all-out without burnout
September 5, 2018 10:14 AM   Subscribe

When you're in a very busy, high-effort stretch working towards a goal (that you expect will last, say, 6 months), how do you take care of yourself in order to prevent burnout and keep doing your best work?

(I don't like how much this question reads like 7 Easy Tricks to Maximize Your Productivity, woof!)

I suppose the heart of it is: I'm working towards a very personally meaningful goal that is soaking up almost all of my spare time. I'm at ~ month 2.5 and it's going well, except I'm noticing the early warning signs of burnout in myself - mental fog when I get home, not absorbing some material as quickly as I'd like. I'm still very excited, and it helps to remind myself of my values/why this is important intrinsically.

Some other stuff I've been fiddling with:

- Accepting that my evenings are going to only be marginally productive, and instead waking up earlier. I tried that today and had a solid hour of good productivity in the morning which was rad! But I've always failed in the past attempting to sustain being a morning person, so I'm suspicious of this route...

- Reaching out to friends even more than usual. This is going well. Big caveat is that I'm new in town and so I only have a couple of IRL meatspace friends, which works for me generally.

- Trying to remember to spend time near beloved natural spaces. Been a little harder lately..

- Also, trying to remember to schedule time to do straightforwardly unproductive and fun things. I've had success lately playing Into the Breach (what a game!) and just like, playing fetch with my cat. Have I mentioned I'm new here and don't have much going on? :p

Any suggestions you have would be great. I'm also curious how I might work in visualization/future-self imagining, which I've been drawn to lately but struggle with (I have a very limited capacity to visualize mentally, and so I tend to do better with other senses, or emotions/vibes of places and situations, if that makes sense.)
posted by elephantsvanish to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
For the visualization piece, have you tried doing a vision board? I like using magazines from my local library for images.

For the burnout piece, I swear by early morning workouts. If time doesn't permit, journaling right before bed clears my head for a more restful nights' sleep.

Getting out in nature can be as easy as just getting outside, period. Can you have your morning coffee or tea outside for a couple of minutes? Connecting with the outdoors does wonders for how I start my day, and I live in an urban area.
posted by onecircleaday at 10:43 AM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's hot right now, how about ice cream? Productivity achieved = ice cream in the belly?
posted by bdc34 at 11:22 AM on September 5, 2018

Take at least one entire day off from working on the project every week and see if it makes you more productive. Think of it at letting stuff stew subconsciously in your brain a bit, if that helps.

Getting enough exercise is key, especially if you're feeling frustration or your goal-work isn't very active.

Can you change your timeline or the scope of your project? It's really hard to predict how long things take, it's fine to course-correct if you're feeling overwhelmed.

Are you familiar with the do / be / feel concept, i.e., you do certain things to be a certain kind of person and feel a certain way? That might be a more experiential sort of future-imagining for you.

I bribe myself with snacks that I only eat when I sit down at my desk to do a particularly awful task (and eat before/during the task rather than after), but that's sort of different from the question.
posted by momus_window at 12:19 PM on September 5, 2018 [9 favorites]

What @momus_window said. I find it's helpful to think in terms of sports metaphors. It's either a sprint or a marathon. It's either really fast and over quick, or long but at much slower pace. Sounds like you're doing the latter; so slow down. Take a day off. Is your deadline set in stone? If it's only meaningful to you, consider slipping a bit in order to maintain a reasonable pace. Better to be a tad late rather then fail completely, right?
posted by aeighty at 1:07 PM on September 5, 2018

Two words: deliberate speed.

It is tempting to rush headlong into a task like this (give 110% in manager speak) but that’s a quick road to burnout. You’re taking time away from the work which is good, but when you are on the clock there should be a deliberate beat you are working to. Enthusiastic, but measured. It will keep you from over-revving your motor.

It can also help to take a day and break down your project into one week chunks. Then you’ll have a yardstick for your progress and not get caught up in that mid-project despair of never finishing.

There’s lots of material on project management out there, but these are the two big things I’ve done and encouraged my employees to do to prevent burnout.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:21 PM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

I personally go to bed absurdly early and wake up absurdly early. Right now, “absurdly early” is like 8:30 pm for bedtime.

Also, ending my morning shower with a burst of cold water helps me be full-on awake. (On top of Vyvanse and one cup of caffeinated tea, but only in the mornings. Over-caffeination backfires.)
posted by functionequalsform at 3:01 PM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hi, you are me.

Prioritize sleep. Minimum six hours weeknights, with catch-up on weekends. Be realistic about how much you will be able to get done outside of work on workdays (probably nothing but eat, brush teeth, go to bed most days). Do what you have to do to stay fed, even if it means buying a lot of takeout. Stay excited about what you're accomplishing.

There are no magic tricks.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:19 PM on September 5, 2018

These are totally lovely and spot-on, thank you!! And more are certainly welcome.

I wanted to jump in and say I felt inspired by momus_window's do/be/feel framework (never heard that, it very much resonates) and onecircleaday's idea for a vision board (!) I was thinking about how I might do that digitally -- and how I'd like to have something more interactive than a simple folder of images, but not public like Pinterest.

I found pinry, an open source pinterest clone and stripped out some unnecessary clutter/tweaked the formatting to feel more like polaroids-thumbtacked-on-a-wall. I emphasized "be" and "feel" here (as the doing is very much the present-tense work). Already, I love it. (Might be fun to build out further as a dedicated app for this purpose..)
posted by elephantsvanish at 4:13 PM on September 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

I live by this article: Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time.

You don't say whether alcohol plays a role in your life, but avoid or limit it. It's an energy drain.
posted by Miko at 9:44 AM on September 6, 2018

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