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This article is Part 1 of a 5-part series. Please tune in for more installments, once a month through April.

man burn out 17367337_sLet’s talk about burn out. What is it? Why is it important? Where does overwork fit into the picture? What are some solutions?

What It Is

Burn out is that feeling of futility we get when we’ve been doing something so long and/or so hard that we don’t want to do it anymore. This is not like your hatred of washing the dishes (though too many dishes are a pain in the tush). This is more like a slow-growing sense of “why am I doing this?” and “why do I bother?” For purposes of these articles, I’m going to confine my remarks to burn out as applied to our jobs.

Why It’s Important

This feeling is important because it can cause a hesitation or even cessation of doing the things that need to be done for your career or job. If you’re really sick and tired of doing something, you’re going to do it less often, less well, and with a lot less enthusiasm. I think we’ve all felt that way in the past; maybe you feel like that right now.

One Cause: Overwork

One of the biggest reasons for burn out is overwork. Do you work too many hours? Do you work with great intensity, so much intensity that other things don’t get done? You might be heading for burn out.

Working too many hours will lead you to feel tired, physically and emotionally. Your brain gets tired, too; remember it’s an organ that works 24/7/365. If you’re working 80-hour weeks, you’re going to get physically tired. You probably sit at a desk throughout, or, if you’re like me, you stand at a desk. Imagine how tired your body is stuck in any one position for so long. And your poor eyeballs! Focusing on a specific distance for hours at a time can really wear out those little muscles that keep you from looking like a fish.

You might be a person with intense focus. You really dive into your work with your whole being, working hour after hour at maximum intensity. You must get this task or that task done today. Must, must, must! But is that really true? Can’t you do something a little less industrious—but still useful—for an hour or two?

Author, Jenna Jaxon, who wrote the stunning historical romance, Betrothal, makes this point about overwork:
Cover: Betrothal

In my experience, overwork is the key ingredient to a writer’s downfall–too many commitments, too many irons in the fire, too many distractions, too many outside obligations (family, friends, holidays, etc) and suddenly the writer is plagued with missed deadlines, missed appointments, missed commitments on social media, all of which lead to missed opportunities. Pushing yourself beyond the limit may seem like a good idea or the only way to fit everything into your schedule, but in the end it is self-defeating. Imagine a juggler with eight objects flashing in the air which he controls with consummate skill; add two or three more objects (or ten) and suddenly the grace, the rhythm, the skill are gone and the next thing you know the objects are raining down (sometimes on his head), leaving the juggler with empty air and a puzzled expression because he believed he had everything handled, but didn’t have the perspective to see that he was in over his head.


One solution to the overwork type of burn out is to pace yourself. Yes, that sounds easier than it is, but it can be done. Work smarter, not harder. Some of you will be the type to make lists. That’s what I do. But, don’t stop there. Prioritize your list. Everything cannot be a level one to-do item. A few will have to be level 2 or below. Setting priorities will help you pace yourself. When you find yourself working too hard or too many hours, dig into those lower-level items for a little while. Give yourself a break.

Another way to pace yourself is to get up and move around. If you’re not the kind of person who exercises regularly (I’m not), move away from your workplace for a few minutes. Even five minutes every two hours will give you a mental and physical break that can leave you revitalized.

My last suggestion regarding overwork is to think about your family. If you work too hard or too many hours, it’s going to show in your relationships with the people you care about. Either they won’t see you enough (too many hours away), or you’ll be crabby when they do see you because the wall between intense focus and relaxation has been built up too tall and too hard. It’s hard to relax if you’re all wound up. Let guilt overwhelm your feelings of ambition for a little while. You and your family will thank you.

Joyce Zeller, Author of Maddie’s Choice, has a great observation:

Burn Out is depression that comes when you are not growing. You’re in a box and can’t get out. Stop what you’re doing. Find an interest outside the box–take up oil painting, audit a course in Anthropology if you’re near a college. Learn to play poker, especially join an amateur theater group if there is one near…those are creative, outside-the-box people. You get the idea. Creative action breeds creativity and soon you’ll be at peace.

For me, overwork is my biggest area of potential burn out. I keep precise hours to avoid working more than I must, I pace myself carefully, prioritize assiduously, and take small breaks. Maybe most of all, I think about how overwork affects my family. If I’m not good to myself, I’m not good to them either.

Come back again in a month and we’ll talk about how lack of progress can make you feel burned out. In the meantime, if you want to be alerted to new posts (which regularly occur), sign up for my email notifications. It’s the best way to know what’s going on at Patricia Green Books.

Thank you for joining me here today, and any day!


  1. I get to a point where I want to turn off the computer and crawl under the covers, and I’m not talking about at bed time, but during the day. The work smarter is the hard part. I tend to focus my attention where I think it’s most needed, then ignore the rest. The problem comes when it’s “catch up” time. Great article, Trish.

  2. Perfect timing for this post with Christmas looming. Much as I love the internet, I think that the constant connection and opportunity to interact also leads to that feeling of being overworked and overwhelmed. It’s like “I must respond to that email message right now” even if the sender has no concerns w/hearing back right away. It just all seems so urgent and can start coming at you from all angles.

    • I believe you’re right about the stress of “having to” get to email immediately, or respond to social media in the moment. I do think we all need a break now and then.

      Happy holidays!

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