Productivity: How to Prevent Burnout: Real Examples and Best Practices
I hate the “hustle” culture that’s embedded in modern entrepreneurship.
What is it? It’s the feeling that we should constantly be working. There’s pressure to work while you’re on vacation. In the back of an Uber for 30 minutes? That’s time for a catchup call or to reply to emails.
Can you relate to this feeling?
I grew up with this mindset surrounding me. My parents were refugees who came to the USA with literally $0. The only thing they had was their work ethics. Having two jobs was normal. I only saw my parents on the weekends growing up.
Entrepreneurship is cool now. But the biggest influencers guilt people for vacations. You can’t sleep without hearing a voice in the back of your head telling you to hustle harder.
What’s the problem with this? Everyone’s burned out and less effective.
The formal definition is: Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged stress.
I know what burnout feels like:
- I’d get easily triggered. I remember snapping at some of my ex-girlfriends and employees for no reason over the smallest things.
- I wouldn’t feel any motivation to work. I’d just want to get it over with, so I could distract myself with video games instead.
- My mind wouldn’t be as sharp. I’d forget things. It’d be hard for me to work without wanting to distract myself every 10 minutes.
- Exhaustion. Not just my mind and my body, it felt like my soul itself was tired.
This is a major societal problem. A recent survey showed that 69% of employees are experiencing burnout symptoms. Japan has one of the longest working hours in the world. They also have one of the highest suicide rates in the world. There’s a correlation.
I suffered through burnouts throughout my career. I thought it was normal. All my peers would post updates at 2 am about how they’re “grinding.” They’d mention they’ll sleep when they’re dead.
But then I’d find out some of the consequences behind the scenes. Some people would turn to alcohol and drugs to cope. Depression is rampant in this space.
I knew this lifestyle wasn’t sustainable, but I couldn’t escape the guilt that I had to keep pushing the gas pedal harder.
One thing that really helped me was hearing an interview with Jeff Bezos.
“Eight hours of sleep makes a big difference for me, and I try hard to make that a priority. For me, that’s the needed amount to feel energized and excited.
Mostly, as any of us go through our lives, we don’t need to maximize the number of decisions we make per day. Making a small number of key decisions well is more important than making a large number of decisions. If you shortchange your sleep, you might get a couple of extra “productive” hours, but that productivity might be an illusion. When you’re talking about decisions and interactions, quality is usually more important than quantity.”
Jeff Bezos is the richest man on the planet. Here he is telling me it’s OK to sleep 8 hours a night. You have to optimize your life so you can make the best decisions possible.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s better to start with a mindset of preventing burnout than using more energy to cure it.
I’m going to share with you 5 strategies for preventing burnout and making you a more effective worker.
Note: This is written from my current experience. You might not be in a position to cut back on hours at work, or you can’t afford to delegate now. It’s ok – I couldn’t either at the beginning. My goal is to share with you my philosophy, and give you something to work
5 Ways to Reduce and Prevent Burnout
1. Your Health Comes First, Always
I remember going on my first airplane ride. There was an announcement.
“In case of an emergency, you should put your oxygen mask on first, and then your child’s.”
That’s weird; shouldn’t the child get the mask first since they’re the weakest? I didn’t have a laptop to distract me back then, so I stewed on this question for the next hour.
Then, it hit me. By attending to your own needs first, it makes sure that you’re in a position to take care of your child. If you become incapacitated due to no oxygen, then you’re useless.
I’ve ingrained this lesson in me that health comes first. You can’t be an effective boss, husband, or parent if you’re unhealthy and sleep-deprived.
The easiest way to have good health is to maintain standards for yourself. Create habits and track them using a Personal KPI dashboard.
My Weekly Health Standards:
- In bed by 9 pm. I don’t wake up to an alarm.
- Stretch 20 minutes a day.
- Intermittent fasting. I cook almost daily. Low sugar. Lots of veggies. Avoid processed foods. I have an avocado, kimchi, and bone broth daily.
- Meditate 20 minutes every morning.
- Jiujitsu 3x a week. Full body workout 1x a week.
- Spend 1 hour a week in nature every Sunday.
Life’s unpredictable. It’s kinda like riding a boat in the ocean. I can’t predict the weather or the waves.
I can control the type of ship that I’m on. Being in peak physical/mental health means I’m on a sturdy ship.
Health comes first isn’t a saying. I always meditate and run every morning. If I wake up late, I have to meditate and run first.
Sometimes I’ll have to work throughout the weekend. I’ll take Monday or Tuesday off to recuperate, even if work’s piling up.
That’s what it means when health comes first. If I’m not at my best, I’ll end up making bad decision that’ll hurt me long term.
2. Set Upper Boundaries Around Your Work
My college professors would tell us that we had two weeks to write a paper. It took exactly two weeks for me to write that paper.
If they told me I had three days to write a paper, then I’d find a way to get it done in three days.
That’s Parkinson’s Law: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
Set boundaries around your work.
Train yourself to think in terms of outcomes, not time. No one gives a shit how hard you work. The world rewards results.
I work around 40-55 hours a week. This is where I’m the most effective because I’m consistent. I don’t get burned out at this rate.
Having a constraint makes me creative. I’m not throwing more effort or hours at my problems. The constraint forces me to use leverage. It forces me to delegate and systemize, rather than attacking my problems with brute force.
Here’s what a typical day looks like for me.
Most people think of “work” as what they do on the laptop.
I view “work” as anything that contributes to me getting results.
Going to the gym is work. That’s why I don’t skip workouts. It’s essential. Same with me getting 8 hours of sleep.
They make me more effective when I’m actually doing what’s important.
You might be wondering about weekends.
Saturday is where I refuel my gas tank. I don’t do any work on Saturdays. I go to BJJ. I try to see my parents. I watch Netflix with the lady. I play my PS4. We’ll eat out at a restaurant. I work my ass off the entire week so that I can enjoy my Saturday guilt-free.
Sunday is where I sharpen the axe. I’ll do some planning for the week. We’ll run some errands. I’ll occasionally work on Sundays, but only on tasks that I’m excited about.
A key to the process is to actually work when it’s time.
I don’t think that many people actually “work” 16 hours a day. First, a lot of it is virtue signaling. They’re trying to signal that they’re hard-working.
Second, have you actually seen how some people “work?”
They’re working with distracting tabs open. They’re interrupted every few minutes by email or Slack. There are useless meetings throughout the day (meetings to discuss the agenda for the next meeting).
It’s more like twelve hours of work. Three hours actually working, and the rest of the 9 hours fucking around.
3. Find The One Thing
Priority is a singular word. It means “The first thing.” It wasn’t until the 1900’s that managers started using the term “Priorities.”
You can’t have multiple first things.
So most of us have this endless to do list. I don’t know about you, but I get anxiety whenever I see a list that’s too big.
I’m going to show you how to tackle it.
Let’s say you’re starting a new e-commerce store. Kids are staying at home doing virtual learning. The chances are that they’re working on the kitchen table. You want to start creating ergonomic desks for kids.
Let’s generate a to-do list:
- Design a logo for the business
- Build a landing page
- Interview different parents about their children’s virtual learning setups
- Sketch out different desk designs
- Start trying to find manufacturers on Alibaba.com
Which one should you do first?
I’d start with #3 because it’s the most impactful. Doing these interviews will let you know whether or not there even is a demand. Perhaps you’ll find an even better opportunity.
Yet, most people would focus on the low impact work such as designing a logo or sketching out desks.
Designing a logo is fun. You can upload it online, poll people, and get that dopamine fix. Interviewing people is hard.
We’re programmed to seek out what’s comfortable.
Fight this temptation.
Burnout happens when we’re constantly working and not making progress. We don’t make progress because we tend to work on low impact tasks, rather than the ones that make a difference.
- Decide Your 1 Thing for tomorrow. The one task that will make the biggest impact.
- Do your morning routine. DO NOT check social media, email, or anything distracting. Let your distracting monkey stay sleeping.
- Block off 4 hours to work on that one task.
- Block ANYTHING distracting. I use ColdTurkey for websites. My phone is OFF in a different room.
- Work. You might feel uncomfortable being so focused. That’s good. You’re stretching your focus muscles. Keep at it.
Marvel at the results.
Less, but better.
4. Understand Leverage: Automate and Delegate
Leverage is the mechanism you use to amplify results.
A musician spends 3 hours playing at a local coffee shop. 20 people hear it.
Another musician spends 3 hours playing a song and editing a video. They upload it on YouTube. 55,000 people see it.
The same amount of “effort” went into both, but the leverage of YouTube gave different results.
Leverage is a concept. It comes in different forms.
The easiest to understand is people/labor.
- Strategy and planning.
- Writing blog posts/newsletters
- Marketing angles
- Optimizing anything
- Looking at data
- Uploading ads to a platform
- Anything dealing with finances
- Emails and customer service
Imagine if my day was full of meetings, uploading ads, doing my taxes, and doing customer service emails. Fuck my life. I’d be miserable, and I’d burn out easily.
Here’s something interesting.
I would rather spend 10 hours a day doing things I love than 5 hours a day doing things I hate. For every task that I hate doing, I can find someone else that loves doing it.
I love how the Founder and CEO of GymShark stepped down. Being a CEO meant he had to do a ton of things he didn’t love, and that he wasn’t the best at. He hired Reebook’s former head of Europea sales to become the CEO of Gymshark. He decided to create a role for himself as the Chief Brand Officer. Ben spends his day doing all the activities that he loves.
If the role of a CEO can be delegated / outsourced, that means you’re able to delegate more tasks than you realize.
I’m always thinking about leverage.
- I could spend 2 hours every week doing a task, or I can spend 4 hours once to train someone else to do it. We can create an SOP and/or a screencast so the process stays even if the employee leaves.
- I could learn how to do my own bookkeeping and save $200 a month. But that time I’ll invest in bookkeeping means I’m not focusing on my strengths. I can save $200, but at what cost?
- Finally, think about business models. There’s no leverage or scale in anything that’s a 1 on 1 service. That’s why I’m seeing a trend where people are switching from agencies to productized services.
It’s weird, but you have to develop this mentality of being “lazy.” Don’t bulldoze your way into a task. Think about how you can get a good outcome with minimal effort.
Anything that doesn’t involve creativity needs to be delegated ASAP.
Software can automate so much these days. I’ve invested time in using Zapier and IFTTT to automate as much as I can.
It’s hard for me to burn out if I’m doing the tasks I love.
I’m also delegating as much of my personal life as possible.
We hired someone that cleans my home every week for $100. My mom thinks it’s a waste of money. I don’t. She saves me 5 hours every Saturday. That’s 5 hours I can use to recover. I can use that energy to make way more than $100.
5. Does this Spark Joy? If Not, then the Answer’s No.
“The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.” – Warren Buffett
As you become successful and build a reputation, you’ll start becoming a magnet for opportunities.
Everyone will want a piece of you. It’s going to be tempting for you to say yes to everything. Resist this temptation.
Saying yes to every opportunity that comes your way is like eating everything at a buffet. You’ll spread yourself too thin.
I understand if it’s hard to say no. Some of us are natural people pleasers. We don’t want to disappoint someone.
Time is the most valuable thing I have. Every time I say yes to someone, it means I’m saying no to some of my own goals.
Be greedy with your time and mental energy.
Here’s a rule that I adapted from Marie Kondo (author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up).
If any item in her home doesn’t “spark joy,” she throws it out. So if an opportunity doesn’t “spark joy,” then the answer’s no.
I had a lot of trouble learning how to say no. Here’s a simple script to help you:
“Thanks so much for this opportunity. I’m sorry, but I can’t commit to this. My plate’s completely full right now, and I have to focus.”
Simple as that.
Use the spark joy mentality everywhere in your life.
I’ve written on this blog consistently since 2012. There were times where I burned out from writing and wanted to quit. What helped me was being more selective about what I choose to write about.
I could get more SEO traffic if I started writing more of what Google wants.
I could earn more affiliate commission if I started reviewing different internet marketing tools.
But those don’t “spark joy.” I rather write about topics that I’m curious and excited about. And hopefully, that attracts a tribe of like-minded me. That’s how I’ll be able to write for the next decade.
What are the Terms?
There’s a concept I learned from Shaan on the My First Million podcast.
“You tell me the deal, and I’ll tell you the terms.”
So many of us are focused on the deal that we don’t think about the bigger picture.
You want to make $500,000 a year. Ok, awesome. Well, what are the terms?
You work 90+ hours a week. You’re obese. You end up divorced. You’re miserable and depressed.
Do you still want that? I wouldn’t.
Think about the life you want, and then reverse engineer it.