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How to Avoid Burnout and Keep Going

How to Avoid Burnout and Keep Going

This is a guest post by Andrew Dumont via andrewdumont.me.

It was my first startup. I was 18 and we had just raised our first realfinancing round – $250,000 from a local angel group. A lot was riding on us, even though the scale seems minuscule in hindsight.

We had just upgraded from a basement to an actual office, and we were on top of the world. Numbers were rising and the team was growing, it felt like we were invincible. We were pushing hard, but it didn’t feel that way. We were fueled by constant adrenaline from the latest press hit and the signing of a big new customer. We didn’t need a break, we felt great. Better than great.

After the highest highs, the good times started to fade. We began burning a lot of cash and couldn’t stay on the path we were headed. The days got longer and the adrenaline bumps were few and far between. A fresh Red Bull only got us so far. The only way out was to push even harder, so we did. We were all topping 80 hour weeks. It just wasn’t sustainable.

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Eventually, I burnt out. Hard.

I remember coming home and curling up into a ball. I was so emotionally and physically exhausted, I couldn’t even move. My productivity was cut to nothing. The next day at the office, I found myself just staring into my computer, for hours. No movement, just staring.

I was shot.


It was a terrible feeling that took me months to shake out of. I guess I was a victim of my own immaturity. In the startup world, we push hard. It’s part of “the hustle” that we so commonly refer to. Thousands of people burn out each week, and I can assure you that number is very highly concentrated in the startup industry. So, how do we avoid it?

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Each person has their own limit, and I was completely oblivious to mine. I love to work, so spending countless hours in an office wasn’t crazy, it was normal. But burnout crept up on me, so I had to find a way to avoid it from happening again.

After much trial and error, I did, and here’s how I did it.

Morning Workouts

I start out each day with a workout. It doesn’t have to be long, and it doesn’t matter what kind of workout it is. Some days I run, other days I lift weights. The method is irrelevant, but doing something active each morning clears my mind and provides a fresh dose of endorphins that puts me in the right physical state for the rest of the day.

An Evening Walk

Evenings were tough for me, I wasn’t sure how to turn it off. Hence, the “Always On” blog title. I would come home and hop on my computer, right after leaving the office. It wasn’t that I needed to, it was habit. I didn’t have closure to my day, so I simply extended it. To help with this, I started going for walks each evening before heading home after work. Not long, just enough to digest the day and clear my mind.

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Fiction Reading

I was never a big fan of fiction. But there’s something about it that helps in avoiding burnout. Allowing your mind to think creatively and wander outside of your everyday routine can be extremely valuable. Each night before bed, I try to read a bit of fiction to remove myself from my traditional business mindset.

A Day A Week

The past few weeks, I felt myself getting close to burnout again, so I instituted a rule for myself. One day a week, work is off limits – answering email, writing a blog post – anything. For one day a week, it’s off limits. I tend to rotate between Saturdays and Sundays, but it’s completely up to your schedule. To ensure that I stick to it, I tend to save errands and personal obligations for the weekend, forcing myself into a schedule without work.

Intellectual Hobbies

I recently bought an espresso machine because I needed to nerd out on something other than work. Roasting coffee beans, playing with the granularity of the grind, steaming the milk, it’s all part of my new intellectual hobby. Whether it’s discovering the science of taking the perfect picture, mastering your golf-swing, or studying the art of roasting an espresso bean, we need intellectual hobbies outside of work to cleanse and stretch the mind.

Small Wins

So much of burnout is mental. In order to avoid physical burnout, you need to show your mind progression for all of the effort that you’re exerting. I’ve found that one way to do this is to set small and easily attainable goals that you can reach each day. This can be parsing down larger goals into smaller chunks or just going though the motion of checking-off completed operational tasks. Anything to show your mind progression towards a finish line can do wonders.

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A Healthy Diet

We all know that we’re supposed to eat well, but it’s especially true when you’re pushing yourself hard. Eating the right food can help extend your runway and give you the needed nutritional energy to stay strong.

Limiting Decisions

After reading this article in Vanity Fair on Obama, there was one piece that stuck out to me. As the author interviewed the president, he said “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” Making too many decisions about mundane details is a waste of a limited resource: your mental energy. Operationalizing decisions in your life that are less impactful (like the clothes you wear and the fruit you pair with your cereal) allows you to invest that energy elsewhere.

Yearly Unplugs

Finally, a yearly unplug is a must. Especially when you work in technology. Having a set time each year where you can turn off the cell phone and go off the grid is a way for you to hit the ‘reset’ button on your body. I’m still working on extending my yearly unplug to more than four days, but even with that, I feel refreshed when I return.


You’re going to have to read your body to sense when you get close to burnout. Just like driving a car, using these maintenance techniques can help, but it’s up to you to know when to ease off the gas.

My immaturity got the best of me, but I’m hoping this will help you avoid the same fate. I used to feel guilty for pacing myself. I felt that if I wasn’t sprinting all day every day, I was doing myself and my team a disservice. Hitting rock bottom burnout was the only way to make me believe otherwise. Hustle is good, but it can’t be blind.

It’s taken me years to realize that overnight success is fictional. Overnight success comes after years of hard, sustainable work.

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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