Do you feel scattered? Are you bordering on burnout? Has someone in your life said, “I’m worried about your pace of life”? As a confirmed do-er, this has been a personal battle of mine since I began writing decades ago. Over the years, I’ve learned six things that have helped me (mostly) avoid burnout.
One. Embrace the Buffet Principle.
My friend Heidi wrote, “I focus on the have-to tasks so I can finish well and strong. Then as something is cleared from my plate, I add something else. It’s kind of like putting too much on your plate at a buffet or potluck. It all kind of runs together and everything gets flavored by everything else and compromises the flavor of the items. Like I really hate my mashed potatoes tasting like jello salad.” She wrote this to me at a particularly difficult time where everything on my plate threatened to taste like lime jello. Simply put, if you add something (an interview, a new platform, an online article) to your plate, remove something else. Otherwise your plate will be too full.
Two. Ask yourself the One Thing question:
Based on the book of the same title by Gary Keller and Jay Papason, ask yourself: What is the one thing I can do that by doing it, everything else will be easier or fall into place? (This hints at the Pareto Principle, 20% of effort produces 80% results.) Be open to a surprising answer. For instance, I didn’t expect my one thing to be sleep. If I could overcome my sleeplessness, so many career-leaning things would fall into place. I would have a clearer head, more energy, and more margin to make important decisions, which leads me to . . .
Three. Rest before you create.
Author Mark Buchanan wrote this in his book The Rest of God, “Sabbath-keeping is a form of mending. It’s mortar in the joints. Keep Sabbath, or else break too easily, and oversoon. Keep it, otherwise our dustiness consumes us, becomes us, and we end up able to hold exactly nothing.” He also encourages, “We have let ourselves be consumed by the things that feed the ego but starve the soul.” If you struggle with burnout, it may mean that you’ve run too fast and too far without a break. Take a rhythmic, weekly rest in order to have a full reservoir from which to write from. We are most creative from a position of rest.
Four. Become Otherish.
Adam Grant wrote the fascinating book, Give and Take. The most important thing I took away from the book was learning how to be what he calls “otherish.” He writes that those who are otherish “take care about benefiting others, but they also have ambitious goals for advancing their own interests.” (p. 157).
What he means by that: those who succeed as givers don’t give-give-give without heed to their own needs. They’ve learned to do what Jesus commanded–that we must love others as we love ourselves. The givers who lived without boundaries and spent a life being taken advantage of eventually failed. But the givers who learned to set boundaries and also learn to love themselves (in a non-self-absorbed way), succeeded.
I asked Grant this question: What differentiates givers at the top (i.e. those who’ve achieved great success) from those at the bottom (those who have burned out)?
He responded, “There are three differences that I find especially interesting—they revolve around availability, advocacy, and empathy. First is availability: failed givers are often willing to help anyone at any time. Successful givers set boundaries on when, how, and whom they help, protecting their time and energy more carefully, and pointing their giving in directions that will have the greatest impact. Second is advocacy: failed givers tend to be uncomfortable advocating for their own interests and asking for help, preferring to always be on the giving end of a transaction. Successful givers look to help others, but they also keep their own interests in the rearview mirror: they’re willing to fight for themselves when necessary. Third is empathy: many failed givers fall into the trap of focusing solely on the feelings of others in need, and respond by giving at their own expense. Successful givers empathize, but they also engage in perspective-taking, considering others’ thoughts and interests. This opens the door to identify win-win solutions that meet others’ needs without sacrificing one’s own.”
In short, writers find more margin when they have a balance between outflow (writing) and inflow (taking care of their souls).
Five. Untend things.
In order to have true and lasting writing longevity, we have to untend certain things. To do this, ask yourself two questions a day:
- What has God uniquely gifted me to do–the thing no one else does quite like me?
- And what is the task I can do today that will bring the most success?
If you focus on a small amount of things, another group of tasks will be ignored. This is hard for perfectionists and/or doers. But to avoid writer burnout, we have to let go of the less necessary for the sake of the greater work. Protect your writing time, writer! You have permission to prioritize your creative life.
Six. Focus on the one.
When we think of the feeding of the 5,000, we focus on numbers. We extrapolate that there were 20,000 folks including women and children. But we forget the one–the boy with the loaves and fishes. What if Jesus forgot the one? If He neglected the one, there wouldn’t be the 5,000 or the 20,000.
There is power in focusing on one task, being fully present in your writing moment. In addition, to impact many, you must first remember the one reader you are blessing. Who are they? How can you write in such a way that you’ll make a deep impact on your reader’s life?
In platform building, you’re encouraged to focus on the big ol’ number of followers, but if you focus solely on that large number, you’ll easily get discouraged. The greatest joy in the writing life comes when one person has been changed by your words. Celebrate that. Write for that. Rest in that.
I hope this has helped you find peace and rest as you tackle your next writing project.
Q4U: Which of these six practices is hardest for you to implement? Why do you think that is?