My tips to help you stay on top of your A-game, excel in life, and avoid the dreaded burnout.
If you’re like me, you probably end your days thinking, there’s not enough time in the day to do everything I want to do. I’ve been feeling that way a lot lately. I work 40+ hours a week as a Security Engineer, am attending an online master’s degree program, furthering my professional skills in my free time, and running a blog. With all that I do, I often get asked, "how do you do it?"
With 40–45 hours of my week already taken up by my day job, how am I supposed to do everything else I want to do while also making time to cook, clean, and do the other things that come with being an adult?
There’s no secret to accomplishing it all, but time is what we make of it. Each day we have ~16 hours where we're not asleep and eight of those are spent working. That means we have eight hours leftover to use at our discretion. That quickly disappears when you consider the amount of time spent doing things like showering and cooking meals.
That's why planning and time management are so important. While everyone has different things that work for them, the common denominators are those two things. You need to plan properly and manage your time if you want to make the most of your time outside of work and accomplish your personal goals. Here are six ways to do that and help you avoid burnout.
Start the Day With an Accomplishment
I have a routine as I’m sure many people do. Every day, even on weekends, I wake up, sip 6-8 oz of water, wash my face, and make my bed.
Did you know that drinking water first thing in the morning increases your alertness? When we wake up, we've just gone six-plus hours without water, so it's important to start replenishing that. Leave a 6-8 oz glass of water on your nightstand so it's right there for you to drink when you wake up.
Drinking water in addition to the other parts of my morning routine allows me to start my day feeling refreshed and energized. What do you do every morning that makes you feel good? It doesn’t need to be anything special, it can be changing out of your pajamas, splashing your face with water, or just making your bed. A little something to kickstart your day and make you feel energized or like you’ve accomplished something.
After getting ready for my day, the next, and most important thing…coffee! I go downstairs, turn my Keurig on and stick a clean mug under the spout.
While the coffee is brewing I feed my cat and give him fresh water. One thing about my routine that differs from other people is efficiency. Many people stand and wait for their coffee to brew, maybe check their email or scroll through Facebook. Instead of wasting time on my phone, I use those 2–3 minutes to do something quick that I have to do anyway.
It may not seem like much, but consider all the small windows of time throughout your day spent waiting for something. While it might only be five minutes, it might also amount to 10 or 20 minutes, and that just compounds over the course of the week. Even with completing small tasks while your coffee is brewing, you're saving ~3 minutes daily, which amounts to 21 minutes over seven days. That's 20 minutes you have to spend on your side hustle.
Many people discount the effect these seemingly small things have on your day, but it's important to look at the bigger picture. Saving two minutes each day seems minuscule, but what about 20 minutes per week, 80 minutes per month, and 1040 per year? It doesn't seem so trivial anymore, does it?
So, what's one thing you can do while your coffee is brewing in the morning? It might not be the same thing every day. Maybe you have dishes to put away or dirty ones in the sink to wash, maybe you have a pet to feed too. Think of something or a few things you do daily that you can do while your coffee is brewing. However small it might be, it's one less thing on your list for the day!
Find a Block of Time to Dedicate to Your Side Gig
With a steaming cup of coffee in my hand and my cat, Otis, chowing down, it’s time to get my day started. Depending on the day of the week, my routine differs. During my school semesters, this hour or two before work is spent doing schoolwork. When I’m not in school, I use this time to work on my blog.
For me, it’s important I put in a few hours in the morning. I found that after an eight-hour workday, spent starting at two 20-inch monitors, I’m mentally drained by 6 PM. Not to mention I have to cook dinner and clean up afterward and that usually takes an hour out of my night. By the time I would be ready to sit down and get some of my own work done, it could be 7 or 7:30. This is why I choose to get my few hours of productivity in before I start my workday.
This may not be the case for everyone so find what works for you. Think about your typical weekday. Maybe you work earlier hours, like 6 AM-3 PM. In that case, it may make sense for you to save a lot of your personal to-do items for 4 PM. Whatever it is you want to do with this extra time, make it work with your schedule and be reasonable with yourself in terms of the timing. Consider how much effort you feel you can put in on top of your regular job and make sure you aren’t trying to do more than you can.
As mentioned, I spend under two hours each morning doing my own thing. You don’t have to spend three or four to accomplish something. Even one hour, five days a week amounts to a solid five hours by Friday. Five hours spread out over the week beats having to cram in a bunch of work over the weekend any day.
A common misconception is that you have to put in a solid block of time to accomplish anything, but people fail to realize how much an hour a day can really do for you. There are even days where I sleep through my alarm and end up only getting in 30-45 minutes, but it's better than doing nothing at all. Any time spent on your side hustle or furthering your education is benefiting you.
One of the keys to avoiding burnout is making sure there is balance in your schedule. This is where many people fail because being realistic with oneself is difficult. Too often we let what we want to get done overshadow what we can realistically get done. It’s easy to overestimate how much time you can dedicate to a particular task, but it's also easy to underestimate how much time a task will take you. Between the two of these, we end up with jam-packed schedules that aren't that feasible.
If there was a magic secret to avoiding burnout, the ability to plan properly would probably be it. Why? Well, unrealistic schedules ultimately set you up for failure in one of two ways:
You'll feel defeated for not meeting the goals you had set for the day or week.
You'll feel exhausted because you’ve overloaded your daily or weekly schedule.
Being able to plan properly and effectively is something that comes with time and can be frustrating at first. You'll likely have to experiment a bit to better understand how long various tasks take and when the best time to work on those tasks is. There are definitely days where I aim to do too much and that's okay. What's important is that I recognize I underestimated my other tasks for the day and agree to make time for the remaining work the next day. Plans will never be perfect, they're simply meant as a guide to help keep your days on track.
Listen To Your Body
Have you had a day recently where your alarm went off and you just groaned and thought, ugh, not today? Because I definitely have! Just last week I skipped the gym not once, but twice. This was a major deviation from my routine, as I've been going to the gym four times a week since the beginning of March. Initially, I felt bad. I felt like I was letting myself down, but instead of looking at it negatively, I spun it in a more positive light.
In seven months this was the first time I was willingly skipping the gym and I knew that I wouldn't be doing it unless I really didn't have it in me to go. I reflected a bit on my life recently and realized how stressed out I've been due to some projects going on at work. I knew I was just run down and my body was screaming at me to give my body a rest. And I listened!
Surprisingly, many people don't listen to their bodies and quickly burn out, sometimes even continuing to operating in that burnt-out state. Now obviously this isn't good for your physical well-being, but it's also not good for your mental health either. Burnout leads you to feel like you're failing in your professional or personal life, impacts your energy levels, ability to focus, and motivation, and can lead to heightened emotions like sadness and anger. These are all signs you should be on the lookout for and able to identify so you can take the necessary steps to avoid burnout before it takes over.
So, if you’re feeling drained, let yourself feel that. While you need to discipline yourself in order to stick to your schedule, you also need to know your limits. How much discipline is too much? That’s a question only you can answer. Keep in mind that it’s okay to take time to rest as long as it doesn't become a habit that impacts your goals. There's a huge difference between rest & relaxation, and just being plain lazy.
Get 7–8 Hours of Sleep
Last but not least, make time to sleep! Sleep is so important for obvious reasons. It gives your body and mind time to recharge so you can feel refreshed the next day, but it also helps your memory process what it's learned throughout the day. Keep that in mind the next time you're cramming for an 8 am exam.
Lack of sleep leads to decreased ability to focus causing your productivity levels to take a complete nosedive. When I don’t sleep well, I’m irritable, unable to focus on anything for even five minutes, and both of those things lead to me having super unproductive days.
Coincidentally enough, I find it hard to follow my own advice when it comes to getting 7+ hours of sleep. I love getting “me time” in every day. Whether it’s blogging, watching tv, or just a few minutes to myself spent scrolling through social media, it’s important to me that I get this time of mindless activity. So on days where I put too much time into work or school, I find myself running somewhat behind on the schedule I set for myself. I might end up working until 7 to get some things done, and then before I know it I’m collapsing onto the couch at 9 pm after cooking, cleaning, taking the trash out, etc. On these days what I should do is go upstairs, wash up, and get in bed. Most of the time though, these are the nights I end up watching TV until 11 PM.
The lesson that can be learned from that? Sometimes you need to make sacrifices in order to get much-needed rest. I still struggle with that, but I'm learning to be okay with not getting my “me” time in. Imposing a bedtime has been one of the things that have led me to accomplish many of the short and long-term goals I've set for myself over the last year.
Here are my tips to help you stay on top of your A-game and avoid burnout:
Start your day off with a win, no matter how small.
Find room for efficiencies; complete some small tasks while you're waiting for your coffee to brew.
Determine when the best time to work on your side gig; it might be during the morning before you start work or at the end of the day after you eat dinner.
Create realistic plans for yourself; try not to over or underestimate your tasks as doing so will lead you to either feel defeated for not meeting your goals or overworked from overloading your schedule.
Listen to your body and know when it's time to take a rest.
Get 7-8 hours of sleep each night; understand sometimes you need to sacrifice other things to get a good night's sleep.
Bonus tip: Drink 6-8 ounces of water when you first wake up.
By keeping these tips in mind, you'll be on your way to building good habits that help you excel in life and breaking the bad habits that are preventing you from reaching your goals.