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Relieving burn out with a dip in ice-cold Loch Shin

Burn out

We’ve all been there. We’ve all promised we will never go there again. And then we’ve all gone back. “Burn out” is a phrase that resonates with so many this year, particularly the self-employed (although I certainly don’t envy the superheroes who managed to tackle WFH with childcare and schooling this year).

Larger companies have been instructing their staff to spread out their allotted holidays. But many translators, editors and anyone else without paid holidays has struggled to come to terms with the need for a break: where there were ebbs, we wanted to make up the shortfall or get on top of our CPD or admin. Anyway, we couldn’t go anywhere “proper”, so it would have been a waste of our precious time off!

Burn out is counterproductive

The thing is, it’s a problem for many reasons. The WHO doesn’t classify burn out as a medical problem, but it definitively labels it as an occupational one:

“It is characterized by three dimensions:
“feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
“increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
reduced professional efficacy.”

World Health Organization

It may not be strictly “medical”, but it’s not good for you or your work.

My burn out

Source: Pixabay

It’s not the first time I’ve done this, it won’t be the last. My first year working for myself was just that – a full year of working, bar a couple of days here and there.

This year has been different, though. I’m sure many of you will have experienced the same: in March and April, there was a horizon. My London marathon mini-break and then end-of-May holiday were soon cancelled, so I felt I may as well keep working. It couldn’t be much longer before I could take a break. It’d be worth it when the break finally arrived.

Despite my best intentions of taking an August break, what I really did was cram two weeks of half days into a stress-filled attempt to see as much family with as little contact as possible. It was great to have a change of scenery (and a heatwave), but ultimately I was still pushing my limits. Dreams of spending all morning cycling and all afternoon reading or relaxing with family stayed remained in my mind’s eye.

“Mental distance”

That’s a very apt description of how I began to feel. Well and truly fed up is another way of looking at it. Stacking up was what I describe as my “background to-do list” – the peripherals of the work, which include blogging, taxes and so on.

But I could only convince myself to concentrate on the bare (paid) essentials. And I was aware that they were suffering too. I had to double back over things far more than usual, not confident that I had really checked them when I checked them.

A welcome break

By September, enough was enough. We gathered our spirits and booked a trip to Orkney, with a stop in Lairg on the way back. “Worth it” doesn’t even begin to summarise the feeling of doing nothing but relaxing for a week.

Tips to prevent burnout

Everyone’s different, so these might not work for you. You might have a ton of other solutions that do. But here are some of the things I do to make sure I stay on top of things and “mentally close” to my work.

  • Track hours: keep an eye on yourself. Are you consistently working long days? Try to schedule in some downtime or shorter days.
  • Track holidays: if you were employed, you would be given a certain number of holidays. That’s not just because they can’t have you off all the time! It’s also for your welfare. It’s good practice to do this for your own business too, even if you are “just” a sole trader.
  • Plan for the long and short term: make sure you have something fun to look forward to at the end of most days. Also make sure you have good plans to take you away from your work on the weekends. And don’t forget to plan a full break for a few weeks’ or months’ time.
  • Take breaks: that’s really what all of the above is about!
  • Say no: Rome wasn’t built in a day and you can’t do everything. It doesn’t have to be an outright no, it’s always good to offer a solution (“Could we extend the deadline by a day?”). You might dread the thought of saying no now and having no work tomorrow, but consider the prospect of delivering a sub-par piece. You could ruin your reputation and frazzle yourself in the process.

With tensions heightened for everyone just now – for so many different reasons, to so many different levels – it’s more important than ever that you take it easy out there!