Surviving Burnout: How to Stay Productive and Sane

surviving burnout

Guest Article by Benjamin Brandall

Highly motivated employees typically work at a higher level, and are willing to work harder at their craft, but at some point the ship has to drop anchor. Whether you (or your team) has just completed a massive outreach project, published its first eBook or has finally dealt with a particularly horrible problem your software’s back end, intense sprints of work can really take their toll.

You aren’t a machine; it’s pretty much impossible for you to keep up a high level of work for an extended period of time. Whilst we like to think we’re invincible, it’s far from the case and burnout can be almost inevitable. The worst part is that the overbearing thought of the burnout period (both for your productivity and general mental health) can accelerate the downward spiral.

So what can you do to mitigate the risk (or at least the effect) of these burnout periods?

Well, whilst trying to not sound like some sort of motivational broken record, the solution is easier than you may think. You don’t necessarily need to take a massive holiday (and thereby fall behind on work, starting the cycle of stress all over again) to recover. Instead, take heed of the following four points that both myself and the rest of the Process Street team have learned from experience.

Take a Break

This should be a mantra for almost any activity when you start to feel your mind collapsing; you don’t need to wait until you’re on the verge of burnout to take a break. In fact, the more often you take breaks, the longer you’re likely to go between burnout periods, if not enabling you to avoid them altogether.

Although the best system varies depending on the person, we employ the Pomodoro Technique to ensure that our minds are never forced to focus on the same thing for too long and suffer the resulting burnout. Essentially, try working in blocks of time. For the first three blocks, work for 25 minutes and then take a five-minute break, then for the fourth extend your break to 15 minutes. This should give you enough of a break to relax your weary mind, but have short enough lapses that you stay focused.

Another piece of advice on this topic is to avoid doing anything related to your work cycle during your break. If you’re sat at a computer all day like me, get up and take a walk, fix yourself a coffee or sandwich, do anything which doesn’t have you staring at a screen. Trust me, your eyes (and head) will thank you.

Swap Projects

Swapping projects almost functions as a second break for your mind; if you find that you’ve hit a wall, or that you’re getting distracted by the latest hilarious albums on Imgur, try switching projects. Sweep away the cobwebs in your head with a breath of fresh air.

If you were carrying out an onboarding process all morning, why not switch to researching your next post, or A/B testing your latest marketing idea? Instead of getting bogged down in thousands upon thousands of keyword research results, why not take a look at your company culture and see what can be improved?

Variety is the spice of life, and if you try to force-feed your brain the same information over and over again, or even for an extended period of time, you’re going to get a bad harvest when it comes down to results. Creativity is not something which can be brute forced, so why not let your projects simmer and condense into a truly awesome result whilst you work on the next dish?

Keep Your Resources Topped Up

Speaking of creativity, the best ideas very rarely (if ever) come from nothing. If you use bad ingredients the meal will taste substandard, and if you try to wring your brain dry for ideas until nothing is left then you’ll find very little success.

Make some time in your day (or in your free time) to restock on the mental resources which you utilize on a daily basis. Listen to podcasts, read articles or books, watch a lecture or TED talk on the topic; do anything to fill your head with the resources needed to come up with some killer ideas.

True, this is something which applies more to a position which requires a high level of creative input, but the theory can be used for any walk of life, work-based or otherwise. For example, if you’re working as a content creator, read up on what the competition’s doing so that you have a leg-up on them. It really does pay to be in the know.

Have Some “Me” Time

Earlier I stated that we aren’t machines and therefore cannot work as such, which I will stand by until the day I die, but there is one way in which we are alike; we all need to recharge. I’m not talking about taking a break every now and again to keep you going whilst you work, but instead that you need to make time in your life to do the things which make you… Well, you.

Again, I’m trying to refrain from some sort of motivational rallying speech, but if you don’t spend time doing the things you love with the people you love, you’re going to find your motivational limit rapidly declining. Think about it; how many times have you heard someone with a stressful job talk about not having time to themselves, or not being able to spend enough time with their family? Well, now you need to focus on making that time.

Spend an hour with your family over breakfast before work, go jogging for a half hour during your lunch break, link up with your friends for a quick game after work or go out for drinks with your chosen crowd. Whatever you do, make sure that you spend time in the day recharging the personal aspects of your life.

At the risk of sounding cheesy, there’s a fine line between efforts to be more productive and burning out, but that balance doesn’t have to be a hard thing to achieve. Take breaks, switch things up, keep your idea bank stocked and do what you love. You won’t regret it.

BenjaminBenjamin Brandall is a writer at Process Street, covering tech, startups, productivity and processes. He also appears on TechCrunch, The Next Web and his personal blog.