Burning out is definitely something that can undermine our ability to study.
First and most important, recognise the feeling and be kind to yourself.
I’m not an expert on getting past burnout but here are a few things that are helping me:
- Separate things into required and optional categories. Ditch the optional stuff for now – revisit when you have a bit of momentum.
- Break all the required pieces into small bits – reallllllly small bits.
- Of those ‘bits’ that I normally enjoy, I put them at the start of the day.
- Of those ‘bits’ that I find easy – they go next. (you may find it helps to shift the easy or enjoyable bits to the end of the day and start with the items you are inclined to find reasons to avoid. Just do what works for you.)
- Then on to the ‘bits’ that have to get done but the motivation is hard to summon.
- Do one – reward – do another – reward. If I get some momentum, do a few – then reward. Etc. Rewards can be diverse: my favourites include watching dance videos to learn some new moves (I’m very very bad but it’s fun and gets me moving). But you might knit, check out tiktok, have a quick WhatsApp chats with friends, read a chapter of a book, watch part of a silly show on Netflix, go for a walk/run, or get a coffee. Identify some options that make you smile and recharge your energy. Remember that it does take about 15 minutes to get back into the groove of deep cognitive work (AKA paying attention to that judgment or article you are reading) – so think about spacing the breaks so you have time to get focused and accomplish your tasks.
- Create some routines for getting things done. They make a HUGE difference. I have found it minimises my opportunities for convincing myself not to do something. If it feels ‘extra’, we find a reason not to do it. If it is just what we do at 8 AM (work out or crack open the materials for X subject) – then we remove a barrier.
- Create some routines for marking the start and end of the work/study day. I go for a walk early every morning and after I’ve finished work to bracket my day. The morning walk helps me get geared up for what is to come; the evening walk helps me decompress. I usually listen to music that makes me happy which is also helpful.
- Break up the day into different activities – in a normal non-covid world we wouldn’t be sitting at our desks from start to end each day! We are missing the breaks in between where you would commute to uni or chat to friends between class that would normally help you rest and recharge throughout the day.
- Study buddies are also really helpful. I currently have someone I check in with every morning by zoom. It’s quick – we debrief the previous day and talk about our plans ahead. Company helps with motivation.
- You might need to take some time off rather than force yourself to keep working when you will end up working inefficiently. So take some time. Breathe. Regroup. Decide how to tackle the next task.
I found a couple of posts which provide more advice and links to other websites with strategies.
For those of you who interested in ‘crafting’ as one way of giving yourself breaks, consider joining the newly launched MLS Crafty Collective. You can join their listserv to receive notices of their activities by filling out this form. You don’t need to be an expert at crafts to join – it’s a lovely welcoming community where you can explore your own creativity.
Finally, I have found counselling really helpful when the struggle gets too hard on my own. It isn’t just for a crisis situation – a chat with a good counsellor can give you great strategies for all sorts of situations including burnout.
I’d love to know what you do to deal with your own burnout. Feel free to email me with suggestions and I’ll add them to the post.
Take good care of yourselves – you can do this!