I’m sick, and trying to be useful with my bedridden time (I could probably wrap this whole thing up with that sentence). I interpret getting sick as a sign that I’m doing something right, and it typically happens once a year when I go to New Zealand. I work a bit while I’m there, but for a good chunk, I stop. I leave my phone at home, not as a noble statement but because I stop caring. I fish with my dad, I drink wine with my mum. And I get sick. Because it’s the only time I truly slow down, something I’ve been trying to do for the past few weeks. And then I got a throat infection.
So I’m writing this while eating a bucket of soup, trailing through the haphazard lists of article ideas strewn across my desktop. On one such list reads: anti-burnout guide. The reason I like this topic is because I would like someone else to write about it. I would be the worst person to write about this, because you are supposed to write what you know. So I’ll leave the anti-burnout guide for some virtuous being who knows what they are talking about. But something I know a lot about (and am very good at) at is burning out.
So this is a guide on
how to burnout.
You might see yourself in some of these points or you might think I’m a lunatic. Either way, this is a list of what not to do.
1. Your solution for having too much to do is to do things faster, harder.
Women are smart, efficient, superhuman and insane. Often in that order. When I feel like I’m losing control, I white-knuckle the situation. I put more measures of control in place that grant me its sweet illusion. I create lists and schedules until my desktop becomes a chaotic road-map to a supposed calmer life. And then I announce to my three friends and husband that “I am going to really focus on getting back into my routine.”
Upon one such recent speech of what I was going to do (eat better, drink less, bed earlier), my husband said: “You say this all the time, but you never unravel. I don’t know what you’re cracking down on.” But I don’t need to go on a three day bender to feel like I’m losing my shit. For me, small things make a big difference (a great topic for the real anti-burnout guide: know the small things that will ruin you). My version of handling things badly and handling things well starts the same: good intentions typed furiously into regimented routines and left open on my computer screen. The difference in outcome is this: if I am already past breaking point when writing these rules, I’ll get up at 6AM and go to yoga once (like my list says) but then spend the rest of the week eating Mexican food and ice-cream.
Anti-burn: If you are burnt out, continuing to burn is not the answer. It’s a hard concept to grasp, I know.
2. When your version of a day off means doing everything on your to-do list that isn’t technically work but is still werk.
Similar to my first point, but this is more about being seduced by the ‘If-I-Just’ theory, as well as succumbing to the charms of productivity.
Instead of firing off a thousand emails, you do all of the other things that will “help you relax” except you never give yourself time to relax.
Like, clean your apartment / buy new shower curtain / go through old clothes / catch up on personal email. Just because your list knows it isn’t ‘work-work’ your body and mind can’t differentiate. They change lanes but don’t switch gears.
Anti-Burn: Please stop. Your life isn’t so important that the world will come to a grinding halt on its axis if you take a for-real day off.
3. Netflix > Sleep
When Netflix is winning the war I start slipping. It’s subtle and sneaky, only stealing an hour or so of sleep each night, until all of a sudden it’s 1PM on a Tuesday and I am delirious. Small thing: an extra hour is all it takes to make or break my life.
Anti-Burn: Frank Underwood isn’t boss. You are.
4. Looking at your iPhone maniacally whenever you have to get something done.
I have probably checked my phone at least four times in the past 20 minutes that I sat down to write this. I don’t even know what I looked at. I’m so tired of talking about social media even though I know we need to talk about it. I can fight for or against it with equal effort.
But I do know this: when I am on the fast track to burning out, social media is a beacon guiding me towards self-implosion.
When my engagement with real-life is willingly replaced with the soul-sucking satisfaction of the scroll, things are going downhill. May I refer you to this article by Leandra Medine about how she basically blacks out once she picks up her phone after not using it for the day. Social media is the new cigarette. It keeps our hands busy, it pseudo-stops us from looking / feeling like we’re alone, we hate to love it, and we’re all going to be fucked by the time we’re 50 years old. I have an urge to flush my iPhone down the toilet like a pack of cigarettes half the time. Don’t you?
Anti-Burn: I have no idea. Sometimes I have to put my phone in another room or turn it off to get anything done. There are apps for this, I know, but the irony is too much for me, and I’m also terrified at knowing how much time I do actually spend staring at a screen in my palm. Baby steps.
5. Saying yes until your iCal looks like a merry-go-round in motion.
I interviewed Kerry & Claudia from Cherry Bombe the other week and Kerry had a piece of paper stuck above her computer that read: Say No. And when I was dancing with Nicole Winhoffer recently she said, “Your energy is like a precious liquid—don’t spill it everywhere.” When you are inherently extroverted and engaging with the world is something you enjoy (when you’re not on your phone), it is easy to skip joyfully into the dark side of over-exertion, talking loudly and making plans as you head towards your doom. When the thought of interacting with another human makes me feel physically recoil and I refuse to leave my apartment, it is clear I am spilling my precious liquid. All over the show.
Anti-Burn: Stop trying to cram your entire life into the next two weeks. What race are you trying to win?
6. Pretend you aren’t (burning out, that is).
Denial will hold your hand until it punches you in the face.
I can talk myself into believing anything (I mean, getting sick means I’m doing something right? Riiiight.) But chances are, if you’re as good at burning out as I am there’s no stopping you once you get going. So write a list of your own warning signs, and leave it open on your desktop.