How to Avoid Burnout and Get More Done in 6 Easy Steps
My daily routine as a freelancer/entrepreneur was all over the place. I was at the mercy of calls, texts, email and the "fancy a brew" text message. For four years, I was spinning my wheels and getting nowhere. My home life merged into my work life because I was working from home and the temptation to "just check my email" was there. Plus the dopamine stirring smart phone beep was too lovely to ignore.
Four years is a long time to be living on the edge.
At the beginning of 2015, I crashed. And I crashed hard. I had my worst illness for years and my longest out of action period every. My symptoms? I was knackered! Exhaustion had finally fucked me up. I thought I was doing all the right things. Eating well, sleeping ok, taking breaks but it wasn't enough. I broke. Couple that with another bout of sickness later on in the year and you have a very broken human.
I went to my partner in crime and cried. He told me that he was going to intervene and he did. He bullied me (with hugs and stern texts) into changing my routine. We sat for two hours together (me with red eyes from crying and a snotty nose) and planned a new routine.
1. SLEEP MORE & HAVE A ROUTINE
I'm talking about quality sleep and not a couple of hours and waking up at 3am.
The basics of life are that you can go days without food but try to go a couple of days without sleep. Disastrous! We're sleeping less and with less quality than ever before yet we're expected to do more in the hours we're awake. I was chopping into my sleep at both ends of the day and still expecting my days to be as productive. Four years of sleep deprivation and you can imagine the quality (and quantity) of work I was producing!
Decide and commit to turning everything off at 9-10pm every night. That way, you can wind down, have a bedtime drink (hot milk and honey is my weapon of choice) and prepare yourself for sleep.
2. STOP WORKING SO HARD!
I was mortified when my partner said I was to go home at 3pm.
"What? Are you FUCKING kidding me?"
"That's the rule, trust me on this."
So I set an alarm on my phone and sent to work as normal. 3pm arrives, Bing goes my phone and a text pops up.
"Go home darling, you've done enough for today."
Many swears were uttered but my laptop was turned off and I walked home.
This might sound a little crazy but going home early changed everything for me.
Remember when the bell rang at 3:30 when you were at school? The sun was still out when you walked home, dinner was a lounging affair and you were ready to watch Neighbours by 5:30. Why aren't we experiencing that as grown ups? It is because we're pushing ourselves beyond what our bodies are capable of. Don't get me wrong, we can pull 24 hackathons and go clubbing for full weekends but doing the equivalent for 5 days a week is ridiculous!
Stopping work at 3pm caused me to think more about what I wanted to produce in my day, especially my afternoon session. Good old Parkinson's Law was at work. A 90-120 minute stint after lunch and I powered through everything before my alarm when off and I headed home.
Set a timer for a time you think would work best for you and stick to it. Explain to your co-workers that you’re leaving at 5pm every day and to kick you out at that time.
3. HAVE PROPER BREAK TIMES AND SHIFT FOCUS
A change is as good as a rest but do both and you're super charging your day.
- Carolynne Alexander
Get up, stay away from your desk, step outside and breathe.
That's it. Do it at lunchtime. Do it at break time. Do it at the end of the day.
Don't replace one screen (your computer) for another (your phone). That's cheating - I get shouted at when I do this. Get in front of a real life human even if it's going to buy a bottle of water or a smoothy. Get off your ass and walk about.
There's a period in the day where nearly everyone gets up and sticks their head out of the window in the studio. No real reason, it's just to get up and change scenery. It's funny to watch but we all do it.
Decided to go for a walk outside once a day, lunchtime is best.
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4. DISCONNECT AND MONO-TASK... PROPERLY!
Just because you can doesn't mean that you should.
Ah multi tasking... I can do everything at once and still drink a cup of coffee. That magical time when you get into the zone and you have twenty tabs open in Chrome, Messenger is binging at you, your inbox is open and you're having a conversation in the office. I've seen Millenials do this without breaking a sweat. In fact, I watching this and it made me sweat more. How the hell do they do it?! I mean, seriously?! I don't know the facts in this but I'm guessing if you're born into the world with a phone in your hand then you're gonna be good at this. I'd like to see some research into whether this is the new norm or whether it actually breaks you.
What I know for certain is that it breaks me and the work I produce is crap. I could do it but I know I produce my best work when I'm listening to some great music and focusing one one task. I get it done quicker and to a better standard. I tend to slow down and get more into it too. I tend to ground myself more and really put my heart and soul into the task. I feel that my Clients and my audience and getting the best of me and it shows. Rushing and being distracted means that I'm not fully connected to the task and you don't get the true me. After all, if you're a Freelancer or a Creative, you're getting paid for your version of what it is that you do.
Standing behind your art not optional, it is a necessary.
Turn off the internet on your computer or disconnect your router at the wall. Sounds harsh and extreme but believe me, it absolutely works.
5. WORK ON SOMETHING THAT FEELS GOOD
Watch for signs of fatigue or disinterest
You actions don't lie. Checking Facebook or Twitter is a sure sign that I'm not 'into' what I'm doing. Once I was conscious of doing this I took it as being a bonus because I realised that
- I wasn't in the right place mentally to do this task right now - Am I tired, hungry...?
- This task wasn't working for me... where does it fit in the big picture of my life?
Take a Goddamn break from what you are doing. Ask yourself “how is this contributing to my biggest goals?”
I find myself doing this quite a bit when I disappear down the internet rabbit hole. I’m just gonna doing thiiiiiis… and I wake up after two hours and realise my primary last was do so something completely different. If it’s a hard task then schedule it for when you have the most energy. I tend to do creative tasks on a morning like designing and writing and I leave my meeting and none-creative tasks until the afternoon.
Note your triggers and watch out for them. Disconnect your wifi or install StayFocused on your computer to restrict time on sites you know you waste time on.
6. BONUS UPDATE
I wrote this blog post a few weeks ago and since then I’ve been using the Pomodoro Technique of 25 minutes work and 5 minutes away from my desk. Working in sprints seems to be working for me… or at least it is feeling like that.
The Pomodoro Technique is simply that you work for 25 minutes on one task then take a 5 minute break. After 3-4 sessions (Or Pomodoros) then you have a longer break.
I tend to do three or four then I break for 30 minutes for food, a cuppa or a walk into town. I’m aiming for 9-12 a day which gives me between 3 and 5 hours of solid work. It may not sound like much but believe me, I could waste hours and produce very little so 3-5 hours of good solid work is progress.
Download a Pomodoro App to your computer or phone. I use Pomodoro Time Pro and use it on all your devices.
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So, over to you...
What works for you? What small differences have you made that have made your work day better? I’d love to hear about them and update this post with the best ones.