Dealing with burnout

Everybody experiences burnout. If you work myopically on one project for long enough you are bound to see diminishing returns. This is a scientifically confirmed fact and is known as the Limited Willpower theory.

• Willpower is a limited resource

• Powering through an unpleasant task without taking breaks drains your ability to work consistently

• Setting time limits for tasks, doing something else, and returning to the task later reduces the drain on your willpower.

The idea is that if you spend all of your will power on a single task you will harm your ability to take on others afterward. This is why after a particularly tedious of frustrating project you may want to spend the rest of the day idly searching the web. This happens even if the next task is relatively easy, and it can completely destroy your day.

The solution is to break up tasks into manageable blocks so you get the most productive time out of them without draining your willpower. Starting a new project is always refreshing. Your mind engages very efficiently during the first thirty minutes of even an odious task. After that you begin to see diminishing returns, and your willpower begins to burn away. I find it helpful to think of my willpower as a kind of daily allowance that I need to spend wisely.

This may seem unintuitive to you. After all, you don’t read 12 novels at once in shifts, and you may not think it makes sense to scatter your attention on several different projects at once. However, personal experience has borne this out and I urge you to do give this a shot.

•Choose a manageable timeframe into which to divide your ongoing projects. For convenience, I do it by the hour.

• Plan your day in advance, leaving adequate time for meals and other activities

• Try to “glide” from one activity to the next, with a minimum of willpower expenditure.

•If you start to hit the wall, or find yourself staring blankly at the work in front of you, allow yourself to take a break for the remainder of your allotted work time

•When and only when it’s time for your next task, move on to it with a clear head.

If you’re thinking that this all sounds a bit complicated, you’re in luck. There are a number of handy time management tools available which will allow you to block out your time in this way. I personally use Toggl, which is both a smartphone app and a web account, allowing me to sync and track my activities on the go. Toggl is 100% free so I urge you to try it out right now.

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