I love writing. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do and I really can’t imagine myself doing anything else.
But there’s one big disadvantage: Not all projects start and end cleanly and predictably. Sometimes there’s unavoidable overlap. When that happens, I end up working around the clock and burning out. I was pretty close to that this week so I took some time off. It’s awesome.
If your work can lead to burnout, here are 10 tips to help you avoid burnout and stay productive.
1. WATCH YOUR DIET
Make sure you eat a good breakfast and a good lunch. Keep your supper light. This keeps your energy levels up during the day when you need that energy. For breakfast I like a bowl of Shreddies. And for lunch I like a vegetable smoothie with some almonds or maybe a big salad and a bagel and cheese. For me, those meals have proven to be the best source of clear-headed, productive energy through the day.
2. GET LOTS OF REGULAR EXERCISE
Spend 20 minutes (or more!) each day working out. Get that heart-rate up, stretch, build muscle, feel the burn. Don’t do a half-assed job, either. Do a serious workout. You’ll reduce your stress levels and you’ll sleep better at night.
3. GET ENOUGH SLEEP
I’m definitely guilty of this. When my schedule fills up, the first thing I do is try to figure out how I’ll stay up all night to finish something. I need to constantly remind myself to finish what I can and get a good sleep. This is what I’ve found: I’m more productive in an 8 to 10 hour day after a good 8 hour sleep than I am in a 14 to 16 hour day after a 4 hour sleep.
This is also a struggle of mine when the heat gets turned up. It’s easy to look at your schedule and try to move the needle on everything. But there’s a productivity cost to switching. Focus on just a couple of things. Work hard; get them done, and move on.
5. BREAK UP YOUR PROJECTS
A million little projects can seem overwhelming and can lead to burnout but I think they don’t lead to burnout as much because there is a sense of achievement with each one. But with larger projects, it feels like a big bottleneck and no matter how much you work on the project hour after hour, it’s not advancing. So break up your project into smaller, measurable pieces. When I write a book, for example, I divide the book into parts and then chapters and then sections and then sub-sections. Each subsection might be 500 words or so, and that is an easy, manageable chunk to work on and I can knock out a bunch of those in the day and feel like I’m getting somewhere.
6. MAKE A LIST
As you break down your projects into smaller pieces, write it all down on one big master list. Then cross it off as you do each part. I like to use a Sharpie marker because there’s something therapeutic about a big black scratch through a task once it’s completed. And here’s something else I’ve found: When you start to feel overwhelmed, create a separate list of just the things you need to do to catch up. Use THAT list as your to-do list until you’ve accomplished everything on it. This is helpful because it moves the non-essential stuff off of your radar for a short time.
7. REWARD YOURSELF
I like to set up a few reward systems for myself throughout the particularly stressful times. Nothing major — time on Facebook or maybe a chapter in the book I’m reading. I recently finished writing a particularly challenging project just by rewarding myself with a piece of my favorite candy after each section.
8. DON’T DO ANYTHING DRAMATIC
This is important! Don’t do anything dramatic during your busy period. I tend to make sweeping changes to my business while I’m in the middle of these busy times. I’m not sure why I do that. Only recently have I started to intentionally hold myself back from that.
9. TAKE TIME OFF WHEN IT’S ALL OVER
When I have a bunch of projects all at once, I tend to focus on them and ignore everything else in my life. I have wonderful family and friends who know how I work and they don’t mind that it happens occasionally. But after I’ve had a period of intense focus on a project, it’s good to take a few days off and relax, hang out with your friends, and knit your mind back together.
10. JUST GET IT DONE!!!
While keeping the above tips in mind, don’t forget the most important tip: Put your head down and push through. Get it done.