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Beware the Threat of Burnout

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For somebody who spends most of her time sitting down, I am tired. So very, very tired. Yesterday I was ready to delete my blogs, my social media profiles, block all incoming emails and just go to bed for around three days. This is despite the fact that my typical working day consists of me getting up, having a cup of tea, firing up the laptop, jabbing at my keyboard for several hours and then going to bed. Occasionally I’ll leave the house to see clients, run errands or socialise with the outside world, but I’m generally a homebody.

So why am I so run down? What has happened to make me so weary that I’d rather jack everything in and retreat instead of pushing through and making a go of things? I don’t have any pressing medical issues, my diet’s fine, I even take multivitamins! I have the luxury of not having any dependents, so I’m not looking after anyone else. Quite frankly, the way my life is arranged is relatively cushy. I should be passing my days in a haze of productivity and good vibes.

The fact is, I’m trying to do too much. In addition to this blog, I have responsibilities at KenyaImagine, a couple of projects in the pipeline that are supposed to be coming on stream by June, some voluntary organisations who also need my attention, some charitable stuff that I would feel bad about neglecting, and a couple of favours to the people who got me started that I have promised to maintain in perpetuity. And that’s just the stuff I work on! Then I have all of my outside interests, that also require quite a bit of my time an attention. Those are the reason I leave the house.

Online, I have multiple email addresses, social media profiles, and RSS feeds that update themselves constantly. I could (and have) spent a day after being away from the computer doing nothing more than catching up on things I’ve missed. And this is without having to read up on issues, formulating an opinion that isn’t half-baked and blogging about it in various places. Essentially, I need to paddle furiously just to stay still, and over the weekend, I really thought I had reached the point where I could no longer go on. I just wanted everything to stop, go away, and leave me alone.

Welcome to what could be a potential burnout, where a formally productive member of society is left as a husk of themselves, having pushed too hard, too intensely and has ended up with no further inspiration or motivation to give to their goals. While walking away would alleviate my stress, I can’t afford to, because being engaged and active is how I earn my money. Instead of giving in to the demons who are telling me to run away and spend the rest of the year under a duvet to recharge my batteries, I am rationalising.

First to go: the blogs in my Google Reader. I don’t quote them in my tweets on the Inari feed on a regular basis, and I rarely click through to read or comment on articles there, so they are obviously superfluous to my needs, even if I feel slightly naked without them. Up next are the comedy blogs that I read but don’t comment on and only use for light relief; I feel guilty if I miss them but they add nothing to my life, so they can be bookmarked rather than being part of my essential reading.

Emails. I now only check these three times a day, rather than as soon as a new message is received. Once when I turn on my laptop, once at lunch, and once before I start watching trashy evening television. It has actually focused my mind and forces me to deal with issues, rather than allowing non-urgent emails to languish forever while I find something more interesting to address. Also, it does mean that when something truly is important, my clients now mark it as “URGENT” in the subject line, meaning that I now I must deal with the content of the message immediately.

Finally, there are the number of outlets where I choose to spout off my opinions. Now, I don’t have a blog for every mood, but I was in danger of getting that way. My reasoning was I didn’t want my loonier moments making contact with any client-bait that I might happen to put out on to the ‘net. This stops now. Instead, if there is something I need to say, but isn’t part of my “core activity,” it now goes into a journal, printed on paper and written in ink.

When you find yourself with multiple projects, it can be difficult to decide which ones are the most important, or even to determine which ones will be the most successful. You might not want to let any of them go, but paying attention to the project and keeping it relevant can take up too much of your time, especially if you don’t want to neglect any other of the irons you have in the fire. Letting go can be difficult, but if you are going to make a success of something, you have to do it well.

It can feel at times as though you have too many good ideas to be constrained by the limitations of time and space to limit yourself to just a few. However, until I am told differently, the laws of physics are immutable. Despite trying, I can’t find an extra hour in each day. I can’t do my best without cutting down, and while I might regret the loss of some information, at least I know that my efforts have been concentrated down to what I do well. I was in danger of quitting this game because I had too much to do; instead, cutting down has given me more focus for the next eighteen months.

[Image by Accent on Eclectic]

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