If you’re involved in any long-haul effort to build a company, you’re inevitably going to have days that feel futile. If your work needs all of your effort and that effort is still not enough, some days will feel like tail-chasers.
These are the days when I feel closest to what I would consider “burnout” – that feeling of treading water, with no hope of progress. I have to zoom out of my current circumstances if I’m going to recover from that sense of hopelessness.
Here are some of the tactics I’m developing for redeeming these days.
1. Go for a nighttime walk.
This one rarely fails to do the trick. Walking at night gets me away from the constant traffic on the streets and the constant traffic in my mind. I tread out the stresses and mental clouds of the day with a good steady walk. I’ll go to the local park, look up at the stars, listen to music, listen to podcasts, meditate, pray, think, observe.
Perhaps more important than any of these activities is the process of discovery that can come with walking. Walking in new places is a powerful way to shift my mindset to one of openness and hope. If I’m exploring a new part of my city, my mind is more aware of what’s around me. I’m paying attention to new possibilities, and I’m not at all preoccupied with angry emails from customers or my to-do list. My world becomes larger than the prescribed circuit of my email inbox and my work commute.
2. Talk with stranger.
If you’re spending a lot of time in the office, crossing off to-do list items, or checking notifications, it’s easy to forget that you’re not the only person with problems. It’s also easy to forget that not all human interactions are going to be defined by your job.
If you want to gain perspective and the hope you need to dive back into another day of thankless work, you need to remind yourself that the world is much bigger than your startup or your job. Do that by interacting with strangers. Go to the grocery store. Talk with the clerks. You need to see what it’s like to work in other businesses.You need to remember that other businesses have challenges, too. You need to see the full breadth of life that humans experience, beyond just your particular productivity roadblocks or problems.
3. Work on a side project.
For me, just finishing a blog post here every day makes me confident that I spent my day well. It doesn’t matter what happened or didn’t happen at work – as long as I make tangible progress on one of my commitments, I have not failed to use my day to improve my life.
Find your side project. This should not replace your main work, and it’s can’t make up for lost opportunities or forgotten responsibilities there. But it can supplement your main work as a source of challenge, meaning, and growth in your life as a creator.
4. Make some – any – progress on a problem.
The best way to stop burnout is to cut out the problem at the root. What is causing you fear, trepidation, frustration, confusion? What is wasting your time? After you’ve done any of 1-3, take some time before you go to sleep to work on something to progress toward a solution. Get one step closer to a life without the same problem causing your difficult days.
Most of us can bear difficulties, but we can’t bear the thought of facing the same difficulty every day. If you can have the patience and fortitude to chip away at a problem a bit every day, you’ll be able to face new challenges, confident in your ability to address the old ones.
For more ideas on how to reset a day, check out Chuck Grimmett’s great, detailed tips.