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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.

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    What do you do when you’re burned out?

    Photo: jessica.hawkins11

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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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