TL;DR How not to burn out, or how I work, the 2017 edition
I’ve always suffered from anxiety and stress in my work. It’s a first-world problem, sure, but it’s there, and tangible, causing health issues (blood pressure high enough to frighten most health-care professionals, and surviving on approximately 3-4 hours sleep a night, most nights). Before Christmas 2016 I felt as if I was hitting some sort of tipping point, where I needed to fix things, or burn out. To add to that, I have a worsening back problem (Hyperlordodis of the lower spine, and a slipped disk) which has been slowly eroding my ability to do the things I love and keep me sane, like bouldering and scuba-diving.
Cut to 2 months later, and I feel as if I’m making a huge amount of progress and I put it down to a small number of minor changes. I’m setting them out in this post in the hope that they are useful to others. Warning, I’m going to mention meditation, but promise me you won’t stop reading at this point, as it’s not hippy claptrap.
I can’t say which of the things below is the key to getting myself back on track, but I am sleeping better, and am a whole lot less stressed, so for me it’s the whole package. If I thought that turning on the spot thrice widdershins four times a day was the key, I’d be doing that!
Blue Light on your phone/digital device
Seriously, cut this out before you go to bed. If you can’t stop using your device, then try something like Twilight to steadily reduce the brightness of your screen in the evening.
I’ve always been curious about the benefits of mindfulness, so I purchased a subscription to Calm a few years ago but wasn’t really using it very much. I now meditate for 10 minutes first thing in the morning and last thing at night. The simple fact of taking 10 minutes out to sit/lie quietly and concentrate on just breathing and not thinking is hugely beneficial.
I’m using Google Fit to track my daily progress in meditating and doing the exercises for my back, and shame me into keeping it going. I also use Remember the Milk to send me reminders in the morning and the evening- these come through to my Pebble watch so I have no excuse.
Reading Cal Newport has led me to consider the value that I really get from social media. The balance I have found is to delete social media accounts that provide no use to me at all (hello LinkedIn and Facebook) and to drastically reduce the number of accounts I follow on Twitter. I’ve also cut down the number of apps that can notify me on my phone and hence my watch.
I think better on paper, always have, and have gone through a number of task management variants over the years. The main philosophy is always the same- I am a total convert to Getting Things Done but have tried many different ways of actually managing my lists. Before Christmas I heard about Bullet Journal and have now settled on a hybrid approach, using possibly my favourite notebook in the world- the Hobonichi Techo Planner. This is essentially an A5 gridded page a day diary with additional planning pages, and lovely paper that works well with a fine fountain pen and small writing. I dump every task I have to do in here, on the day it needs to be done, if not today.