How to Avoid Burnout: 12 Easy Ways to Sharpen the Saw

Updated on July 15, 2017
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Jorge has been an avid reader of personal development literature for years. He likes to blather on about what he's learned.

The Importance of Avoiding Burnout

"Sharpen the Saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have--you." - Stephen Covey

If you've ever read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, then you may have come across the above phrase before. What does it mean, though?

It was Covey's way of succinctly conveying that you will eventually become useless if you don't take a break for recreation. In other words, you will burn out without spending time away from your work. A saw that isn't periodically sharpened will not cut effectively. This is what burnout does to your mind--it dulls it.

So basically, allowing burnout to happen in the first place defeats your purpose. You probably were working hard, trying to get as much as you could done, but quickly found that your efforts counted for less and less. If you can't even concentrate on what you're doing, eventually you'll get sloppy.

Before you get to that point, check out these tips on how to avoid burnout:

Does it seem like you don't have time to do everything you need to do? Trying to cram your life full of tasks can lead to burnout.
Does it seem like you don't have time to do everything you need to do? Trying to cram your life full of tasks can lead to burnout.

1) Go outside.

Most of us work cooped up indoors these days. While this can be comfortable, it's also monotonous and the constant sitting can take its toll on your health.

To avoid burnout, be careful not to spend eight hours straight in your office. Get up and go outside. Take a walk every hour or so. Get some fresh air. Throw some peanuts at some squirrels.

2) Do only one thing at a time.

Do you try to work through lunch? Is your biggest daily annoyance the mayonnaise and tomatoes that fall from your sandwich onto your computer's keyboard?

Slow down! Trying to do a million things at once can lead to burnout much faster. After all, your lunch break isn't really a break if you're working, is it?

More importantly, humans are terrible at multitasking. Your work quality will suffer and you will get overwhelmed much more easily. Try to shoot for being focused completely on one absorbing task at a time.

If you have too many tasks to do, where you feel like you have to do more than one task at once to get them done, then you are overbooked! Delegate your tasks to others or simply drop the less important ones. You can't do everything. We have limited time in life, so we need to prioritize. Clean some things off your plate before you add new ones.

Your Reasons for Avoiding Burnout

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3) Get enough sleep.

If you're a natural go-getter, then you might resent sleep a little. It might seem silly to you that you have to pass out for 7 to 9 hours a night just because nature decided on it. You might be tempted to rebel by reducing your amount of sleep so that you can work more. You might even think nothing of pulling all-nighters.

Sleep is not a waste of time, though. It's an important mode that your body and consciousness go into that allows you to renew yourself. Not getting enough sleep can not only make your work sloppy, but it can put you at risk for neurological disease.

Take a nap at least.
Take a nap at least.

4) Go on a trip.

A change of environment can do wonders for a weary mind. This doesn't have to be a vacation per se; you can simply take an educational trip to somewhere you've never been before. Let your mind break out of its usual patterns and take on different challenges temporarily. You will go back to your work feeling refreshed.

5) Read books that have nothing to do with your profession.

Reading can not only be a relaxing pastime, but it can also offer us different perspectives on life. The more you learn, the better your quality of life can be. Picking up a self-development book can be especially helpful because you can gain some insight on how to solve very wide problems in your life. Thinking big like this can help balance the narrow focus that you might often employ at work.

6) Cut the work off at a certain hour.

Seriously, don't work so late. You may look heroic to the people you work with, but humans can only be productive for so many hours and then they become increasingly useless at their job. There's no point in continuing working past your usual time if you're offering diminishing returns for the company.

To be effective, you need time to sleep and play. These are not optional things. Don't kid yourself: your sleep-deprived brain is not at asset to others compared to its renewed and healthy version.

7) Solve an Interesting Problem

The point of "sharpening the saw" and avoiding burnout isn't to necessarily do nothing (though you can do that); it simply means that you turn away from the usual grind for a moment and stimulate yourself with something different. It's easy to fall into a rut when you're solving the same kinds of problems every day.

Instead, to avoid burnout, do something challenging (but not stressful) that you usually don't do. Maybe you can solve a difficult puzzle, or learn to fix your own car, or renovate your kitchen. If it sounds interesting to you and will help you learn something new, go for it.

Solving interesting problems can help renew our perspectives at work.
Solving interesting problems can help renew our perspectives at work.

8) Start an exercise habit.

Exercise not only keeps you trim and attractive, it's good for your brain. If you want to stay productive and avoid burnout, then build a regular exercise habit. Ideally, you should be doing cardiovascular exercise (like running, cycling, swimming, and so on) every day or most days.

9) Meditate daily.

You may have heard about the benefits of meditation. People like to explain that it's relaxing. While this can be true sometimes, the main benefit of meditation is that it increases your conscious awareness of the present moment. What does that mean? It means that you will have a more objective picture of your life as you actually live it. Meditation helps you cut through all the emotional and mental chatter. Consequently, it also helps you learn to focus for longer periods of time.

10) Start a hobby that you're passionate about.

Avoiding burnout is all about pivoting your attention so that you're not absorbed with work 100% of the time. Starting a fun side hobby that lacks the usual pressure of work can help you have a place where you can unwind and renew.

The hobby can be physical--like running or surfing--and can help you fulfill your exercise habit; or it can simply be something crafty and relaxing like carpentry or knitting.

Learning new challenging hobbies can help us avoid burnout.
Learning new challenging hobbies can help us avoid burnout.

11) Spend time with loved ones without distractions.

When you're old a decrepit, chances are that you biggest regret in life isn't going to be that you didn't go to the office enough. You're probably going to wish that you spent more time with your mother and father, that you watched more sunsets with your spouse, or that you took your kids to the park more often.

Life is fleeting and it's easy to take those we love for granted. The great thing about spending time with them, though, is that it can be a refreshing break from work. Having fun with your family can actually help you work better when you get back to the grind.

12) Do nothing for a day.

Finally, nobody ever said you have to do anything at all. You weren't born into this universe to work--remember that this is something you chose for yourself. Your natural, default state is sitting there, enjoying the fact that you're alive.

In modern times, this is hard for people to do, though. Even when we're "lazy," we're up to something. We're watching TV, playing on the Internet, distracting ourselves with anything we can find.

Instead, don't plan anything. Go out in nature, or just sit in a chair and stare out the window. If you're having a lot of trouble just enjoying life in the moment, consider starting a meditation habit, as mentioned in #9.

Be still. Rest that chattering brain.

Avoiding Burnout: A Change in Perspective

While some of the ways to avoid burnout that are mentioned here are largely biological, most of the ones that aren't have one thing in common: they can help change your perspective.

That's really what avoiding burnout is all about. If you get caught up in your work to the point where you can't see the bigger picture of your life, it can be mentally draining. Taking a break and focusing on something totally different can help you gain all kinds of insights--not only about your work, but about life in general.

How to Avoid Burnout: Your Personal Methods

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Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Jorge Vamos

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      • Lindsay Langstaff profile image

        Lindsay Langstaff 

        16 months ago

        As a college student, there's really no way to avoid burnout and be impressive to employers, but I definitely agree that these help! I do many of them and have just recently taken up writing on HubPages as my new hobby.

        Of all your suggestsions, exercise would be the most important one, in my opinion, because it can save you stress and expenses later down the road. I typically go to the gym 5 days a week and it's quite the lifesaver.

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