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How to Keep Burnout at Bay

How to Keep Burnout at Bay

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    I write for a number of different publications and websites, largely about the same thing – technology and the Web. Much of what I write follows a fairly similar pattern, and fits into a relatively narrow range of subjects. I love writing that kind of thing, and enjoy doing it every time I sit down to do so.

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    Or at least, I did until about three weeks ago. Then, one morning, I sat down to write, and couldn’t think of a single thing I wanted to do less in that moment than write a blog post or article. I had major writing burnout, and needed to do something to recharge my batteries and re-juice my excitement and passion for writing.

    To do that, I tried a number of things, with varying degrees of both extremity and success. Here are the ones that worked for me:

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    Change Your Scenery

    It’s amazing the difference a coffee shop makes. For me, sitting in the same place every day, writing what felt like the same thing every day, got redundant and boring. By changing the part of that equation that was in my control (the location), getting things done became a lot more appealing. I’m not sure what it is, but there’s something to be said for packing up, going to a coffee shop, and sitting down with a massive coffee to get your writing done. Rejuvenated and caffeinated, I was in a much better place (literally and figuratively) to write.

    Change Your Methods

    Up until my moment of burnout, it had been a surprisingly long time since I had done any real writing on paper. Everything was done on my computer, and that was contributing to my feelings of redundancy. So, I took the 19th century dive, and broke out a pen and paper. I wrote an entire post on a piece of paper, and then later copied it onto my computer. Then, I used the paper to draw a mind map of more post ideas. Using paper forced me to think actively, and concentrate on my writing – I can type without looking, but I sure can’t write without looking. It helped to center my focus and think a little differently, which brought me back to writing productively.

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    Debate Yourself

    The most fun thing I did during my brief stint with writing hatred was to pick a fight with myself. I picked something I believed strongly in – that the Web is a perfect place to organize your life and manage your applications – and began to argue the opposite side. I went on a tirade against everything I think is right, and it was a lot of fun! I finished, and wanted to tell myself why I was wrong. So I did, and that became one of my favorite posts I’ve ever written. Picking a fight is the easiest way to get passionate about almost anything, and is a great way to beat burnout and get your fire going again.

    Get Away

    Getting away was ultimately the best thing I did to beat burnout. I was fortunate to have my burning moment just before going on a cruise to the Bahamas. For a week, I didn’t use a computer, check my blog, or even think about any of the work I had to do. By the end, I found that I actually missed all of that stuff. Sitting down to brainstorm ideas and get writing done was incredibly easy, because I was excited about it again. It wasn’t the rule anymore, or the thing I had been doing every day for so long – it felt new again, and found its fun once more.

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    Not everyone will be able to get away for a week, but we can all find a way to get out and get away. Turn off the computer and go for a walk, or go do something bizarre and crazy you’ve always wanted to do (I highly recommend skydiving). Even the shortest break or interruption in the routine can make it feel new and different again.

    We’ve all had those moments, even when we’re doing something we love to do: we just need a break. If you can’t take a break, consider finding a different way to do whatever you have to do – even if it means finding a pen and paper. If you can take a break, short or long, do it. Breaking a routine is the key to rejuvenating your love for your routine, and helping you revive the passion for your work.

    What do you do when you’re burned out?

    Photo: jessica.hawkins11

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    Last Updated on July 10, 2020

    The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

    The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

    Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

    Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

    The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

    Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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    Program Your Own Algorithms

    Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

    Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

    By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

    How to Form a Ritual

    I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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    Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

    1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
    2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
    3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
    4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

    Ways to Use a Ritual

    Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

    1. Waking Up

    Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

    2. Web Usage

    How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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    3. Reading

    How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

    4. Friendliness

    Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

    5. Working

    One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

    6. Going to the gym

    If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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    7. Exercise

    Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

    8. Sleeping

    Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

    8. Weekly Reviews

    The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

    Final Thoughts

    We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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    Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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