A Guide to Avoiding Burnout for Busy People
Start by building a routine around rest and recovery
There is a lot written on the topic of burn out. We have all experienced it, and we all know how it feels. It is an affliction of a society that seems to associate working to exhaustion with progress. Many of us seem to wear our burnout as a badge of honor; we have all heard a story about a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who revolutionized the world by working 22 hours per day, 7 days a week.
But times are changing. Many of those same entrepreneurs who spent considerable time in a burned out state are now shifting their focus, and have become advocates for rest and recovery. They experienced burn out to the maximum degree, and have opened up about the struggles they faced when they were at the height of their burnout, including mental and physical health ailments and broken relationships.
Arianna Huffington may be the best example of one of those entrepreneurs. She is well known as being the founder of the Huffington Post, but since collapsing from exhaustion in 2007, she has moved on to build a new company called Thrive Global. Arianna noticed “we’re facing a stress and burnout epidemic”, and wanted to “create something real and tangible that would help individuals, companies and communities to improve their well-being and performance and unlock their greatest potential”. Thrive is doing some incredible work towards bringing awareness to this issue, and providing tangible steps for people and companies alike to combat the issues of burnout.
As Arianna Huffington correctly noticed, for most of us, the option to do less in a day, or to take more time off to avoid burnout seems impossible. Life is busy, and between eating, sleeping, working, and commitments, there often doesn’t seem to be much time left for rest, recovery, and self-time. It is great to be aware of burnout, but the world certainly doesn’t seem to make it easy to avoid it.
But what if you didn’t have to change your life drastically to avoid burnout? What if you could accomplish the same amount (or more) everyday, while still taking that much needed break? I would argue that you can.
The following is a method I use to avoid burnout, and it involves building recovery and self time into your daily routines, taking a small amount of scheduled time off each week, and taking a slightly longer duration of time off each month. It breaks rest and recovery into manageable chunks that even the busiest person on the planet can stick with.
A guide to beating burnout for busy people:
Having a daily routine that involves self reflection, rest, recovery, and time away from a computer, phone, or any external stimulus is the most important factor in maintaining sanity in the busiest times. There are two times per day that this is especially important; morning and night.
Morning Routines (20 – 60 minutes, each day):
A morning routine can be anything you want it to be; my only strong suggestion is to avoid your phone, email, or any external stimulus until after you have completed your routine.
My current morning routine takes about 45 minutes:
6:00 – 6:15: Meditate
6:15: Take STUNN AM
6:15 – 6:30: Quick cold shower, brush my teeth, and get a drink of warm water
6:30 – 6:45: Journal
When my schedule allows it, I also like to go for a 20 minute jog, bust out some pushups, or do some active, stretching. I avoid looking at my phone or emails until after all of this is done.
Nighttime Routine (20 – 60 minutes, each day):
Like the morning routine, the only must have component is the absence of phone, email, television, or external stimulus prior to bed.
My current nighttime routine takes about 60 minutes:
9PM: Shut my computer down, turn off the tv, and dim/turn off the lights. Take STUNN PM
9:00 – 9:15: Stretch
9:15 – 9:30: Hot Shower
9:30 – 9:45: Read or journal (preferably in a location outside my bedroom)
9:45 – 10:00: Meditate
10PM: Lights out, bed time.
The goal here is to make your morning and nighttime routines a habit. You shouldn’t have to think too much about them, they should be sustainable from a time perspective, and you should do them everyday. The daily morning and evening routine are a silver bullet when it comes to beating burnout.
One more tip: If you really want to take your daily routines to the next level, try incorporating a third “rest” period into your day – whether it be a short meditation at lunch, a run or a workout after work, a sauna session before dinner, or even a conscious reflection period on your drive to work – taking mini breaks throughout the day can completely change your perspective.
Every week, it is beneficial to have some scheduled time to look forward to, away from your phone or other commitments. I call this the half day escape.
The half day escape (4-8 hours, once per week):
Finding one day every week where you can take some extended rest and recovery time is crucial. We need time to reflect on everything going on in our lives, and to find time to recover, rest, or work on something entirely different (and perhaps more enjoyable) than the daily grind.
The half day escape involves either taking an entire morning or an entire afternoon off of work each week. Preferably, this should be a time when you don’t have any undesirable commitments. This is also a time to leave your phone on silent (if possible), and don’t bother checking your email or social media.
By scheduling the time off each week, you will ensure you actually take it. It also reduces the guilt that may be associated with taking a break from everything you know still needs to be done.
My half day escape usually starts at 2PM on Saturday, and lasts until I go to bed. I like to take this time to go for walks, make fancy meals with friends and family, exercise, watch movies, and read and write. My itinerary varies week to week, but the one constant is that it is time away from my regular daily grind. It is something I look forward to, and is a reward to finishing a long week.
Every month, I try hard to find 1 – 4 days where I can take the entire day off of work and commitments, in addition to my half day escapes.
For the busy person, this can seem like a ridiculous proposition. I struggle myself with it – I feel like I should be productive, like I don’t have time to “waste” an entire day. I have learned to let go of these feelings, though, after realizing the benefit of taking myself out of the daily grind completely. I always come back after these days much more creative, positive, and motivated.
The full day retreat (1-4 days per month):
This involves taking a minimum of 1 day per month where from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed, you are on your own time. Like everything else I have talked about, the only real rule is to try to avoid your email, social media, or commitments that drain you. This is a day about finding meaning in life, recovering, and thinking big picture.
My monthly retreat usually falls on a Sunday. I love pairing it with my half day off on Saturday to really enhance the relaxation and recovery. I often only take one full Sunday off a month, with 3 other sundays being half days, but the benefits are incredible.
A word of warning: It is easy to fall into the “I’m too busy”, or “I don’t have time to relax” trap. Being someone who easily falls into this trap, it is important to know that you will likely experience a drastic increase in productivity by taking more time to rest.
The benefits of down time:
By taking conscious time to be less “productive” you will likely find the following benefits towards your productivity and life:
- Enhanced creativity
- Ability to see the big picture
- Better focus and energy
- Improved ability to make decisions
- Random bursts of inspiration
- Increased sense of direction in life and work
- Improved overall mood and positivity about life
- Better sleeps
- Improved relationships
- Improved health
I would argue that even the busiest person should be able to find time for a little rest, relaxation, and recovery, and this itinerary should serve as a good starting point. Also, keep in mind that this is a “minimum effective dose”. There is always room to add to it.
Feel free to let me some of the methods you use to beat burn out in the comments below.
Jordan DePass is the co-founder of STUNN Collective. He is also a huge fan of all things related to making him feel and perform better, and tends to get lost in daily “side” projects on esoteric topics. Natural nutrition, exercise, and exploring his mind are just a few past times.