No matter how productive you are at work, you might feel stagnant. If you’re burning out, the things you once loved doing might start to feel like another thing on your To Do list. You might be too exhausted by the end of the week to spend thirty minutes learning Spanish—especially because it requires mental effort and discipline. But then you might become frustrated that you’re not improving your language skills. You start to feel down—just as another email comes in.
While it may seem counterintuitive, when you have absolutely no spare time there are a few things you might need to add to your schedule. Yes, you may need to add to your overload to give yourself a break—but don’t add just to add. Follow these three steps to do it right.
Step One: Find a mindless hobby.
You’ll want to find a hobby that is engaging enough to keep you from thinking about all the work you’re not doing, but which doesn’t require mental energy. It should be something entirely different from what you work on all day. It should also be something that isn’t a huge time commitment. Until you’ve gotten things under control, you probably really don’t have time to commit, and choosing a mindless hobby that requires a solid hour on a Wednesday night could lead to abandoning the process altogether.
My mindless hobby is baking. This is not the time to create new recipes or take on a daunting new kind of cake that requires beating eggs three different ways. When I bake to give myself a rest, I follow a simple recipe that keeps my hands busy and my mind free. The oven does most of the work. Sometimes I get creative with the decorating, but most of the time I make something that doesn’t require a lot of prep or clean up—because who has time for that?
The key here is to use what little downtime you have to give yourself an actual break—and don’t feel guilty about being mindless instead of learning Spanish. This is only step one.
Step Two: Work efficiently.
If your mindless hobby did its job, you’ll feel like you’ve gotten a decent mental break. Getting back to work will be slightly easier with a clearer, refreshed head. Luckily, finding those first thirty minutes was the hardest part.
After stepping back from work, you’ll be able to refocus and work more efficiently. You will find that your work performance gets better after having time away. Greater efficiency over time will lead to more mindless hobbying, which will lead to greater mental clarity and efficiency. One way to focus yourself: If you think a task will take you one hour to complete, give yourself thirty minutes to complete it. Keep working on the task with the same amount of focus until it’s complete after thirty minutes, and you’ll probably find that you don’t need the full hour.
Will you be able to take on the job of three people in the first week? No. It’s a process. But it’s a process that benefits from the snowball effect, and if you stick with it, you’ll find that you have time and energy for that language textbook/dust collector.
Step Three: Realize your ultimate goal.
You’ve been baking up a storm, giving top performance at work, and feel less mentally bogged down overall. But when will you finally stop feeling stagnant? Wade through the spiderwebs on that Spanish book. It’s time.
Start with fifteen minutes. It’s a short amount of time, so you might not think you can get anything done in fifteen minutes. You can. The short time period will focus you right away, and your mind won’t wander because every minute counts.
Plus, if you are mentally drained, fifteen minutes won’t seem like such a tall order. Starting is the hardest. Thinking about starting makes starting even harder. Don’t waste mental energy thinking about what you’re not doing and how much you want to do it.
Adopting a mindless hobby will give you mental space that will allow you to approach work differently, and will leave you with enough time and energy to incorporate into your schedule something that will make you feel less stagnant. Adding the right things to your full schedule can reduce your burnout and help you reach your goals.
– Kaitlin Puccio