I’ve been at South Pole for almost two months now, so I’m overdue
I was giving my little brother some advice that I’ve been given and have given out many times before. Take a break. You should always know when your next break is and you should always take it. “Burn-out” is almost as much of a buzz word as ‘big data’ or ‘crypto’ or ‘block chain’. It’s when you work too hard for too long and your metaphorical candle burns out. You run out of fuel, your mental health declines, your energy levels plummet and your work suffers. You shouldn’t let it happen. But it’s a lesson far too many people learn the hard way, myself included. Book some time off. Please.
Let me guess, you want to do a good job? You don’t want to let people down, you want to learn and improve and do a good job. If this is the case you find that you have a lot to do. Naturally. There’s a long list of tasks and actions you need to get done. There are people relying on you, people depending on you to do things, to help them, or to unblock them or just do things for them. If you don’t do it, no one will. Then of course there’s that deadline coming up. Something has to get done by this time or there’ll be hell to pay.
So you can’t take a break until then, and after that you need to be there for the aftermath, and you should be planning for the next thing already and in the meantime you still have to do those other things, and of course don’t forget that action, you have to get that done before that person can do that thing and they’re waiting on you to do this and that’s super important, only you can do a good job of that so you have to do it. Right?
Sure, maybe, but breathe for a second. I’m sure people are relying on you, maybe you are the only person who can do that thing, or at least the person who would do it best. But everything will not fall apart if you take a break. In fact, if you keep going this way you’re just going to hurt those people and yourself in the long run. The stress will start to build up, your anxiety will get worse, you’ll have less energy, which will make things harder, you’ll have less motivation which will make things harder, and you’ll be too preoccupied with all the tasks and thinking about how you shouldn’t be feeling this way to do as good a job as you can do. Take a break.
The honest to goodness worst thing that will happen is your boss or your colleagues will have to pick up the most essential slack while you’re off. A task they can do until you get back. Things might fall on the floor, tasks might go undone, someone might be left without what they need, or maybe even you’ll have to delay a launch. All of these things are better than the slow degradation of your mental health. Because DUH, and also because you’ll be able to do a better job of all of those things once you feel fresh, and ready and energised.
Of course, better yet, don’t let it get to that point. Book some time off. Book it in advance, plan it in. And stick to it. This will give you something to look forward to in the hard times and it will mean you can properly plan for your time off. You can prep people, you can send out emails letting people know, you can push deadlines even. It will be fine. And you’ll be and feel better for it.
You might be thinking, ‘but I can’t, what if something important happens then?’ Or, ‘Okay but I might have to move that break if something comes up.’ No. If something important happens, deal with it when you get back, if something comes up, if you can’t move it, apologise, but you’re taking a break. You need to. I need to. Everyone needs to. Everyone needs a break and you’re going to take one. You’ll be happy to juggle all of those plates that are on fire when you’re back.
Don’t come back for at least a week. AT LEAST. A long weekend isn’t a break. It’s a respite, a breather. If you think it counts as a break, change your mind. You need to book AT LEAST a week. Preferably two weeks or more. That’s 10 days. 10 days out of 365 is not a lot. So plan another 10 days, another two weeks. Space them out a bit, you probably want to move one of them around the holidays so you can be present for them. Good. Thank you. You have some time off.
The last time I had time off was a few weeks ago between jobs and let me tell you, it was the best. I knew it was coming up so I arranged to jump on some trains and go and visit some friends. I met up with some old friends, I went to a wedding, I saw my family, I even went to the PhD graduation of one of my newest friends based on the sentence ‘You’re off that weekend? Hey, me too, I’m graduating then, funny that.’ ‘Can I come?’ I booked the trains and I was gone.
Other than telling people when I started again I barely thought about work, I barely touched my computer. I did what I enjoyed, I visited people and places and I read a lot of books. It was great. And when I came back, when i started the new job, I was fresh, I was ready, I was motivated, and not to blow my own horn, but I have been on pretty great form ever since.
I burnt out hard a couple of times in 2020. People warned me, people tried to help me, I didn’t listen, I barely even noticed it was happening until it was done and I was just exhausted. Now, I’m much more mindful of it. If I work on ‘Overdrive’ by accident I make sure to clock it, I eat healthier on those days, I go to sleep earlier, I read for longer before going to sleep. I take better care of myself and I take care not to over do it again. And most importantly, I take time off. I have it booked off. Next is around Christmas time and I am stoked.