The Lever #004: From Burnout to Back On Track
Updated: Mar 10
The purpose of the newsletter is to help you develop strong systems that will help you be more productive, prolific, and ultimately profitable.
Its about Leveraging your skills to get maximum results in time available.
But what do you do when you've overcommitted yourself?
Before we start...
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Last week I hit the wall.
I was at absolute capacity, with more tasks than time. There was no way to get it all done.
Work, community obligations, family commitments, personal projects. It was all too much.
My mood and even my health was starting to suffer.
I was burning out.
The crazy thing is that I'd done it on purpose.
I've always been fascinated by high performers.
People who have the same number of hours in the day, but who seem to get so much more done than the rest of us.
People like Rob Dyrdek, Sir Richard Branson, and yes, even Elon Musk.
People with leverage.
My idea of the "good life" is not an easy one. It is a challenging one. A life filled with continual growth in all areas.
And I believe this can be achieved in a balanced manner. What others have done, I can do too.
So I set out to challenge myself and to grow in the Big-5 areas:
Personal, Professional, Life, Community, Fitness.
I kept loading on challenges. I wanted to see where the limit was.
And then I found it.
How to Get Back on Track
Burnout has one main component; a pervasive sense of anxiety due to having too many open loops.
This makes it so you cant focus on the work you are doing because you are thinking about what you still have to do. The work you enjoy becomes soured by the obligations bouncing around in your head. Eventually an increasing sense of dread becomes associated with these tasks, even when they are small or easy to finish.
Dread leads to procrastination, which leads to avoidance behaviors. Ignoring the thing, doing something else, or even more self destructive actions like eating or drinking away your problems.
It's a vicious negative feedback loop that continues to spiral downward.
Fortunately a quick exercise can arrest the pattern and get you quickly back on track.
The Obligation Audit
This tool is normally used as an aid for effective, goal-based time management. But it can also help you get your life back under control. It makes visible all of the loops you've opened, after which you can take action to close them.
By first understanding the full scope of what is on your plate you can then prioritize more effectively.
Step 1 - Get Clear
Take a piece of paper, open a spreadsheet, or use your favorite tying program. Add a section for each of the Big-5 areas:
Personal, Professional, Life, Community, Fitness.
Think of what you have to do in each area. Commitments, projects, things that take time.
Write them ALL down.
Step 2 - Prioritize by deadline
Chances are there are just a few truly problematic obligations. Everything else is just fluff taking up mental space.
Circle or highlight the big commitments that require work and are coming up fast.
Draw a red line through everything else.
(You aren't cancelling these things, just closing the loop for now so you can focus)
Step 3 - Relentless Focus on Finishing
You've got a handful of tasks left. Time to get to work.
Chances are that some of these are easily completed, or won't take very long. You've just been putting them off due to a mental block. Start there for some easy wins.
Move on to the longer, harder jobs. Knock them down one at a time, in order of deadline.
Do one thing until its done.
Have a relentless focus on finishing.
Consider a Sprint
In extreme cases you may want to take a full day and just blow through your list. Make some real headway. You'll be amazed at how much better you feel once you are able to start crossing things off.
Burnout is not healthy and is not a very productive state to live in.
It is however a signal that shows you when to take a step back, and reevaluate what you are doing.
And fortunately, many of the commitments leading up to that feeling are actually easily handled. They have just built in size and scope within our minds due to everything piling up in a jumble of things that need doing.
Get these out of your head, prioritize them quickly, and get to work.
Focused action will ease the pressure and you can continue from there with a clear plate.
• Overcommitment leads to burnout
• Burnout is a negative reinforcing system
• Arrest the pattern by:
○ Getting clear
○ Doing what's important
• Close the loops
• Relentless focus on finishing
I used this exact exercise myself to get clarity on what was happening, and to relieve the pressure.
And you know what?
Just writing it all down helps immensely.
I'm working through the list and feel back in the drivers seat. This newsletter was one of those priorities, and it turns out it wasn't too bad to finish at all.
When you can't see things clearly they build up in your mind until they take more space then they merit.
Chapter 5 of my pending book is all about getting (and staying) realistic about what you can accomplish.
It's coming out in January and I am offering a free, advance copy for people who register interest this month.
All I ask in return is for an honest review.
Sign up here: https://seanphogue.ck.page/preregister
Yours in Productivity,
When you are ready, here are a few ways I can help:
1. Subscribe to my newsletter, The Lever
This covers a core time managment and productivity concept every week, in about five minutes.
Sign up at SeanHogue.com/thelever (or use the form below.)
2. Grab a copy of my book.
Peaceful Productivity outlines the time-management system I've created over the years as a ship's Captain and business executive. It will help you plan, prioritize, and get more of the right things done.
Smart systems to make you productive, prolific, and profitable | Find me on Twitter @SeanPHogue | Sign up here for the weekly newsletter, The Lever, and create some leverage in your life.