11 ways to avoid burnout

work smarter

“At 99U we’ve long explored the best strategies for coping with, treating, and preventing burnout. Here are 11 of our favorites to help you create your own escape plan:

1_Figure out which kind of burnout you have. The Association for Psychological Science found that burnout comes in three different types, and each one needs a different solution:

A. Overload: The frenetic employee who works toward success until exhaustion, is most closely related to emotional venting. These individuals might try to cope with their stress by complaining about the organizational hierarchy at work, feeling as though it imposes limits on their goals and ambitions. That coping strategy, unsurprisingly, seems to lead to a stress overload and a tendency to throw in the towel.

B. Lack of Development: Most closely associated with an avoidance coping strategy. These under-challenged workers tend to manage stress by distancing themselves from work, a strategy that leads to depersonalization and cynicism — a harbinger for burning out and packing up shop.

C. Neglect: Seems to stem from a coping strategy based on giving up in the face of stress. Even though these individuals want to achieve a certain goal, they lack the motivation to plow through barriers to get to it.

2_Cut down and start saying “no”. Every “yes” you say adds another thing on your plate and takes more energy away from you, and your creativity.

3_Give up on getting motivated. With real burnout mode, you’re too exhausted to stay positive. So don’t.

4_Treat the disease, not the symptoms. For real recovery and prevention to happen, you need to find the real, deeper issue behind why you’re burnt out.

5_Make downtime a daily ritual. To help relieve pressure, schedule daily blocks of downtime to refuel your brain and well-being. It can be anything from meditation to a nap, a walk, or simply turning off the wifi for a while.

6_Stop being a perfectionist; start satisficing. Trying to maximize every task and squeeze every drop of productivity out of your creative work is a recipe for exhaustion and procrastination. Set yourself boundaries for acceptable work and stick to them.

7_Track your progress every day. Keeping track allows you to see exactly how much is on your plate, not only day-to-day, but consistently over time.

8_Change location often. Entrepreneurs or freelancers can be especially prone to burnout. Joel Runyon plays “workstation popcorn”, in which he groups tasks by location and then switches, in order to keep work manageable, provide himself frequent breaks, and spend his time efficiently.

9_Don’t overload what downtime you do get. Vacations themselves can cause, or worsen burnout, with high-stress situations, expectations, and sleep interruption. Use it to help in recovery from burnout instead.

10_Write yourself fan mail. Seth Godin uses self-fan mail as a way to keep motivated instead of burning out on a project that seems far from completion.

11_Break projects into bite-sized pieces. Taking a task on in one entire lump can be exhausting and provide little room for rest in between. Breaking up your projects into set chunks with their own deadlines provides a much healthier, and easier, way of completing a large project.”

Sasha Vanhoven assistant editor and community manager of 99U
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the difference between successful and very successful people

improve yourself

“We’ve been sold on a heroic ideal of the uber-man and super-women who kill themselves saying yes to everyone, sleeping four hours a night and straining to fit everything in. How often have you heard people say, “I am so busy right now!” But it almost seemed like a back-door brag. Below are a few of the myths of success that hold us back from becoming very successful.

Myth 1: Successful people say, “If I can fit it in, I should fit it in.”
Truth: Very successful people are absurdly selective.

As Warren Buffet is credited with having said, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.”

Myth 2: Successful people sleep four hours a night.
Truth: Very successful people rest well so they can be at peak performance.

In K. Anders Ericsson’s famous study of violinists, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell as the “10,000 hour rule,” Anders found that the best violinists spent more time practicing than the merely good students. What is less well known is that the second most important factor differentiating the best violinists from the good ones was actually sleep. The best violinists averaged 8.6 hours of sleep in every 24 hour period.

Myth 3: Successful people think play is a waste of time.
Truth: Very successful people see play as essential for creativity.

Just think of Sir Ken Robinson, who has made the study of creativity in school’s his life’s work. He has observed that instead of fueling creativity through play, schools actually kill it.

Myth 4: Successful people are the first ones to jump in with an answer.
Truth: Very successful people are powerful listeners.

As the saying goes, the people who talk the most don’t always have the most to say. Powerful listeners get to the real story. They find the signal in the sound. They listen to what is not being said.

Myth 5: Successful people focus on what the competition is doing.
Truth: Very successful people focus on what they can do better.

The “winningest coach in America” is Larry Gelwix, the former Head of the Highland High School rugby team. His team won 418 games with only 10 losses in over 36 years. One of the key questions he challenged his players to ask was “What’s important now?” He didn’t want his players getting distracted with what the other team was doing. He wanted them to play their own game.”

Greg McKeown author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

5 habits of creative masters

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“Masters of creativity are masters of creativity because they know ‘how’ to think and not necessarily ‘what’ to think. For example:
_Switch perspectives; the more often and the more diverse, the better.
_Question everything; don’t accept [just] anything.
_Chunk up (generalize the problem at hand by making it more abstract) and also chunk down (go deeper and deeper to the root of the issue by making it more specific).
_Change the sentences and the words of the problem statement by rephrasing it; use whatever words you’d like to.
_There’s no right and wrong; separate the parts from the whole.”

Andreas von der Heydt country manager of Amazon Buy Vip in Germany

why creativity thrives in the dark

work smarter

“Imaginative minds have long appreciated the power of dim lighting. New research confirms that when the lights switch off, something in the brain switches on. Psychologists Anna Steidel and Lioba Werth recently conducted a series of clever experiments designed to measure how creativity responded to various lighting schemes.

“Apparently, darkness triggers a chain of interrelated processes, including a cognitive processing style, which is beneficial to creativity”, the researchers concluded in the September issue of the Journal of Environmental Psychology.

A well-designed workspace must adapt to what you’re working on. Steidel suggests a flexible lighting situation for all the tasks one might perform during the day: dim areas for creative brainstorming sessions and bright ones for administrative chores. After all, great ideas might arrive in the darkness, but a lot of other work is needed to help them see the light of day.”

Eric Jaffe writes about cities, history, and behavioral science

mild ambient noise can increase creativity

work smarter

“Finding the right space to do creative work can be difficult. Inside the office, there are constant interruptions, last-minute meetings, and an often unbearable amount of noise. On the other hand, locking yourself away in quiet isolation can sometimes be just as counterproductive (not to mention boring).

Perhaps this is why so many creatives often retreat to public spaces like coffee shops. They’ve become a virtual second office to so many. Specifically, settings like coffee shops contain the right level of ambient noise that just happens to trigger our minds to think more creatively. The December edition of the Journal of Consumer Research argues that the ideal work environment for creative projects should contain a little bit of background noise.”

David Burkus assistant professor of management at the College of Business at Oral Roberts University

losing sight of the forest for the trees

concepts & definitions

“The idea behind this metaphor is that when you are too close to something, you can get mired in the details and have difficulty focusing on the way those details fit together into a big picture.

During the past 10 years, psychologists Yaacov Trope, Nira Liberman, and their colleagues have provided a lot of evidence for what they call “construal level theory:” The closer you are to an object or event, the more specifically you think about it. While the more distant you are to that object or event, the more abstractly you think about it. This idea has important implications for your creativity.

So to help yourself think about a problem you are solving more abstractly, it is useful to give yourself some distance from that problem. There are several ways to create that distance: imagine that you are solving the problem for someone else rather than for yourself; think about what the solution to the problem will look like 5 years in the future rather than right now, think about how people 1.000 miles away might be conceptualizing the problem. Each of these methods helps to create some distance, and that can help you focus on the more abstract parts of the situation.

After you re-think the problem, though, it is important to focus on the details again. So, once you have an insight that changes the way you think about the problem, focus on it close up again. In that way, you can ensure that the solution you develop will also address the little things that can make the difference between success and failure.”

Art Markman for 99u (Behance)