I talk a lot about productivity on this blog. and there’s a good reason for that. An important part of living a joyful life is finding the time to do the things you love, and it’s difficult to do that if you don’t have the systems in place to get things done efficiently.
But that’s the key element of productivity that sometimes gets lost. It’s not just about doing as much as possible or being able to say you juggle a dozen commitments. It’s getting things done with efficiency and for a specific purpose. It should serve your quest for happiness, not detract from it.
When you work too hard for too long, you get burnt out and not only does your happiness suffer, but so does your productivity. At this time of year in particular it’s easy to get burnt out, with increasing social obligations and gift shopping on the horizon for many of us. If you’re concerned you’re on the road to burnout, it’s best to nip it in the bud to restore balance between work and rest.
How to tell if you’re heading towards burnout
If you’re going to avoid burnout, the obvious first step is to be able to identify the signs. So how do you know burnout is around the corner so you can take the steps to prevent it?
You stop enjoying things you used to love
This is a big one for me. I know I need to step away and take a break when even reading a beloved book starts to feel like a chore. If you’re feeling kind of ‘meh’ about your hobbies, and you can’t seem to understand why, then you may just be on the road to burnout.
You feel like you and your to-do list are on opposite teams
Does your to-do list seem like one giant, endless nag? If you get a sinking feeling in your stomach every time you think about your to-do list, and even something like emptying the dishwasher starts to feel like a leviathan task, then it’s time to take a step back.
You’re searching for the ‘magic bullet’ to amp up your productivity
I love productivity hacks, and I share them all the time on this blog and on Twitter. And I myself am always searching for new tricks and techniques to eke a little bit more out of my time.
When I find myself latching onto every new technique I come across as though my life depends on it, however, then I know I’m starting to get burnt out. No productivity tool can make up for simply having too much on your plate, especially if your tasks are mentally, physically or emotionally draining.Feeling the symptoms of burnout? Click through for advice to reset and recharge Click To Tweet
When assessing whether or not you’re getting overwhelmed and approaching burnout, it can be easy to blame yourself and assume it’s your productivity tools or willpower that needs a fix, because your friend does all you do AND has a baby, or you managed it all with grace a year ago.
I understand the temptation, and I’ve certainly felt it in the past, but it isn’t helpful. In fact, blaming yourself for your overwhelm is, in my experience, a surefire way to cross over into burnout, because you’re now carrying around that extra emotional stress rather than accepting that this is too much for you right now and finding ways to deal with it.
As a society, we have a tendency to glorify the state of being busy, whether or not anything tangible comes of it. Just as some people are introverts who thrive off of alone time, while other people are extroverts who draw energy from spending time with others, I tend to think that there are some people who draw energy from being busy and others who derive their strength from having downtime.
This doesn’t mean that either you get things done or you don’t, or that you either need to relax or you don’t, just like being an introvert doesn’t mean you never enjoy spending time with loved ones. What it does mean, though, is that that balance differs for everyone, and it can even differ for an individual based on different life circumstances.
Things like grief can sap your energy, while regular exercise can boost it, so don’t assume you’re not taking on more than you can handle just because you were fine with it a year ago.
Similarly, if your friend seems to manage to do twice what you do and you’re still feeling the symptoms of burnout, then don’t beat yourself up for not having better productivity systems in place or for needing downtime. That might just be how you function best.
How to recover
So you’ve established you’re either overwhelmed and approaching burnout or in full on burnout mode. What next? The key theme here is to simplify your obligations to reduce the weight of your to-do list.
Simplify your commitments
In my experience, one of the most common triggers for burnout is the feeling that I’m working hard but not making any progress towards the things that matter to me. And one of the most common causes of this is spending too much time on things that, in the grand scheme of things, don’t matter.
Take a look at your upcoming events and your to-do list and figure out if there’s anything there that you just can’t be bothered with. Maybe you have a lot of lukewarm social events coming up or you keep committing to things you’re not passionate about.
For everything that you’re not enthusiastic about, ask yourself if you were enthusiastic about it before you started to feel burnt out. If the answer is yes, and you suspect burnout to be the reason you no longer feel enthusiasm, leave it on for now.
If you never felt enthusiasm for it, then consider if it provides any real value for you. Going to work, for instance, is something few people leap out of bed excited to do, but we receive financial compensation for it.
Consider as well if the value you get out of these things is worth the emotional outlay. An enjoyable job with good pay may not be something you’re enthusiastic about, but the lack of enthusiasm is made up for by the value it provides. On the other hand, a job that makes you miserable and requires long hours will probably never pay enough to make up for that.
And, lastly, if you can’t dredge up any enthusiasm for an event and you can’t figure out any way it’s of value to you, then why is it on your list? If your answer is ‘I have to go, it’s my uncle’s birthday!’ then ask yourself if you really have to go. Maybe you do, because your uncle’s getting old and you haven’t seen him in years and you know your family will give you no end of grief if you don’t go, but maybe you’re just not close to your uncle and he probably won’t even notice you’re not there because his friends and people he is close to will be there with him.
Only you can decide which situation applies, but be sure to critically assess whether you think you need to attend something you don’t want to attend or if it’s actually the best solution.
Avoid the all-or-nothing mentality
I have a tendency to get it into my head that a certain duration or frequency of an activity is the minimum acceptable amount. For instance, I need to workout at least 3 times a week for 30-40 minutes, I need to write 1000 words of my novel every day, I need to post two blog posts a week, etc.
No, I don’t.
I mean, all those things are great, but combined with everything else I need to do they start to weigh on me, and worse, these expectations can easily have the opposite effect. If I don’t have time for a full workout then I won’t bother at all. If I don’t have the time or motivation to write 1000 words I won’t open my novel document at all. Etc.
Lately I’ve been working on reassessing how much I really ‘need’ to do. If I don’t have the time or motivation for a full workout, I can just do ten minutes. If I don’t have the motivation to write 1000 words, maybe I could just aim for 100. And instead of writing two blog posts a week, I’m cutting down to one for the time being.
You know how they say that crash diets don’t work, and if you really want to lose weight you need to make small changes for it to be sustainable? That’s true for all habits.
If you’re feeling burnt out, look at your regular commitments – the ones you’re sure you want to continue on with – and consider if you really need to invest as much time and energy in them as you currently do.
Your gut reaction will probably be ‘yes’, but probe deeper. If you halve the amount of time you spend on something, you won’t get 100% of the result, but you’ll get 50% consistently, and sometimes that’s enough.
For example, if the ideal is that you exercise for an hour five times a week, but you only manage that one week in four, then the value brought on by consistently exercising for half an hour three times a week is greater than the actual value of exercising five times a week once a month.
By this point you should have cleared up some time in your schedule. To eke a little more out of it, now’s the time to implement some productivity techniques. It’s crucial that you do this after you’ve established that everything on your task list is essential, as otherwise this is just a smokescreen for overwhelm.
Some of my favourite techniques are:
- Batching tasks
- Setting time limits
- Limiting the number of tasks on my to-do list
- Simplifying recurring tasks
Part of the problem with burnout is that you start to feel like you have no free time. By cutting down your schedule and finding ways to make your remaining tasks more efficient, you can reclaim some free time to relax and refresh yourself.
Take a proper break
Sometimes all of the above just isn’t enough to help restore your energy, and when this happens you might need to take drastic measures. Cut out everything you possibly can from your schedule and give yourself a break. Maybe you can’t take time off work, but take some time off your exercise schedule, your side projects, etc. Ignore everything that won’t suffer from a few weeks off.
Giving yourself a chance to stop treating these things as obligations is one of the best ways to reignite your passion when you’re feeling burnt out. I actually recently took a whole month off of working out – not deliberately, it just kind of fell by the wayside – and when I got started again I was excited for my workouts, something I hadn’t felt in a long time.
Above all, remember that burnout isn’t a sign of weakness, or an indication you’re just not trying hard enough. Accept it for what it is, and use it as a reminder to slow down and be intentional about how you spend your time.
Over to you
What’s your favourite advice for dealing with burnout?
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