Practical Tips: How to Pace Yourself So You Don’t Burn out

In my previous blog post, I wrote about how I had overworked myself and the lessons I learned from that. Here I will share the practical things I do today to avoid depleting my energy and feeling burnt out. I use tips and tricks on different time scales:

  • Hourly
  • Daily
  • Weekly
  • Monthly
  • Seasonally/Yearly


The modified Pomodoro

I used to work non-stop for hours, and I thought it was normal to feel completely depleted at the end of a three-hour work period. Now I impose breaks on myself every hour (I follow the guidelines of Brendon Burchard). When I start working, I set a modified Pomodoro timer for 45 minutes of work, 15 minutes break, 45 minutes work, 15 minutes break, etc. I use the Custom Timer at Marinara Timer.

When the 45-minute work period is over and the timer goes off, I usually take 2-3 minutes to finish the specific thing I’m doing. I hate being interrupted, so getting up at the moment the timer goes off really annoys me. This means that I have around 12 minutes of break time. But what to do during a break? I usually go to the bathroom, get a cup of tea, walk down the hallway and back, climb some stairs, or do some stretches. I specifically make sure not to spend my break on my phone because that defeats the purpose. At the end of the break when I have 2 minutes left, I sit back down on my chair and take a few deep inhales and exhales. Then I think about the work I’m going to do during my next work block and set an intention for what progress I’d like to make and how I’d like to do my work.

The mid-day break

I can keep working for a long time using my modified Pomodoro system, but at some point it’s time for lunch. I usually take 30 minutes to eat lunch and then go for a 15 minute walk. Afterwards, I get myself a cup of tea and get ready to start working again.

Since I’m a relatively social person, I enjoy talking to people while having lunch. These conversations are often relaxing and sometimes super fun (ah, the things that get shared during Friday lunches…), but I sometimes expend too much energy talking to people over lunch and then need a break from my break. That’s why I like to take a 15-minute walk by myself. It clears my mind and also helps me avoid the after-lunch dip by energizing me. If I’m having a really busy day and I need a longer break, I just have lunch by myself.

Daily movement

I make sure to include some form of movement every day after work. Sometimes that means going to the gym, and other times it’s going for a brisk walk in the park while listening to a podcast. If it’s raining or I’m in the mood, I just dance in my living room! It’s awesome! And if I need some really gentle movement, I do some light yoga at home.

Wind down time

In the evenings, once everything is done (prepare food, eat dinner, do housework stuff, and shower), I have ‘Wind Down Time.’ This is usually half an hour to an hour where I can do whatever I want! In my case, that’s usually to read. I love reading on the couch with an aromatic candle and soft music. This me-time is really fulfilling. A day of work, movement, cooking, etc. (a.k.a. doing all the right things) feels very different after a little bit of me-time. It feels indulgent to read just for the sake of reading and because I enjoy it. I am much more willing to face the difficult parts of the day, knowing that there will be completely easy, indulgent parts as well.


Sleep is quite a priority for me, so I try to get a decent amount of sleep every night (usually eight hours). I have a bedtime I respect, which makes it easy to wake up refreshed when my alarm goes off. Also, I try not to push back my bedtime by more than an hour on the weekend, so I don’t completely mess up my sleeping rhythm and end up super tired on Monday morning when I need to get up early again.


It has become increasingly important to me to do my meditation every morning. This is my way of taking care of my mind and checking in with my mental and emotional state at the start of the day. It also allows me to put my thoughts and feelings in perspective and not take myself too seriously.


Social time

All kinds of research show how important social connections are, and socializing can be truly relaxing. For me, too much socializing can be overwhelming, but I make sure I spend quality time with people 1-2 times per week. Usually that’s my Friday and/or Saturday evening. I enjoy going out to dinner with a friend or two because then we can really talk and connect. Spending time with good friends can also truly put things in perspective.

Time in nature

I really enjoy being in nature, so on Saturdays or Sundays I often go for a little hike in the nearby forest. I just walk without listening to music or podcasts, and I really enjoy the sounds, smells, and the overall feel of nature. It is very refreshing, and nature has the ability to quickly put our human struggles into perspective.


Special event

A special event can get you out of your routine and make time feel special. Approximately once a month, I do something special. That can be a dance performance, a concert, or an arts event of some sort. In the autumn and winter months, my boyfriend and I go to a spa for a day, and that’s a real treat! It’s wonderful time spent together, and it’s truly relaxing. Other times we take a little trip such as visiting a city for the day or going camping for the weekend. These are all little treats that are easy to include in a weekend but make time feel special.


Intense vs. easy-going periods

I find it useful to label periods of time as “intense periods” and “easy-going periods.” For instance, July-August is a relaxed period, while September-November is an intense period. This helps me really focus on work during an intense period and know that that’s okay because I will have more rest during the relaxed period that will follow. These periods are well delineated for students with summer and winter break, but I find it helpful to have these for other people too. It can help us focus on what we’ve chosen as important during the current period.

Vacations and trips

Vacations and trips are like “extended special events” (see above). They definitely break the routine, allow us to experience new things, and make time feel richer. I like to have a trip or vacation once every 3-4 of months because it serves as a breath of fresh air in between two intense work periods. I find that people (including myself) often feel reluctant to take a vacation. We think, “How could I possibly take time off? I have so much work to do!” But once you are on vacation, it’s great! And when you’re back, you’re refreshed, energized, and motivated to work again. So vacations are a win-win: good for both our rest and our work!

These are some tips and tricks I use to alternate work and rest and make sure I don’t overwork myself. Implementing these things allows me to have stable energy levels, continue doing high-quality and fulfilling work over the long run, and feel happy with my work-life balance. How do you make sure you have good amounts of work and rest in your life?

How I Learned to Pace Myself So I Don’t Burn out

Six years ago, I got close to burn out for the first time. I was in college, it was exam week, and I had my last exam the following morning. It was for the course Psychopharmacology, probably the most difficult exam I’ve ever taken. I had studied so much that I knew I’d do well, but nevertheless I was miserable. I lay in bed, trying to sleep, but names of pharmacological compounds and various brain areas were swimming in my head incessantly. What was more, I had a fever, and I kept tossing and turning in bed. My stress levels were through the roof because I couldn’t sleep, and I knew how important sleep is for performance at an exam. Needless to say, trying to make myself sleep only made things worse.

It was a truly terrible night. I felt exhausted beyond belief but still unable to rest. My mind was incredibly anxious, and every single thought was torture. Perhaps the worst was that I felt helpless to change anything or to make myself feel better. None of my usual tricks worked, so I just had to lie there, waiting for morning to come.

Lying there, I thought about what I had done to bring myself to this place. The answer was clear: I had overworked myself. I had worked hard for many weeks and months on end, without taking proper breaks and without letting myself rest. I was taking five classes instead of the recommended four (because of course I could do more), and I had three side jobs (because I could do it all!). My only time off of studying and working was Friday and Saturday evenings. Literally.

I still can’t believe I did that to myself. I know how important it is to get some rest, exercise, and have at least a little bit of free time. But I found myself in a situation where every single minute was crammed full of things to do, and I felt constantly anxious about whether I’d manage to complete everything I needed to do.

I think it had a lot to do with the environment. When everybody else appears to be pushing themselves to their limits, it seems to be the right thing to do. And since my self-worth was on the line, i.e., I felt like I would not succeed if I didn’t do that as well, it seemed like the only thing to do. There was no choice, I just had to keep pushing.

On that night when I lay in bed and couldn’t sleep before my last exam, I felt incredibly sad for us humans. We push ourselves so far, to the point of breaking, and we usually only realize it once we are broken. We feel that the only way to be happy, or to deserve to be happy, is by completing that impossibly long to-do list. But we never quite get to that happy point; instead, we just pass out at the end of the day, utterly exhausted. The next morning, we have a new to-do list to complete.


That experience (and many others like it) have led me to make some changes. For me, that sleepless night marks a ‘before and after’ point. Before it, I used to take on as much as possible on my plate, trusting that I would figure it out somehow. After that night, I knew that I was able to do all those things, but that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. What’s the point of succeeding at a bunch of stuff if I broke myself in the process? To me it was clear that it wasn’t worth it.

What followed was an extended (and still ongoing) search for how far it’s good to push myself. It must be a dynamic balance: I don’t want to sit around and do nothing all the time, but I also don’t want to burn myself out. So what’s the right balance?

I immediately made some changes after that psychopharmacology exam. For the following semester, I signed up for four courses (apparently, it’s the recommended number for a reason) and dropped one of my part-time jobs. I also made time to exercise regularly and to meditate. Moreover, I prioritized sleep: I made sure I got seven hours of sleep each night. (Side note: seven hours a night was still not enough for me, but I only realized that a couple of years later when I started sleeping eight hours a night and suddenly I didn’t need caffeine anymore! How surprising!)

Nowadays, I am much stricter about taking care of myself. I monitor my energy levels and my anxiety levels to make sure I steer clear of ‘the danger zone.’ It’s still a struggle sometimes when other people are (or appear to be) so much busier and doing so much more, but I need to do what works for me. Even if I feel that anxious urge to do more, I force myself to do less. For example, at the end of the work day, I know it’s time to get up and go to the gym, but I feel guilty leaving my work. If I could only stay and do a couple more hours of work… but no, I get up, go to the gym, get moving, and give my mind a break. I inevitably feel better than if I had stayed at my desk and kept working until I felt exhausted. And the next morning I’m actually excited to do my work again! What’s more, in this way I have more energy for the important relationships in my life as well.

There are several simple things I prioritized to make sure I don’t overwork myself:

  • Sleep
  • Exercise
  • Good food
  • Meditation
  • Rest/free time (at least a little bit)

In the next blog post, I will describe specific things I do to ensure I don’t overwork myself and to maintain stable energy levels and a fulfilling lifestyle. Stay tuned!

My Organization System: An Overview

Over the last two months, I explained my Organization System:

  1. Blog Post 1: Your Priorities
  2. Blog Post 2: Get More Specific
  3. Blog Post 3: Dealing with Tasks
  4. Blog Post 4: The Getting Things Done Approach
  5. Blog Post 5: Useful Tools for Personal Organization
  6. Blog Post 6: The Review System

And that’s it! Remember: break it down and write it down!

PrioritiesGoals → ProjectsTasks

Your best friends are your workflow tool and your calendar. They make life so much easier!

Use whatever tools you like to schedule tasks and keep track of your workflow.

Review your progress regularly and how that fits with your priorities. This will keep you on track and will you motivate you.

And one last tip: Schedule time for fun!

Whatever is on the calendar gets done. Whatever is not on the calendar does not get done.

So put it on your calendar, whatever your idea of fun is!

And let me know! How does this system work for you? What tips and tricks do you have? What tools do you use? I’d love to hear from you 🙂

The Review System

Any organizational system only works if… you actually use it. If you write down your priorities and never look at them again, that doesn’t help you much. If you make a list with all the tasks for a project and never go back to check your progress, that list is useless. Therefore, you need a good review system in place. How to do that?

The daily review

At the beginning of the day, I check my calendar and my Trello for the day. I also check Wunderlist. When I’m working on a task, I drag it to the “Doing Now” list on Trello. When I’m finished with the task, I move it to “Done Today.” At the end of the day, I look through the tasks in “Done Today,” and I mark those as done on my project management board. (See previous blog post for more details.) I also briefly think about what went well today, what didn’t go so well today, and what I learned today.

The weekly review

The weekly review is probably the most important to me. It has two parts: what I call the “Weekly Preview” (at the beginning of the week) and the “Weekly Review” (at the end of the week). In my weekly preview, I look at my calendar to see what I have scheduled for the upcoming week. I check what work deadlines I have. I also look at my project board to look what the next steps are on my projects. Then, I decide how I will distribute my time this week and what tasks I will work on each day. This saves lots of time during the week when I could be left wondering, “Okay, what do I do next?”

I also go through my goals and my priorities. I think about how what I’m going to do this week fits with my goals and priorities. If there is a discrepancy between what I want and what I am going to do, I can change things around and make sure that my daily activities reflect my priorities and are bringing me closer to achieving my goals.

At the end of the week, I do the weekly review: I look at what I’ve done this week by checking Trello and my calendar. I think about what went well, what didn’t go so well, and what I’ve learned. I assess whether the week has gone according to my priorities and if not, what I’d like to change in the future. Did I work too much? Did I get enough sleep? Did I talk to my family? Did I exercise?

I do a money review as well where I look at how much I’ve spent on what and how that fits into my budgets.

I also briefly go over what I will do over the weekend and next week.

The monthly review

Once a month, I do the monthly review in which I look at what I’ve done over the past month and what I’ll do during the next month (and possibly the next few months). I create a new Google Doc for each month where I write my main goals for the month, the main things I’d like to work on, and the things I’d like to spend time on. I also write down any fun trips or cool things I’m looking forward to.

To explain how this works, if today is March 1, I will review how February went. I will have written a list for February on February 1, and I will go through the items and briefly remark on how they went. Usually, this looks like, “yeah!!!,” yes, did that,” “yep,” “kind of,” “a little bit,” “not really,” “nope,” or “haha, right” for each item I had for the month. Then I will make a Google Doc with a list of items for March. On April 1, I will review the list for March, etc. I also make sure to implement those items on the monthly list in my project management tools, lists, and calendar. Then I know they will get done.

I reflect on how this month went. Did it fit my priorities? What went well, what didn’t go so well, and what have I learned? (You’re probably beginning to see a trend here.) Did I have a good balance going through the month? Did I make progress with my work? Did I get enough rest? Did I maintain a healthy sense of perspective? Did I have fun?

I also think about what habits I tried and succeeded or failed to establish. Did I respect my bedtime? Did I exercise regularly? Did I meditate regularly?

I check my spending for the month and see how that fits in my budgets and how it compares to other months.

During my monthly review, I also revisit my yearly goals.

The yearly review

Finally, we have the yearly review which (spoiler!) I do once a year, so it’s super exciting!!! People get excited about New Year’s Eve and parties and stuff, but I don’t care about that because how could you if you had The Yearly Review coming on January 1?!?!?! That’s so much more exciting!!!

At my yearly review, I look over my calendar and ask, “What big things did I do this year? What things happened to me?” I also think about what important habits I established and stuck with and what habits I struggled with.

I also do a yearly money review where I look at my spending over the year, how that fits with my budgets, and how it compares to other years.

Then, I go to the integral part: What went well this year? What didn’t go so well this year? What have I learned? What would I like to change and what would I like to keep the same and how? I actually write this out because that really forces me to think and dig deep.

Finally, I make a list of my goals for next year.

Then I usually stare at my calendar some more because I don’t want the yearly review to be over. It’s so much fun, so why does it only happen once a year? 😦 (Hint: Because it’s yearly by definition…)