I committed weekly writing to myself after forming the invigorating habit of blogging. I make sure I set time aside each weekend to focus on writing. Forget outstanding to-dos. The chores can wait, work can wait until Monday, and for my own mindfulness, I need this focused time to write. I loved the habit, and it was good to me!
But something changes when stress builds and good stress-fighting habits become more sporadic. The overflow of information that we receive in this digital world adds to the exhaustion.
The need to disconnect
It wasn’t laziness, or excuses, but I needed to disconnect from writing last weekend. It wasn’t writing itself, but anything related to being on a computer or mentally intensive.
For weeks on end I involve myself in a combination of mentally strenuous tasks. My full-time gig requires creativity, alertness, and high output. I go home at night and spend my weekends working on my MBA classes and personal projects and business developments. My free time revolves around research and learning or creative development. So when do I rest?
I was experiencing total burnout.
Day after day I couldn’t manage to produce any quality work. My focus declined to nil. It might have been psychological, but my brain physically felt exhausted. But what are you to do when you commit to yourself and others to get work done, and breaks don’t seem possible? Well, I got to the point where even non-mentally intensive tasks were a burden for me. I found that you can ultimately land yourself in a place where you have no choice but to disconnect.
The power of playfulness
Once Friday ended I decided I would avoid anything and everything that could be mentally exhaustive. Instead, I would take Charlie Hoehn‘s advice and just PLAY. Unfortunately in society we don’t value playing as much as we should. It’s unprofessional and childlike. Well, the barrage of information we receive each day from our jobs, social media, emails, and so on is a bit overwhelming. I’m content appearing as a child. I’m not content with burnout!
Board games, video games and entertaining podcasts took over my weekend. I kept video games minimal as I didn’t want to even look at a screen, but I didn’t find an hour of gaming as harmful in the mix.
I avoided using my cell phone. I tried my best to keep busy on simple chores. I focused on my good, mindful habits. I even went to church with my girlfriend to see a friend’s induction as a member of the church and speaking that morning. Note, I’m not one that frequents church. Yet, there’s no mental exhaustion there and a room of great people and spirit, so it couldn’t have been on a more needed weekend.
The basics of my burnout
— From morning to night technology and advertising barrage us with information. Most of it isn’t even important.
— I never let my mind take a break morning to night, day-to-day. I’d practice spanish while lifting weights. I’d play podcasts driving my car and cleaning the house. Aside from my fifteen minutes of “meditation“, I was always thinking. Even my mindful time became more infrequent. I’m not talking about “what should I eat tonight” or “I wonder what the weather is”. Intense and creative thinking.
— I got to a point of complete mental exhaustion where even simple tasks appeared impossible.
— I had to unplug my mind. Disconnect from the computer, from books, from research.
— After 62 hours of being “unplugged” my brain finally felt renewed, and I was ready to get back to work.
Next steps for me
I don’t want to leave this experience by saying that I know what to expect next time I get to a burnout state, even if it takes months.
So I have a simple plan — start one of my goals now. I’m going to disconnect from technology for an entire weekend once every other month. Weekends are great for attaining goals. That’s why I schedule another new habit of seeing someone I don’t spend time with enough for breakfast one weekend per month.
Do I know if this will work? Absolutely not! But, I’m going to give it a shot. I love my time spent learning new things and developing my projects, so I’m not keen on giving that up to live an ordinary life of 9-to-5. Managing burnout is a tough aspect of an entrepreneurial lifestyle. But, it is manageable; and totally worth it.
Next steps for you
1) Don’t wait until it’s too late, like I did. My suggestion is to just plan breaks ahead of time, or else you’ll always let other things come in the way (I did!).
2) In my Little Things Matter Most: Part 2 post I provided a weekend calendar I use for 2014. Print it out and get to work. Think of healthy habits you can build in, like periodic breaks from the digital world, spending time with specific people, and so on.
3) Discover new habits that are healthy for you. I would suggest focusing on only one new habit at a time for daily events. Otherwise, get to work on discovering something new that works for you. If it is a weekend type of thing, the calendar is helpful for that too!