In 2018 I suffered from terrible burnout.
It was caused by many things, but the core of it was overworking, and neglecting my health and happiness for a prolonged period of time.
I’ve since recovered from burnout and started a new software company, but I’m careful to make sure I don’t repeat the same bad habits that led me to overwork myself before.
I use the following as a checklist to help me maintain work-life balance and my best health possible.
Software CEO and writer, Heather R Morgan, in a hotel lobby in Beirut, Lebanon
In the face of the Wuhan Coronavirus it’s important that we take extra care of our health to keep our immune systems strong, but these are great tips to keep busy ambitious professionals healthy.
Not all will be right for you, but pick the ones that work best, and adapt these lessons to make them your own:
1. Have other hobbies and passions outside of work
Amidst burnout I discovered rap. This has been my main non-work passion ever since, but I also like to do other creative activities such as filmmaking and art. It doesn’t matter what your hobby is as long as it makes you happy and doesn’t involve you doing your regular work. Trust me: you can’t have work-life balance if you don’t have a life.
2. Schedule non-work time
I am naturally a neurotic obsessive workaholic. I wasn’t always the best employee, but since I became an entrepreneur I have been in love with my work. If you’re a workaholic like me, you probably need to actually schedule non-work and other fun time for yourself. Don’t wait for your once a year vacation to make time for yourself; schedule a few hours or days of “you time” to help keep you healthy and happy. Just make sure you actually take it! (I’m not always the best at following this rule, but I’m trying to be better.)
3. Have a cutoff time for work
This is so important, especially if you live with other workaholics. When I lived in San Francisco, it was so easy to keep working endlessly because many of my friends were entrepreneurs or ambitious tech workers who loved what they did. They would ask if we could push things later, and then so would I, and so on. And then we never met up and never went out. I just picked a somewhat arbitrary number —9 PM — for my cutoff time. But if you have an actual scheduled activity that you’re excited about, whether it’s a class or group you meet with, that might be even better because you’re less likely to break your cutoff time. Whatever you can do to increase accountability to actually stop working at your cutoff time, do it.
I’m still not great at this, but I’m working at it. I have a hard time sitting still and doing nothing, so I prefer meditations that are more physically active. But there are many types of meditations out there; do what works for you.
5. Get enough sleep
I cannot stress this enough. This rule also goes well with my “cutoff time” rule, since you need some amount of time to wind down before your brain can rest and sleep. I personally don’t function well without my full 8 hours, but everyone is different. Do keep in mind that too much screen time right before bed can hurt your sleep quality and ability to fall asleep. I wear computer glasses to block out blue light because I’m very sensitive to light and bright screens keep me wired.
6. Cook your own meals
Basically say, “NO!” to Soylent. I realize that not everyone can cook their own meals —either because they don’t know how to cook or don’t have access to a kitchen. However, I truly believe that food is central to life and being human, and that the time spent making and eating food should be savored. Because my team is remotely distributed, I usually try to cook my own lunch whenever I can. Not only does this ensure what I’m eating is healthy and right for my nutrition, but it helps me take a moment to slow down in the middle of the day.
7. Walk to your destination when you can
This is hard to do when it’s icy cold and snowing in New York, but I do it as much as possible. Not only is walking great exercise, it works well with multitasking. I try to take many of my calls that don’t require me presenting while I’m on a walk. I also try to take walking meetings whenever I can, both with friends and business connections.
8. Get 100 minute massages every week
About once (sometimes twice) a week I have a Chinese man named Peter walk on my back, and it’s one of the best things I do. Not only does it help me get out all my knots and stress, it’s a kind of forced meditation. During this time I can’t do any work, and so I’m forced to just relax. Massages really don’t have to cost a lot of money. I’ve been to some of the most high-end spas in New York and around the world, but hole-in-the-wall Chinese reflexology and Thai massage places are still some of the best massages I’ve ever had.
9. Take breaks regularly
I naturally get up and go to the bathroom and refill my glass of water every hour. After burnout, I added stretching to this routine to deal with chronic pain and repetitive strain injuries. It’s still a work in progress, but my pain has improved a lot after implementing this.
10. Enable talk to text typing
This is something I only started doing a few months ago, and it’s really helping reduce my pain and strain from excessive typing on my phone. I was reluctant to try it because I’ve always had issues with Siri and Alexa understanding my voice, but I recently enabled voice typing on my iPhone, and it works surprisingly well. There are still some words that it always screws up, but the more you use it, the better it gets. It’s a little awkward talking aloud to your phone in public, but just pretend you’re on a call, and it feels less weird.
11. Learn keyboard shortcuts
If you use Gmail, the shortcuts are amazing. Since I learned them, I was able to declutter my inundated email to inbox zero in about one fifth the time. There are many great keyboard shortcuts for Mac and other operating systems that can also save your fingers and time. Whatever software you use, I really recommend taking some extra time to learn as many shortcuts as you can up front. It’s hard, but so worth the productivity increase.
12. Follow my golden rule for optimal productivity and effectiveness
The secret to productivity and avoiding burnout is actually trying to do less. For someone who wants to accomplish a million different things this is really hard, but I have a strategy that helps me both achieve my goals and take care of myself.
There are three simple principles: eliminate, automate, or delegate
It’s important to first try to eliminate things you don’t really need to do. That comes by setting very clear goals and priorities that you can use to remove or postpone unnecessary tasks.
After that, I try to see what I can easily automate with software—either using a paid solution or building something internally. If it is a repetitive, manual, time-consuming task automation is ideal.
But not everything can be easily automated.
For those things, I try to delegate them. Whether you’re automating or delegating, it all starts with process documentation and auditing your time.
Do you have other tips that can help avoid burnout? I’d love to hear them. Please share, and I might include them in my next article.