure they still align with your goals and values, and if you need to, reevaluate those too. Writing is still important to me, but I’ve found a better way to balance it.
Take control of your time
When I look back at the last week, I was scheduling my time so rigidly I felt overwhelmed and frustrated when things pulled me away. I actually over-controlled my schedule. I wanted every minute planned out and if things weren’t done during that time, I felt like a failure. It became a vicious cycle of frustration and self-degradation.
This week, I’m building in a little more flexibility with my time and efforts. Instead of rigid goals and time chunks, I’m giving myself some wiggle room and recovery breaks. Moving from one task to another is exhausting, so I’m making sure I have small breaks scheduled throughout the day. I’ll take my standing and water breaks more seriously and use the time to actually recover.
Disconnect from stressors and find enjoyment
I complained about my writing to my boyfriend, specifically that I felt no joy in working on the story that I once loved. I would look at the page and just dread starting.
The funny thing is, it wasn’t actually my writing that I was stressed about. I realized when I sat down to write that story, my mind was never in it. I was always worried about other things, checking my phone, writing down my plans for the next few hours… it was a nightmare. So, I put all my distractions away and figured out how to focus.
Because you can never pull me away when I’m writing a chapter, I decided to “write” through meditation. I spent time sitting at my computer not actively writing but thinking about my story. I pulled up the playlist that was inspiring the scene I was in and I played it out in my head like a movie. I pumped myself up for writing, much like I used to pump myself up for a softball game. And when I opened my eyes, the story was alive in my fingertips.
Separating your mind from the things that are weighing it down gives you the freedom to explore your mind and your enjoyment. Find something you love doing and fully immerse yourself in it. Free your brain, do things that don’t require thought, or turn to something you love.
I have a wonderful work, family, and boyfriend. After my close call on Thursday, I asked for a remote day on Friday to reduce the commute stress. It was tough to be vulnerable to my boss, but he completely understood. With a proven track record of getting my work done, he didn’t hesitate to allow me the space.
I also opened up to my boyfriend and mom about the things I was feeling and the anxiety I had about the situation. It was nice to talk to people who empathized and were there to support me through the tough time. They helped me clear my head and focus on my goals moving forward, giving me the space I needed to recover over the weekend.
Find someone to talk to about your struggles and ask for help in getting the space and recovery you need. Sometimes you just need a break, but often seeking engagement with others can help refocus your mind.
If you’re struggling and need further help, please seek a professional. While these strategies may or may not help, a professional will give you the proper resources for your needs. Go to https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline for free and confidential help.