Hannah and I work a lot. Our schedule is filled with photo shoots, client meetings, mentor sessions, and more. Few days pass without us having something. We closed out 2016 busier than ever before, not taking a day off for nearly two months. The blistering pace we run often has our calendar busting at the seams, leaving just enough room for friends, family and community group have to be fit in where room is left on the slate.
Working too much is a trap you can quickly fall into when you’re self-employed. Since you don’t have a boss screaming down your neck and passing out deadlines like pezz, you fulfill that role by rarely give yourself enough slack—you know how every ounce of your time is spent after all. When you love what you do, this is especially true. When work is something you enjoy, it doesn’t feel like work. You lose yourself in it, forget the time, and look up only to realize it’s 9:30pm and you haven’t had anything to eat since lunch. Do this too often however, and it can lead to burnout.
Burnout appears to be an American problem. As American’s we glorify work. The 20 something launching a startup who works 90 hours a week, is a hero. The same goes for the normal bloke with a job, and mouths to feed. Ask anyone how they are, and you’ll no doubt receive a list of all that they are doing—completely ignoring that you asked how not what. Busy, busy, busy. It’s a badge of honor. I haven’t traveled abroad nearly enough but, I don’t read of workers in Spain, Italy or Nicaragua struggling with burnout. There is something unique to the American experience going on here.
Our obsession with work has led to amazing achievements and ushered in wave after wave of breakthrough and progress, but it also has an ugly side. Parents regularly work so much their children never see them. Many do so until they end up sick or worse. Robin Williams’ character in Hook is the perfect example. He worked and worked and worked, missing Jack’s baseball games and leaving a dad shaped hole in the lives of his wife and two children. His situation was so off the rails he had to become Peter Pan in order to figure things out and put his life back in order.
Sacrificing family at the altar of success isn’t worth it. Neither is working so feverishly that you end up wearing a paper gown that splits down the back. Your family and your health are important to you. I don’t see you arguing with me on that point. But what about your mental health. Isn’t that just as valuable?
You wouldn’t drink poison—at least I hope not—but many of you will run and run and run until you hit a wall. You’ll run until you ‘just can’t take it anymore.’ You’ll lose control, swerve and hit the guardrail going 110. Bits of glass, and plastic will go flying through the air and come to rest among the gravel and blood on the roadside. At least that’s how I picture it in my mind. All momentum, and forward progress will stop as you throw up your hands and want to quit. That’s what we call burnout.
Burnout isn’t a pretty sight to behold, but unless you do something to fend it off, you’ll most likely experience it in the not too distant future.
Hannah and I have reached that point far too many times. We used to reach the point of burnout at least once a year early on, in fact. It was debilitating. We wouldn’t want to think about work, much less actually go in the office. We were letting work take over our lives. It was what we talked about on date nights, and what we thought about around the clock, no wonder it was crushing at times.
Since then we’ve decided to do something about it by coming up with a strategy to keep burnout at bay. Like any good game plan it’s two fold—offense and defense. We’ve implemented both solid defensive measures to slow burnouts roll, as well as positive forward moving steps to beat it to the punch.
1.) Schedule your day, setting time limits for each task on your to-do list. You can write this out on paper, log it on your calendar or use a task manager, but the important thing is that you sit down and think through your day ahead of time. If you don’t plan your day, someone will plan it for you. When you’re making your plan, schedule what you’re best at, for when you’re at your best. Then set a window of time for each project. Maybe two hours here, 30 minutes there, so that you move throughout your day in control of it not the other way around.
2.) Do more than one thing. Bounce from one project to another throughout the day. If what you’re currently working on gets boring or starts to grate on you, drop it for a while and do something else. When you get tired of that, switch back to your first project. You’ll still be getting stuff done, but without feeling like you’re beating your head against the wall.
3.) Take a day off, maybe two. Your mind and your imagination have to recharge. They can’t keep going forever without a reset. Schedule time off into your regular routine. Go for a walk, spend time with your family, and enjoy a bit of time away from your work.
4.) Begin each day in God’s Word. People still call this a quiet time every now and then, but it can be as noisy as you’d like. Plug in your headphones, crank up some Shane & Shane and start your day reading the Bible. No discipline is more important than reading God’s Word. It is the most transforming practice available to us. We face trouble, temptation and pressure every day. God’s Word provides just the encouragement, guidance and instruction we need to face the day.
5.) Have other irons in the fire. Have creative outlets and hobbies that recharge you. Whether it’s painting, reading a book, or writing a story, find another creative endeavor that fills your warms your soul and breathes life into your lungs. You’ll find, the side projects often lead to new and exciting opportunities for your “real work.”
“All advice,” Austin Kleon said, “is autobiographical.” It peels back the layers and gives you the path previously walked by its giver. Hopefully this foray into our world and how we fight burnout will help and inspire you to turn and face the challenge head on, before it forces you off the road.