Everyone knows that if you work too hard and too long, you'll get burned out. And everyone also knows that the solution is to take it easy for a while.
That knowledge, however, isn't useful when you simply must perform your best, like when you're nearing the end of a big project.
Your only recourse, in that situation, is to treat the symptoms of burnout before they get so serious that they put you out of commission. Here are the symptoms and how to "treat" them quickly:
1. If little things are making you angry...
Use the "rule of three" to short-circuit your anger. The rule of three says that if three or more things are irritating you, the problem is your mood rather than those things. Knowing this helps you let the flash of anger pass.
For example, if you're frustrated that a project is late (that's No. 1), irritated by a co-worker's voice (that's No. 2), and ready to give the finger to other drivers during your commute (that's No. 3), the problem is you, not any of those triggers. So let it go.
2. If you're neglecting friends and family...
Don't try to schedule events that you'll end up canceling anyway or that, if you do attend them, you'll be too preoccupied to enjoy. Instead, ask your friends and family to connect with you in ways that won't add to your time crunch.
For example, when I've got multiple, stacked deadlines, I often have my kids (ages 8 and 9) do their homework and projects in my office while I'm writing. I enjoy their company and can still get things done.
3. If you're overeating or eating poorly...
Nip the problem in the bud by allowing only healthful foods into your home and (if possible) your workplace. It's hard to bulk up on energy-sapping food when you don't have a cupboard and fridge full of junk.
The trick here is to focus on what you're buying rather than on what you're eating. Stock up on produce, because fruit and vegetables are inherently healthful. Set a hard limit on the number of prepared or frozen food items that you can purchase each trip.
4. If work is keeping you awake...
Place a connectivity moratorium that lasts from half an hour before you usually go to bed until half an hour after you usually get up. Unplug your phone and put all your devices on airplane mode (no communications).
I must admit that this is advice that I keep giving but that I personally find difficult to follow myself. However, when I have followed this rule, I've never regretted it.
5. If all you think about is work...
Cultivate or reactivate a hobby that forces you to think with your hands. You'll probably still think about work while you're playing basketball, doing needlework, or whatever, but the physical activity will make those thoughts less intense.
Lately, for instance, I've been monkeying around with stone blocks from the Victorian era that allow me to build architectural models of churches and factories. Totally different from writing in every way.
6. If you're making avoidable errors...
Ask somebody you trust to spot-check your work and review anything (emails, documents, etc.) that will be going outside of your work circle. You'll be more relaxed knowing that you've got a backup who will catch the easy stuff.
Whenever I'm feeling burned out, I always run important stuff, such as unusual posts or client emails, by my wife. She's not a businessperson, but she can tell when I'm not doing my best work.
7. If your goals aren't motivating you...
Focus on the "why" of your goals rather than the "what." The "what" are the goals themselves, getting your business funded or buying a new car. The "why" is how you'll feel when you've achieved and while you're achieving those goals.
For example, one of my "what" goals is making my new book into a bestseller. The "why" of that goal is completely different, though.
What motivates me--my "why"--is the incredibly positive feeling I have when I know I've helped somebody else overcome a problem or achieve a life goal. That's what gets me juiced and keeps me from feeling burned out.
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