How to Stay Productive Without Burning Out

If you have a job, and really, it can be any job – blue collar, white collar, manager, owner, volunteer even – have you found that the day in and day out of it, the relentless sameness, the emotional or physical toll, is wearing you down? Burnout is a real thing, even for those who absolutely love what they do. It can wear on a person, change them, in a way that doesn’t bode well for their mental and physical health. Ensuing burnout is one of the main reasons why people call in sick or take a mental health day. It is a way to recharge one’s depleted batteries. Unfortunately, not everyone has the ability (or luxury) to take a day off from the daily grind. If that is the unenviable position you find yourself in, you might wonder what you can do to stay productive, healthy and sane. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to find the joy in life and the desire to continue, even when these feelings may seem like impossible goals.

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

Recognize that the reason you’re struggling is likely because you’re working towards a specific goal; you need a down payment on a house, get a new car, pay your kids’ tuition, or simply to pay bills. If you aren’t doing it for a greater good, then why bother? You’ll feel better knowing that your efforts are working towards some sort of greater good, and that if you keep grinding, you’ll eventually get there.

Get Help

Have you got a team you can rely on? Or family or kids that can help? Can you outsource or delegate parts of your job or even trade them for tasks you would rather be doing? The important thing is to overcome that basic instinct to handle everything independently (you know, the martyr syndrome), and ask for help. There’s no sin or shame in needing a hand once in a while – or even more regularly. If you can get someone else to do the job that you can’t seem to get past (or the one that seriously tortures you), the rest of your tasks will flow that much smoother. Consider hiring a housekeeper so that you don’t have to fight the mess at the end of your long day. Get a student to pick up the kids so that you won’t feel that rush at the end of the day. No matter how you can unload a little bit, that small step will feel like a lot.

Plan Your Day

If you’re finding yourself mired in chaos, make yourself a plan to chip away, little by little, at the minutiae of your day. Put this plan in writing, either with pen and paper or in a to-do list on your computer; having something tangible that you can check off or cross out as you complete it is very important. Prioritize every task you have to do in a given day. Then make a plan to tackle each, one at a time, until completion. At the end of the day, even if you didn’t get through them all, you’ll still feel some sense of accomplishment.

Use Distractions to Your Benefit

Distractions can seriously disrupt your work flow. But, if instead of an annoyance you consider them a mini break from the day’s grind, you will better be able to refocus on the task at hand, and, to some measure, to appreciate the distractions.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

Are you a morning person? Or are you more productive later in the day, or even at night? Unless you are working a 9-to-5 job where you’re required to be at a desk for specific hours, you can use your own body’s circadian rhythm to your benefit. If you’re a morning person, then tackle the hardest jobs first thing, when your mind and body are “willing participants” in the process. This might be the best time to work solo, since fewer people claim to be morning people. If that is the case, save those tasks which will require collaboration for later in the day, before you start lagging and when your team is better prepared.

Take a Hike – Literally

If possible, take a walk, jog or hike around the block when you need to clear your head. Sometimes, you just need to get the adrenaline and the endorphins pumping so that the blood rushes back to your brain. Try to reach a point where you’re rejuvenated, not exhausted, from the efforts. If exercise isn’t your thing, a simple walk around the neighborhood might be just enough to jump start the rest of your day or week. Seeing things other than your office walls may also stir your creative juices and help clarify your thought process.

Take a Mental Health Minute

If you find yourself feeling scattered or are having trouble focusing, take a few minutes to wind down. Maybe that is by checking your emails, getting caught up on Facebook, or taking your turn on Words with Friends. Whatever mental health minute you need, keep it to a minimum, so that it’s freeing, not overly distracting.

Hunker Down

Too many distractions can be a major problem, especially if you find yourself unable to collect your thoughts or you notice that you’re making more mistakes then usual. If you need to hunker down and focus, do whatever you can to minimize interruptions. If you work in an office, or even if you work from home, close your door, put your phone on do not disturb message, and stay off social media(!). If all else fails, find a quieter spot to work (vacant office or spare bedroom, the local coffee shop, a library), then hunker down and get back to work. Sometimes, a simple change of venue is all you need to keep interruptions at bay.

Give in to the Ennui

When all else fails, and you’ve reached the point where you’re a walking, talking time bomb, surrender. Take a vacation day, or the much-needed mental health day, or call in sick if you’re able. Even a half day or a few hours to yourself will go a long way to improving your mental health. Do something fun; shop, see a movie, visit a museum or take a friend to lunch. Or simply, do nothing at all; the point is to take the time to recharge.

The goal of each of these suggestions is to slow the daily grind so that you’re not quite so stressed out that your productivity or effectiveness is compromised. Once you reach that stage, it’s much harder to come back from it, and baby steps might not work at all. Remember, you are no good to anyone if you don’t take time for you.

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