Beating burnout: How to actually enjoy your time off

Graduating the grind: How to actually enjoy your time off

Hustle. Grind. Work hard. These are all ways of saying “bust your tush to prove your worth and reach your goals”. Even if it sucks all the fun out of life.

While these may be well-intentioned words to motivate and inspire people like us, more often it triggers our over-achieving (and unrealistic) perfectionism and pushes us onto the path of burnout.

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According to the Mayo Clinic, when you “try to be everything to everyone” and spend your energy on work to the point of not having energy left over for friends and family, then you’re at risk of burning out quickly.

If you’re like Past Me and working in corporate America, burnout can cause you to lose passion for your work, affect your health, and even disrupt your personal relationships. And if you’re like Current Me and you’re running a business, then burnout can be additionally scary because there’s no paid time off, no sick leave to take, and you may or may not have health insurance.

So how do you show up fully without working yourself into the ground? The trick to beating burnout is ensuring you can actually enjoy your time off and recharge. This is easier said than done. Here’s how to get there.

Step one: Protect your time off from work worries

When speaking with a new client, I ask her a series of questions, including how productive she feels at home and at work, as well as how much she enjoys her downtime. Even the people who rank themselves high on productivity rank themselves low on enjoying downtime. The culprit: we never know when we can turn that “productivity mode” off, which prevents us from enjoying downtime because we think we need to always be working.

But the solution isn’t as simple as blocking off downtime in your calendar. When you try to force yourself to take time off, be present, and focus on anything other than work, those pesky, nagging thoughts about the work tasks you “should” be focusing on derail any ability you have to relax. And if you can’t wrangle those thoughts, then your turn-off time just turns into the anxious jitters until you can get back to work. That leaves you with no space to actually recharge and enjoy your life.

Luckily, there’s a way to get all of those annoying thoughts to quiet so you can actually enjoy a date night with your partner, a game night with your kids, or reading that fun romantic comedy book on your own.

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Step two: Conquer your calendar

To get those background thoughts to simmer down, we have to address the underlying cause of them – the stress-ridden belief that you won’t actually get it all done (especially if you take a break tonight). The best way to combat this is by giving yourself a visual that helps you understand that you can get it all done without working right now.

Your calendar is the key. Here’s how you can leverage your calendar to give you this peace of mind.

Sit down and corral all of your action items in one place. Then, using your calendar, plot out when you’ll do each task, how long it’ll take, and whether it fits with everything else you need to do that day. This will give you a clear, visual game plan for how you’ll get everything done over time.

Most of us don’t have a system like that.

Instead, we have a scattered understanding of where our time needs to go. We keep events in our calendars and place our tasks on to-do lists, post-it notes, email inboxes, phone note apps, task management apps, and a lot in our heads.

These practices prevent us from having one simple, clear view of everything on our plate. Without that, we definitely don’t have one clear view that tells us how we’ll get it all done over time – or even if we can get it all done over time. That uncertainty prevents us from truly relaxing, especially during downtime, and keeps our stress levels high.

Once all your tasks are laid out in your calendar, you’ll see how they can all get done over time, even if you take a break tonight. Better yet, use your calendar to protect time for the fun stuff so Future You doesn’t give it away to other work tasks.

Step three: Clear off your plate

Have you ever over-committed yourself and then had to figure out how in the world you were going to get it all done? Usually, it comes in the form of getting help or pulling an all-nighter. Since none of us are as young as we used to be, banking on all-nighters as a strategy doesn’t play out well.

If you find that you have too many tasks to take time off, that’s when delegation really becomes a necessity to avoid burnout.

The good news is that by using your calendar to plot out your tasks, you’ll get a better, more objective sense of when your workload is outstripping your capacity so you can see where you need help.

For example, seeing how much time all the bite-size steps of a project will take shows you where you need to delegate certain tasks to a work teammate – and with plenty of time to do so.

On the home front, calendaring your meal prep may show you that you spend five or more hours per week cooking. Would a meal prep service make more sense for you to get that time back?

So often, we go through our lives thinking that we have to face our to-dos alone. That if we’re not Super Woman, then we’re somehow failing (according to whom, I have no idea).

The truth is, no one can do it alone, which is why your calendar and support system are so vital to your success in actually reclaiming control of your time and enjoying your time off.


For the sake of clarity (which I’m a huge fan of), here’s what I recommend you do sometime this week (and block time in your calendar of when you’ll do it now!):

  1. Get all of your to-dos mapped out in your calendar according to how long they will take to complete so you can see how they can all get done over time – meaning you can actually see that they all don’t need to get done right now;
  2. Schedule your off time so that it’s protected from work obligations;
  3. Once you have a sense of how full your plate is, see if there are any tasks that you can delegate to someone else to free up more of your time; and
  4. Rest easy during your time off, knowing that everything can still get done over time, even with you taking that glorious break tonight.

Rest easy during your time off, knowing that everything can still get done over time, even with you taking that glorious break tonight.


Kelly Nolan is an attorney-turned-time management strategist and mum. Using realistic time management strategies, she helps modern working women manage everything on their plate with less stress and more calm clarity. To get Kelly’s free guide on how to ditch your overwhelm, click here.