Burnout: What can I do about it?

Originally Published: February 9, 2007 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: December 12, 2012
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Dear Alice,

I've never been very good at managing my time, getting homework done, or staying organized. Yet, I learned to work around this and get things done rather successfully. However, recently, I haven't been able to do ANYTHING. I can't get school work done. It's starting to impact my grades. I think this might be a result of a stressful junior year combined with a stressful summer job. I worked 50hrs a week at an understaffed Boys and Girls Club. There might be something about taking care of children — many with serious family/home issues — that really drained me. I only had about a week of summer vacation where I wasn't either working or at home with pneumonia. I went from a rough summer into a difficult senior year. Now, I feel like I need a break to collect myself, but I know I won't get that break until I graduate. What can I do? I don't think I need new organizational strategies, I've picked those up over the years, but then again if I knew what I needed I guess I wouldn't be asking!

Thanks, Burning out

Dear Burning out,

Wow, you've had a busy year! And it sounds like it's been much more hectic than years past. Even though you don't have a scheduled school break to look forward to, you can look to take mini-breaks during each day by paying attention to day-to-day choices and practicing good time management skills. Luckily, stressful experiences can become opportunities to learn about how to best treat yourself and how to manage your time.

With that in mind, what's your lifestyle like? Many students struggle to balance the demands and opportunities of socializing, exercising, eating well, sleeping, and schoolwork. Yet, each of these activities can be important to success and healthy living. If you were to make time for each of these things in your daily life, you'd probably improve your productivity and mood. Here's why and how:

Socializing
Studies show that making time to hang out with friends enhances productivity in schoolwork and could prevent you from feeling overwhelmed by stressors (like papers and tests). If you'd rather do more structured activities, you can get the same benefits from being involved in intramural sports, clubs, and enjoyable jobs. Any social connectedness is helpful.

Exercising
Exercise reduces tension while boosting concentration, mood, energy, and metabolism. You might only need to work out for 30 minutes three times a week to reap these benefits. It's best to do some combination of weight training, cardiovascular training, and flexibility work. If you're strapped for time, any amount of moving around will be good for your productivity and mood. Even a short walk around the block is better than nothing.

Eating well
Have you noticed how your energy levels are connected with how you eat? If you want to learn more about it, check out the United States Department of Agriculture's Choosemyplate.gov for info on what and when to eat according to your activity level and personalized nutrition needs.

Sleeping
Most people function best when they get between seven to eight hours of sleep a night. More or less sleep may make people feel less alert and more irritable.  If you are at Columbia, check out the A!sleep site to do a personalized sleep assessment, download a sleep diary, get sleep tips, and more.

Schoolwork
The demands of schoolwork are no joke — you constantly face deadlines and decisions. To get your work done efficiently, it helps to know how to manage your time. This could be a prime opportunity to improve your time management skills. You'll probably see your productivity sky-rocket if you consider and practice the following tips:

  • Get organized. Do you have a planner and organized binders, notebooks, etc.?
  • Prioritize your workload. What's due tomorrow? What's due next week or next month? What will take the most time and effort to complete? In other words, what's most important at any given time?
  • Get a head start (instead of procrastinating). Have you ever begun to chip away at a task ahead of time when you had more time and less pressure? How'd that work out for you?
  • It's okay to say "no" when you're too busy or uninterested in a new task. How comfortable are you with setting realistic boundaries about what you agree to do?
  • Positive self-talk is linked with taking care of business. Have you ever said to yourself, "I will get this done" or, "I can do it"? Just telling yourself these things can help you finish the job.

By developing healthy ways of living and managing time, you'll be able to get your work done and continue to take on new challenges. Isn't it wonderful how stressful and challenging experiences can help you grow?

Alice