How to Stay Productive When You’re Feeling Burned Out


For entrepreneurs, employees, executives, burn-out is a possibility. I recently had a discussion with a peer who has an aversion to the phrase “Work smarter, not harder”. His response: why not do both? Now perhaps there’s some truth to that, we should work smarter, freeing up more time and resources, and utilizing that saved time to get more work done. But you can’t work 40, 50, 80 hours per week forever. Why? Because burn-out. 


Working like an entrepreneur, at least a budding entrepreneur, can mean learning to stay productive, even when the going gets rough. In an effort to be more productive, I dove into the research and insight shared by professionals like Michael Hyatt. Let me tell you, there is a LOT of great information out there, tips for productivity, managing your time, etc. But really it comes down to personal preference. Here are the productivity tips that stuck out to me.


1. Nap

Seems counter-productive, right? Wrong. Studies show that a half hour nap in the middle of your work day helps you get the most out of your day. Not a long nap, but between 10-30 minutes is enough to feel ready to take on the rest of the day without putting yourself through a sleep cycle or waking up in the middle of one, making you groggy for the remainder of the day.


This isn’t a time management tip, it’s an energy management strategy. Relaxing your mind in the middle of the day helps you start fresh for your “second-shift”. If someone is telling you a short nap everyday will make your work better quality and you more productive, are you really going to argue with them? However, if you need more convincing, check out this article by productivity guru Michael Hyatt.


Thomas Edison, Napoleon, John F. Kennedy are examples of productive people who religiously took naps. If they can do it, so can you!


2. Write Lists

I’m a list-writer. I prefer paper lists, and have a notebook with me almost everywhere I go. I write down ideas, new tasks that I need to get done, schedules, etc. Some people use their phones, and that is totally acceptable. Having a place to jot down reminders helps us keep focused on the task at hand. We’re only distracted for the moment it takes us to write down whatever has come to mind.


Lists also help to relieve anxiety. Instead of trying to remember everything you need to do, you can write a list and have peace of mind knowing that everything you need is in one place.


3. Prioritize

You can’t do everything and you really shouldn’t try. Choosing the top 3-5 tasks that need to get done that day helps you feel less overwhelmed and more clear about what needs to be done. Choose bottleneck tasks first (tasks that you have to get done in order for others to do their work), and work your way down your list.


I like to write a daily ‘Work’ and ‘Home’ list with 5-10 items on each, and highlighting the top three that must be done. This means I’m not worrying about things I need to do at home while I’m at work and vice versa. You can write out more categories if you need to, but don’t overwhelm yourself.


4. Keep Your Work Space Clutter Free

Clutter is the murderer of productivity. At least the murderer of my productivity. If my work space is cluttered, my mind is cluttered and I can’t focus because nothing is organized and I’m always searching through the mess to find what I need. Keeping my desk free of clutter lets me start the day with a clear mind and ready to get started on my list right away.


5. Start Timing Yourself

No, not to see how fast you can get things done, you don’t want your quality of work to suffer. If you’re easily distracted though, set a timer for 15 minutes. That is 15 minutes where your sole purpose in life is to focus on whatever task you need to. 100% of your attention goes to that task. No checking your phone or emails, checking out social media, eating a snack, just intensity on whatever task you’re on. You’ll be surprised at how much you can get done in 15 minutes. And if you’re on a roll, that timer may go off and you’ll choose to keep at the task. If you need though, take a short break before starting the timer again.


I use this method when I’m working on a task I don’t particularly enjoy, and it works in any context! I use it for washing dishes at home, exercising, and menial tasks at work that I’d rather spend my time avoiding. It’s effective and gets the job done without you losing your mind.


6. Remember Life Outside of Work

This is probably the most important tip to recover from burn-out. Remember outside? Remember your kids? Wife? Husband? Mother? If not, you need to walk out of work. Right now. Walk out and spend the rest of the day enjoying those things. Life requires balance. Focusing only on one aspect of your life is the quickest road to complete burn-out.


The most productive people of our day don’t work 100 hour weeks (often), because they value the importance of everything else in life. Family, hobbies, health, etc. make life more meaningful when combined with work. Work alone can’t be totally fulfilling (in my opinion). Balance between all of the things is rejuvenating and makes you more productive in each aspect.


Of course there are times in your career where work-heavy weeks are going to take over. Balance them out with fun and family once the project or crisis is over to recover.

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