Adulthood for Beginners: Don’t Get Burned Out

By Andy Boyle

Early in my career, I didn’t know what a work-life balance was. All I did was work. I put my time in at the office every day, and then as soon as I left, I spent more time trying to become better at my job. On the weekends, same thing. It was what my brain spent most of the time doing — thinking about ways to become a better employee.

Then my brain exploded and I began hating everything about my job. I snapped at people. I started dry-heaving before work, sick that I would have to be there. My productivity dropped and I spent all my free time complaining. I was a mess. I was burned out, because I never truly developed healthy hobbies. I hadn’t learned how to turn my brain from “work mode” to “Andy fun fun relax time fun fun mode.” I’ve since learned how, and I found the best way to do that is to make clear boundaries with your employer about your free time, and then to find fulfilling things to do with that time.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

-Setting boundaries. If you work a normal nine-to- five, odds are your work is done when you leave the office. Sure, sometimes emergencies happen and things go haywire and you have to work late or on the weekends, but when you get a salaried job, you normally work a steady week. Even if you work in a more time-intensive occupation, you still need to carve out time for yourself, and you need to let your employer know that. Earlier in your career, they’ll probably work you harder, because you’re young. They assume because you may not have a family or kids or other big responsibilities, they can treat you this way. It’s bullshit, so you should call them on it, once you’ve developed a good working reputation with your employer. You need to make sure that they aren’t always hounding you after you leave the office. Because if you start letting them do it all the time, they’ll develop a habit of doing it all the time.

Which is why you need to have these conversations about your work-life balance with your boss if you’re ever starting to feel burned out. Or, better yet, it should be discussed earlier, while you’re still interviewing for the job. Let the employer know you value your free time, because the less stressed you are, the more productive you are during work hours. Which is actually true: If you’re not freaking out about work, you work better. They want you to be a good little worker bee, so explain to them that while you understand emergencies come up, they should respect your off-hours, just like you respect your on hours by trying to be the best staff member possible.

-Developing hobbies. Having shit to do after work is good for its own reasons, and it also allows you to signal to your bosses you’ll be busy and that they can’t actually ask you to do anything. So find some activities to do after work. Maybe you developed a love for Dungeons and Dragons in high school. Perhaps you want to join a recreational soccer league. Or maybe you just like writing self-help books and detective novels. All are great ways to exercise your brain and body, and you should develop a few.

The more things you do outside of work that aren’t related to your job, the more you’ll feel refreshed when you go into work. Because your brain is spent doing all these different activities when you’re outside the office, you’ll almost get excited to tackle your work-related problems, even if it’s just staring at spreadsheets all day. Also, you train your brain to go into “work mode” by learning how to turn it off after work. So it knows the difference between you being in “play mode” and “work mode.”

This will help with your productivity, and it’ll make you a happier human. Some hobbies can open your brain up to new career paths, or even new job opportunities. Maybe you join a local soccer league, and one of your teammates works somewhere you’d like to work.

Now you have a person who’s got an in there. You can also learn new skills, which could apply to your current job, or a future job. If one of your hobbies is writing short fiction pieces, that’ll help with your overall writing and communication skills. If you’re into bird-watching (seriously, I have friends who do this shit), that’ll teach you not only about patience, but how to deal with something super boring (ha ha ha, I kid, but no, really).

Excerpted from ADULTHOOD FOR BEGINNERS: All the Life Secrets Nobody Bothered to Tell You by Andy Boyle with the permission of TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2017 by Andy Boyle.


ANDY BOYLE is a writer, comedian and web developer. His work, including a viral piece about giving up drinking has been in Esquire, The Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, The St. Petersburg Times and The New York Times Regional Media Group, where his work was cited in the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News. When he’s not teaching a class in digital storytelling at Columbia College Chicago or working on screenplays, he performs comedy wherever he can, usually in venues that shouldn’t allow comedy. He lives in Chicago with his way-too- fluffy cat Tiberius. Find him at www.andyboyle.com and on Twitter @andymboyle.