The (very) thin line between persistence and burning out

Burnout: a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.

This is an issue that is near and dear to me, as I find myself struggling with this distinction at least a few times a week.

How do you draw the line between being persistent and persevering through a non-fun work task, vs how can you tell when you’re on a one-way street to burning out?

It’s a tough question, at least for me. On the one hand, the ability to grind/power through stressful tasks is a pretty much essential skill if you want to be successful in anything.

On the other hand, especially for people doing stuff that requires more creativity or innovative thinking, forcing yourself to do stuff you don’t want to do (on a prolonged basis) is a double whammy – you’ll feel terrible, and your productivity will plummet.

Back when I was a startup cofounder a few years ago, I did not recognize the early stages of burnout. And even when I did, it was pretty much too late – I was burnt out pretty bad, where I’d realistically need at least a few weeks of recovery time to get back to being effective. We didn’t have a few weeks.

Now, I try to take a much more careful approach before grinding myself down to a stub. It’s certainly not a perfect approach, but for side projects, my perspective now is I can get way more done at 95% efficiency vs 40% efficiency (burnout territory). Four hours of work in a near-peak mental state can easily beat 20+ hours of work in a burnout state, almost every time.

Reflecting on this perspective has been helpful, but I keep catching myself falling into the trap of ‘go hard now and get therapy when you’re done.’ I guess that’s my natural state. The problem is it’s just not sustainable.

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