Saturday, October 08, 2022

Saturday Bonus Post: How to Recover from Burnout

I don't usually publish posts on Saturdays (I've been trying to maintain a Monday through Friday schedule), but I wanted this post to follow the rest of my series on burnout.  Burnout is a big issue, not just for writers but for others too.  I've had to claw my way out of major burnout twice, personally, and I've had to combat minor burnout as well.  Understanding what causes burnout and taking steps to avoid it are helpful, but if you're already burnt out, you need something more.

Getting past burnout can be a long road.  Don't forget that the same symptoms of burnout can also be caused by your physical or mental health, so make sure you get checked out, especially if you see signs of your "burnout" leaking into other aspects of your life.  But if it's definitely burnout, here are a few tips for getting past it.

1) Listen to Yourself

Sometimes you have to push past a reluctance to do things, but other times it's good to listen to yourself when your mind and body say, "I don't want to."  If you're burned out because you were hustling too hard, for example, then you've surely earned a break now.  Sometimes taking a break - within reason - will help you muster motivation to work when the break is over.

2) Find Something You're Passionate About

I think this one is pretty key.  I've found the biggest motivator, the biggest way to get past a burnout, is to find something you're really engaged in - engaged enough to overcome the feelings of burnout.  This may not be client work at all, but a project for yourself that you feel strongly about, and that's okay.  When you're enjoying the work you do for yourself, you'll retrain your brain to focus and work hard again.  Plus, by getting excited about your work, you'll uncover hibernating motivational reserves that you can put to use in other areas, too.

3) Allow Yourself to Take Breaks

If you've been burnt out for a while, you're probably going to have to retrain your brain to work again - but retrain it the right way, with a healthy amount of brain breaks.  For instance, try adopting the Pomodoro technique: Instead of trying to work hard all day long and failing, work in short, focused bursts with breaks in between.  Typically the idea is to work for 25 minutes with a 5 minute break, but for work that requires longer focus sessions, you could work for 45 minutes with a 15 minute break.  Breaking up your work day into more bite-sized chunks will help you get through it, especially if you've burnt out from hustling too hard and ignoring your need for breaks.

4) Value Yourself for More than Your Productivity

This one is a hard one, because our society teaches us that our value lies in how productive we are, not just with work but with personal things too.  Think about how often people ask how your day, week, or weekend was, and your answer is all about how much you did or didn't get done.  Placing all your value on productivity helps to lead to burnout and keeps you from escaping once you're there.

Instead, try to shift your focus from how much you get done, to the quality of what you get done.  This is also part of why finding something you're passionate about works so well for helping you get past a burnout.  Feeling good about what you do is worth so much more than feeling like you did a lot.

5) Consider a Change

If you're really struggling, it might be that you'll need to make a major change in order to revitalize your focus and motivation.  It doesn't have to be a forever change; it may just be until you feel motivated to write again (or whatever you normally do).  For me, twice now, burnout has led to a partial career change: in 2011, when I started nannying part time, and in 2020, when I stopped nannying and returned my focus to writing full-time.  It's disheartening to try to force yourself to do something day after day, especially if you're unable to accomplish much, and just end up feeling unproductive every day - so find something you can do, and want to do.

Getting over burnout is tough, and depending how bad it is, it may take time or a complete change of pace (or career) to get past it.  But it's doable, especially if you catch it early.  Don't ever feel like your only option is just to keep pushing onward even when you don't feel like it - doing so can actually make your burnout worse!

This is the last post in a series - you can find links to all my posts about writer burnout here.

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