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!