by Niall Doherty

A couple of weeks back I hit the wall.


I literally could bring myself to do nothing but lie on my bed and watch random YouTube clips for five hours straight. That was the lowest point. The entire burnout phase lasted several days, and even now, almost two weeks after I hit bottom, it continues to linger. I’m still not quite back to my usual active, motivated self.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what went wrong. Not getting angry at myself or anything, but thinking about what led me to that slump and trying to figure out how to avoid similar in future. And if I’m being honest, a lot of what led me there was following my own advice from this post: How I’ve Become More Productive Than Ever.

There’s nothing I’d remove from that post. I still think it’s all good advice. But I know now that I was missing a few key things. I’ve identified three and listed them below. Mostly these additions are about managing energy levels, and helping to ensure they never get too low in the first place.

Embracing Boredom

I used to view boredom as an enemy. I’d ask people incredulously, How does anyone ever get bored? There are so many cool things to see and do and learn and experience in the world! I had boredom pegged as a synonym for laziness. Boredom was a lack of initiative, a lack of creativity. Boredom was a choice, and I always chose something else.

Then I read the following words from Richard Carlson

“…if you allow yourself to be bored, even for an hour–or less–and don’t fight it, the feelings of boredom will be replaced with feelings of peace. And after a little practice, you’ll learn to relax.”

I’m seeing now the value of allowing yourself to be bored on occasion. I used to try schedule something productive into every hour of the day. If I had ninety minutes free on Thursday afternoon, I’d try squeeze in lunch with a friend.

Not much work on my plate this week? Why not start a big new project!?

Being proactive and making the most of your free time is great and everything, but I’ve now learned the hard way that it can be taken too far. If I try to make the most of every hour of every day, I inevitably end up burning out and falling into another ugly YouTube coma.

My proposed solution is to embrace boredom. Instead of trying to do something productive with every free hour I come across, I’ll just let myself be. Maybe I’ll go take a relaxing walk, sit in a park and watch the world go by, or kick back and listen to some music. The idea here is that I’ll give myself more time to relax and recharge, rather than constantly pushing to be productive 1.

A further remedy to this is to avoid scheduling too much in the first place…

Saying No to the Yes-Worthy

If success is a catalyst for failure because it leads to the “undisciplined pursuit of more,” then one simple antidote is the disciplined pursuit of less. Not just haphazardly saying no, but purposefully, deliberately, and strategically eliminating the nonessentials. Not just once a year as part of a planning meeting, but constantly reducing, focusing and simplifying. Not just getting rid of the obvious time wasters, but being willing to cut out really terrific opportunities as well. Few appear to have the courage to live this principle, which may be why it differentiates successful people and organizations from the very successful ones. – Greg McKeown

A few years back I had to get good at saying no to demands on my time that I considered wasteful. Helping people fix their computers was a good example. I wasn’t good at it and I didn’t enjoy it, but I found it hard to say no. Eventually though I learned to stand up for myself and refuse to spend time on such things.

Nowadays I again find myself needing to say no regularly. But not just to bad stuff. I’ve become fortunate enough that more appealing offers and opportunities come my way than I can possibly say yes to. The only way to handle this is to become pretty ruthless and accept that I’m going to piss some people off by turning down the great opportunities they were kind enough to present to me.

This is a challenge. If someone wants to meet up with me for lunch and a chat, I feel like an asshole saying no. They took the initiative to reach out and were willing to give up some of their own valuable time so they could spend it with me. Hard to say no to that. But at a certain point you have to. There are only so many lunches in a week. You have to get selective about who you spend your time with. And again, you have to be pretty ruthless about this. You start weighing up the pros and cons of building relationships with certain people.

Which brings me to…

Demanding Respect

“I would like to make a generational impact on the world. This requires that everyone around me treat me very well, or get out of my life.” – Sebastian Marshall

Last week I changed the commenting policy here on the blog. Disrespectful comments are no longer tolerated. If I can help it, I’ll never even see them in the first place; they’ll be filtered straight to spam.

There is often value in disrespectful comments. You learn to separate the emotional, childish digs and accusations from the helpful nuggets of criticism. Or at least, you get better at doing that. I’ve realized it’s impossible not to let the insults and disrespect affect you on some level. They chip away at your confidence and self-esteem. Often the chips are so small that you don’t even notice. Or you try to pretend it’s not a problem because you’re a big boy and above all that. But at least in my case, I had to acknowledge that the trade-off was no longer worth it. Accept and invite regular disrespect in exchange for the occasional ah-ha moment? No thanks. I can just as easily get my fill of ah-ha’s from respectful people.

This policy doesn’t just apply to comments. Same offline. If someone doesn’t treat me very well, we’re done. Life’s too short. There are so many cool people in the world that it makes no sense to tolerate anyone disrespectful.

Of course many times it will be a tough call. Very few people are flat out disrespectful. And others drain your energy in different ways, maybe by being overly needy or whatever. I’m looking forward to this challenge though. It will require me to be more assertive and further overcome my people-pleasing tendencies.

Thoughts on the above? Anything you’re planning to do differently in 2013?

Show 1 footnote

  1. A great article by Cal Newport related to this: If You’re Busy, You’re Doing Something Wrong