Burn out, technically put, is a state wherein it feels as if all effort is wasted and there is no point moving forward. Less technically put, burn out is those times where you don’t have the motivation to do things that were previously a source of passion. People can start a project full of passion, but not enough progress, too many hours, or even outside factors can wear down someone’s mental reserves until they’ve got nothing left to give. Burn out leads to people taking a dim view of whatever their project is and has a high rate of comorbidity with depression due to the general state of psychological and emotional exhaustion. No one wants to encounter burn out, but it just happens if we’re not careful. It is a form of chronic stress that requires management to properly avoid or mitigate. Knowing what you’re getting into and how to avoid burn out can be the difference between a successful and a failed project.
We’re all guilty of throwing ourselves heedlessly at projects. This honestly isn’t the best approach if you’re intending to apply yourself long term. The single-minded focus it takes means that any setback necessary hits your harder and takes more out of your mental reserves. Make and set realistic goals for any project. Stick to them. Clear planning before you start will help you keep focused on the work and have a sense of progress as your pass milestones. This is important as the sense of progress is part of what keeps people motivated in anything. The realistic goals are important, though. You shouldn’t set ones that require you to achieve superhuman feats. You’ll only wear yourself down faster with unrealistic goals. Remember to factor in time for dealing with the unexpected during your planning so that setbacks here or there aren’t a big deal. It will help reduce your overall stress by making a missed milestone here or there not be as mentally trying.
This tip goes hand in hand with pacing yourself. Planning means including time for you to relax and take time away from a project. Yes, you might have true passion for a project, but you need to make time away from it. Making time to live is important for everyone. Neglecting your basic human needs, such as socializing and getting out and about, will eat into your mental well-being at a truly prodigious rate. Yes, you should take breaks even when working within the constraint of someone else’s deadlines. These breaks don’t need to be long. Assign yourself a set amount of time away from a project, a half hour or hour for lunch or a relaxing hobby, to help decompress. These breaks are all about managing your stress. Not taking them will add stress on top of stress until you burn out. So be responsible with your time, but look after yourself.
Change Things Up
Do something different. All planning and breaks in the world aren’t going to do you any good if the monotony of something is wearing on you. Try to find a novel way to approach your project every now and then. If you’re working on one section of it, then try to swap to working on another. It will give you a change of pace that keeps you enthusiastic with a project. Any multi-person project is particularly good for this kind of tactic. However, many of us work on projects on our own and, as a result, it can be more difficult than we’d like to swap to a different part of the project. Taking inventory of your projects. If none of them have a solid time limit or have a flexible one, then swap to working on another project rather than forcing yourself to work on the one that is wearing your down. It, like our other tip, will let you work on something different to help change up how you’re thinking mentally. Just a simple change can be enough to keep you going when things are difficult.
Avoiding burn out can be difficult. It may be “just stress”, but it is a stress built from many components that are hard to all treat at the same time. The best solution is to try to minimize the factors that cause burn out. Unrealistic goals, few breaks, and monotony all contribute to creating an atmosphere that will cultivate burn out. Working to change these factors will at the very least help keep you center and focused on a product for longer even if it doesn’t entirely prevent burn out.