When I started working for myself I knew I would have to put some limits on how much time I’d devote to my business. Without “regular hours” or a boss telling me exactly what was required of me, I was in danger of working 24 hours a day in an effort to meet all the unlimited goals my mind threw at me. I knew that would lead to burnout.
Burnout is the result of a lopsided life that focuses on one thing at the expense of everything else. I want my life to be well-rounded. And I’m sure that’s what you want, too. But whether you’re in business for yourself, like me, or you work for someone else, you probably feel overloaded and stressed at times.
Are you working too much?
Maybe you feel that you could be headed for burnout, where you lose your enthusiasm and creativity and you feel cut off from everything else you enjoy doing. Have you experienced any of the following symptoms?
- You feel overwhelmed by everything you have to do, and you may even get that ‘BLANK’ feeling where you can’t seem to make a plan of action for what steps to follow next.
- You’re become increasingly irritable and you lose your temper easily.
- You feel mentally and physically exhausted at the end of the day, but the minute your head hits the pillow your thoughts bombard you, and you can’t get a good night’s sleep.
- Taking care of normal things like eating seems like an inconvenience.
- You feel that in spite of all your work, you’re unable to accomplish what you think you should.
- You feel self-doubt and very little positive motivation. You just keep plodding away with no reward.
- You push people away and don’t want anything to interfere with your work, but you get no pleasure out of your work.
If that list describes you, you can’t be doing your best, most creative work. Even worse, you’re not enjoying your life. And you can only keep that up for so long before you snap, crackle, or pop.
The solution is time management.
Real time management is not about doing your job well. It is about living your life well. You should have time for everything you want to do, and that includes work, play, and just taking the time now and then to sit and stare, because that’s when you get your most creative ideas. So here are my nine rules for successful time management:
- Start your day right. Don’t rush into the day. Take a few minutes to sit quietly and gather your thoughts. Remember what’s really important to you and prepare yourself inwardly to meet whatever the day brings.
- Have a plan for what you want to accomplish. Have a set of reasonable goals for what you will be able to do that day.
- Break tasks into reasonable units. Looking at a big task can make you feel overwhelmed and hopeless. And unless you’re careful, it can keep you from doing other things you need to do. So break it up into chewable bites so you know what you’ll get done today, and what you’ll do each day over the coming week.
- Prioritize tasks and refuse inessential tasks. Decide what’s the best order to do things, what needs to get done no matter what, and what you can forget about. That may mean saying “no” to other people who want you to do things that you don’t have time for.
- Delegate if possible. For myself, I’ve put together a great team of assistants. I let them do what they’re good at so I can do what I’m good at. I don’t get burned out doing things I don’t like, and I have more creative energy for the things I’m naturally better at.
- Plan time for meals, exercising, and socializing. That old Puritan ethic can keep you working non-stop – until you burn out and decide to stop for good! Before that happens, make the time to do things that make your life complete.
- Follow a big push with relaxation. Sometimes I have to work hard to meet a deadline. Or maybe I feel inspired and I work well into the night. That’s great. But I know I can’t keep up that intensity forever. Even if you have to force yourself to take time off, do it. There’s a clever sign on a local restaurant that says, “We give our cooks time off. Do you?” That’s a question you should ask yourself.
- Practice the 10-minute rule. We all have tasks we dread to do. We put off starting them and they loom before us, keeping us in a state of anxiety that drains our energy. The rule is to just work on it for 10 minutes. Chances are, once you get started, you’ll keep working on it, but start out planning just 10 minutes. Do that over a number of days, and the task will get done – and off your back.
- End each day with a plan for tomorrow. I like to end my day by making a quick list of what I need to do the next day. Everything is fresh in my mind and clear. Then the next morning I don’t have to try to remember what I was doing and what’s needed next. It’s like I have a headstart on the day and I’m eager to get going. That’s the opposite of burnout!