Clever title

Thinking about: Burnout

There is a long List Of Important Things To Be Done and not enough time. So, maybe I work through my lunch break, or cancel on plans so I can finish the thing. Now that I've worked through my lunch break, or cancelled plans, or otherwise robbed Peter to pay Paul, I feel a little crummy. The next day, it's a little harder to get things done, but I power through, and feel a little crummier. I'm operating at a loss, but if I just Power Through, then one day I'll be able to relax.

This, in my opinion, is one of the insidious things about burnout. Burnout makes it harder to do stuff, but powering through burnout to do stuff makes more burnout. It's like debt: a little bit is manageable, but if it isn't handled it will grow out of control. It's also a lagging indicator: by the time someone notices burnout, it's already happened.

I'm going to use a very general definition of burnout as the symptoms of a chronic work-life balance problem. Burnout shares many symptoms with depression, such as increased fatigue or decreased enjoyment. From a metaphorical perspective, I like to think of burnout as an energy debt. The more I power through work today, the more I will need to rest tomorrow. If I don't rest, and choose to force through another day, I'll need to rest even more, with interest.

I've been focusing more on my mental health these past few years (a silver lining from COVID). I've experienced some major episodes of burnout in the past, and it's overall not a good time. Because of that, I'm very interested in avoiding it in the future. I want to pick a few big things that I think can help with avoiding it:

  1. Monitor the size of the todo list. My burnouts have always been preceded by a long and overwhelming todo list. I am an optimist for the future, and I have a hard time saying "No." Being aware of how much I already committed to makes it easier for me to measure my expectations. Even if I still end up committing to something, I have a more realistic expectation.

  2. Evenly distribute the todo list. This pairs very well with #1. A uniform and predictable todo list is a nice todo list. I noticed this trend when I started to track my productivity. If I was significantly more productive on Monday, my productivity fell for Tuesday, and often Wednesday as well. This was what really convinced me on the idea of slow and steady wins the race. When I wasn't tracking things, I would think that I had a really great Monday and a crappy Tuesday. When I first saw the dip, I thought it was simply reversion to the mean. But once I got more data, I saw that it wasn't that either. There was an upper limit to how much I could get done in a day, before I started pulling from future productivity.

  3. Protect yourself. It took me a long time to get comfortable with self-care. Even now that I believe in it, it's still tough. It's very easy for me to say "I'm too tired today, I won't exercise" or "I'm too busy to hang out tonight." However, sacrificing quality of life for the sake of productivity doesn't actually make me more productive.

There are many more ideas rolling around in my head after just three things, so for now I'll conclude. I have a lot of thoughts on self-care and the ways I think productivity is deceptive, but those will be another post.

#mental health #burnout

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