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Avoiding Burnout

Over the last few months, I’ve observed or heard “burn out” feeling in several conversations with peers. Working from home has likely been a catalyst. Many of us are not used to having a system of work-life-integration. It’s not that we’re working harder, per se. In some cases, that may be true. It’s that we’re working all the time. 

Combined with constant information inflow through media sources: email, slack, social media, texting, list goes on. That constant feeling of being connected on top of work deliverables causes our minds to be overly-stimulated. 

As I reflect on some of those conversations, I remember the lessons we learned in physics.

Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be transferred. This is the law of conservation of energy; or the first law of Thermodynamics.

Energy exists in many forms. Heat, electrical, chemical, light, etc. Our energy, in short, is either potential or kinetic. When we sit and work from our computers all day, we are building up lots of potential energy within our body yet our minds are stimulated (activating a form of kinetic energy).

By 2pm, we all feel “Zoom fatigue.” You crave an extra cup of coffee. Even though we’re working from the comfort of our homes, we feel exhausted. 

Amidst 2020, I felt this occasionally. There are a few things I learned and started to implement to help combat that “burn out” feeling.

  1. Conserve energy and minimize cognitive loads
  2. Three choices: accept, change, leave
  3. Do not let email become your to do list

Conserve Energy 

When we wake up in the morning, we’re gushing with energy (assuming we had a good night’s rest). This is when you want to do your key tasks. It creates a positive momentum cycle. I don’t love morning meetings, so I try to push them to later in the day if I can. 

Avoid social media in the morning. It conserves more energy than we think it does. That dopamine rush drains energy. Become selfish with conserving your energy. If something can likely drain it, avoid it altogether.

All this helps minimize cognitive loads to enable peak performance at work.

Three Choices

Stoic philosophers talk about this idea of three choices. In any life situation, you have three choices: 1) accept it, 2) change it, 3) leave it.

Oddly enough, happiness is often contingent on this. When something happens, we can either accept it, change it or leave it. This is powerful to understand. Because nowhere does it suggest that you “fight it.” 

Whether at work or in personal life, you can quickly lean on these three choices and make a decision. Your mind will feel at ease. You’re managing the reality of the situation versus your expectations. And happiness is ultimately reality minus expectations. 

Email Isn’t a To-Do-List

Email is a communication tool, not a prioritization or to-do-list tool. On average, we spend 30%+ of our work time on email and check it 10+ times per hour. More than 75% of us keep it open in the background when aiming to do deep work. 

Email is reactive, not proactive. It’s other people seeking your time and space. Manage that carefully. Leverage it properly.

The best thing to do is create a to-do-list the night before. Have your key pillars mapped out at the beginning of the week and tactical items every day. 

There is no shortage of productivity hacks. This letter isn’t about productivity; it’s about getting ahead of that burn out feeling. 

Please share things you’re doing by emailing me. I’d love to learn from you.

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