Avoiding and preventing burn-out

One thing I learned about myself a long time ago is that I am prone to overcommitting. I get intensely productive: deeply involved in work, in personal projects, in writing, various side businesses, and have bursts of intense energy where I’m doing lots and lots of stuff. I have a hard time saying no, and so people ask me to add more things to my plate, and I end up even more committed to more things.  I tend to get hyper-focused and hyper productive, doing lots and lots of stuff.

Then it comes. The dreaded burn out.

All of the sudden I can’t do anything.  I drag into work, I’m tired, I can’t think clearly.  I get cranky and defensive, and the thought of putting in 5 minutes of work into any personal projects is like pulling my fingernails out one by one. My productivity falls to zero.

It’s a cycle I established as long ago as high school, and I’ve hit it over the years a number of times.

Since my most recent career change, I’ve had to struggle to learn to recognize when burnout is possibly coming and learn to avoid it. My typical work-week is 60 hours, and sometimes those work weeks are very intense, with lots of different things going on.  Especially around the holidays, those hours can be even longer.

Back around late March of this year, I started to feel it coming on.  I was getting restless, cranky, and the real sign that it was coming was that two weeks in a row, I forgot to order something very important on my weekly supply truck that keeps my restaurant going.

At that point I had to stop.  I knew it was coming—if I kept up the same pace, I was going to burn out within a week or two, and spend the next two months capable of doing only the bare minimum.  So for two weeks I cut out all unnecessary tasks.  I went to work, did my job, came home. Read some books (lots of books).  Watched movies at night. I didn’t write, didn’t do any side projects.  I did daily meditation, and wrote in my diary.

And it passed, my energy came back, and I was good to go. It just took about two weeks of intense conserving of energy.

This is a major milestone… it may be the first time in my life I’ve managed to recognize the impending stages of burnout, get ahead of them, and prevent it from coming. I’ve managed to maintain my productivity, even improve it a little.

Are you prone to burnout? If so, what strategies do you use to stay ahead of it?


  1. Jackie Trippier Holt

    Making sure I get enough sleep; yoga; spending time in nature; and keeping a notebook in which I scribble ideas that I know will have to wait. Losing ideas worries me and that’s added pressure, so noting them is really important.
    I thrive on pressure and deadlines and I’m guessing your ‘over-commitment’ might be similar! But there’s nothing worse than being bored, right? 🙂

    • Charles

      Thanks, and yes to all of the above. I’ve not tried yoga, but I do occasional meditation, especially when I’m super stressed.

    • Charles Sheehan-Miles

      Thanks, and yes to all of the above. I’ve not tried yoga, but I do occasional meditation, especially when I’m super stressed (often).

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