When you take on too much at once or push yourself too hard, it’s all too easy to become burned out from something you once were genuinely passionate about. But losing that spark of motivation and enjoyment doesn’t always equal burnout, nor does it always mean you have to abandon that passion forever.
While it’s entirely possible you might actually be burned out, it’s also possible your processes — that is, your productivity systems and habits — are simply outdated and no longer serving you the way they should.
You might need to step away. Or you might need a process update to get you back on track and motivated again.
So let’s talk about the similarities and differences between being burned out and having outdated processes, and how to deal with both.
What’s the (Actual) Problem?
Before you can address what’s causing you to feel burned out and stuck in one place, it’s important to understand what you’re actually experiencing. Is it burnout? Or do you just need to update your old, no-longer-useful processes?
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you suspect you might be burned out. You’re probably feeling overwhelmed, tired of your job, and like you’ve lost sight of why you started in the first place. Your everyday tasks feel exhausting, and maybe even pointless.
These are all common signs of being burned out, but they aren’t the only signs. In some cases, burnout can even mimic symptoms of depression. However, burnout is typically triggered by one specific stressor, and it’s almost always work-related.
To identify burnout, try to notice if your feelings of exhaustion, demotivation, and other physical signs of stress tend to show up in relation to your job specifically, and not in relation to other areas of your life.
Identifying Outdated Processes
Let me preface this by saying that having outdated processes and being burned out aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. In fact, having outdated processes that are keeping you from being efficient and effective could be adding to or even causing your burnout.
When your processes — by which I mean your routines, habits or habit systems, and so on — are outdated, you end up doing the same things over and over again to seemingly no purpose. You may still have the same end goal in sight or the same passion for what you’re doing. But you feel like you’re making absolutely zero progress towards it — and you may not even know why.
To begin identifying outdated processes, ask yourself if making your job or daily routines easier and more efficient would help restore your enjoyment and motivation, even if you aren’t sure yet what needs to change to achieve that efficiency.
What Do I Do About It?
Now that you have an idea of the underlying problem you’re dealing with, it’s time to fix it. That said, keep in mind that neither burnout nor outdated processes are going to have a quick-fix kind of solution. It will take work — but you can get through it.
What to Do if You’re Burned Out
If you’re able, try to take a step back from the work that is causing you to feel burned out. Sometimes this can be a temporary step back, where you put that work aside for a while, remove yourself from the environment, and then return after you’ve had a chance to decompress and refresh your motivation.
Other times, you may have to leave the work and the environment behind for good and take up something else entirely. In other words, you may need to find a new passion.
Of course, taking a step back (or outright quitting) your job isn’t always an option. If that’s the case, practicing self-care is essential. This might be as simple as setting boundaries to prevent overextending yourself. Or it might be as involved as going to therapy for professional help working through your feelings of being burned out.
How to Overhaul Outdated Processes
If outdated processes are what’s keeping you spinning your wheels, it’s time to sit down and do some introspection. Ask yourself:
- What are my current processes (productivity systems, habits, etc.)?
- Why did I set those processes in the first place?
- Why aren’t these processes working? What routines or habits do I find myself skipping, dreading, or procrastinating on? Why do I feel resistance towards them?
- What has changed about my short-term or long-term goals? Does the reason I created these processes still exist?
Take the time to dig deep on answering these questions. Then start fresh on creating new processes. Resist the urge to copy-paste or edit an existing list! Pull out a completely new sheet of paper or create a new digital checklist from scratch.
As you create your new processes:
- Start with your end goal in mind. What do you want these processes to help you accomplish? What part of your life are you trying to make easier, more efficient, or more enjoyable? Only set short-term goals and habits that will move you closer to achieving that easier, more efficient, more enjoyable lifestyle.
- Think about what you like. You just spent a lot of time thinking about what you didn’t like about your old processes. So what do you like? What do you enjoy doing every single day? Working towards your goals may sometimes mean pushing through things you don’t enjoy but need to get done. But that shouldn’t be the bulk of it (unless you’re trying to burn yourself out!).
Remember: you don’t have to wait for a new year to set new goals. Likewise, you don’t have to wait until you’re completely burned out to take a step back, evaluate whether your processes are still serving you, and adjust accordingly.
How Do I Avoid Future Burnout?
Being burned out and having outdated processes are different problems with different solutions. But there are a few preventative measures you can take to avoid both in the future.
- Setting boundaries that protect you from taking on too much at once
- Prioritizing caring for your mental health
- Building regular self-evaluation into your routines to check in with yourself on how you’re feeling and why you feel that way
- Asking for help when you first start to feel overwhelmed
Whether you’re burned out or your processes are outdated, the key is to identify which you’re experiencing. That will help you know how to respond to it, get yourself out of that rut, and avoid falling into the same trap later down the road.
For more tips, inspiration, and ideas on preventing burnout and keeping your processes up-to-date and effective, subscribe to my newsletter. When you do, you’ll also get access to the free resource library to help you get started creating better, more efficient systems for getting things done.