I am the textbook example of how to burn out. For 24 years, I’ve watched my peers have fun, go out, meet friends, and spend money while I sit behind my computer to make more. I started a graphic design company, aka Kreativ Alchemy, at 20, and before that, I traveled around Germany and lived off of my unreliable salary from freelance copywriting services. I pushed myself to complete high school and college early, and I carried that exhausting drive for perfectionism into my corporate career.

As a small business owner, I have more control over my time, salary, and output, but I continue to stress about meeting the unrealistic expectations I set for myself. I innately would rather sit at my desk and break down about Kreativ Alchemy’s most recent Instagram post than spend the free time I’ve created for myself having fun.

But repeating those same self-critical, perfectionistic tendencies finally caught up with me last year. After so many years of pushing myself to be the best and never stopping at good enough, I experienced hardcore burnout for the first time in my life. I also found some tactics to conquer it, hence this blog.

What Burnout Feels Like for Me

Describing what burnout feels like is challenging because it affects everyone differently. However, for me, it feels like I’m trapped under a heavy cloak. Everything – walking, talking, moving, seeing, typing, thinking – is shrouded in weight and darkness I can’t shed. Finding the strength to remove the cloak is nearly impossible, but you can’t just pretend like it isn’t there.

Eventually, my burnout with work became a catalyst for burnout in every facet of my life. I felt like I was trapped in an infinite spiral of understanding that I had to remove the cloak but felt helpless as it got heavier and heavier.

I spent countless hours searching for clarity like, “Can burnout lead to depression?” and “How burnout affects your brain.” I felt like the burnout was permanently altering my brain chemistry, and all the drive and motivation I exhibited my entire life was just gone.

How Burnout Affects Work Performance

My burnout sabotaged Kreativ Alchemy too. I could only muster the energy to complete my client obligations, and I didn’t have any left over to pour into growing Kreativ Alchemy’s brand.

I don’t think we will ever recover from some of the repercussions. For instance, just before I burnt out, Kreativ Alchemy was posting daily TikTok videos and had amassed over 5,000 followers. I didn’t have the energy to post for eight months, and by the time I hopped back onto the app, we’d lost all of our traction.

Pushing Through Burnout and Setting Boundaries

I’m prone to burnout because I’m a perfectionist, but I never want to let it affect me as drastically as it did in 2021. Therefore, I’ve dedicated myself to setting boundaries and preserving some semblance of work-life balance to keep the burnout cloak at bay. Here are the strategies that work for me.

Set Apart Time to Focus on Your Essential Work & Protect It

Burnout is a vicious cycle. The more you put off essential tasks, the more you dread doing them. The more behind you get, the worse you feel about yourself.

You must figure out what tasks you need to complete and how many hours you need to complete them. Then, you must block out time in your schedule to complete those tasks without interruption. It doesn’t matter what they are or how trivial they seem… if they are significant to you, you need to make time for them.

Don’t Set Unrealistic Expectations

You must hold yourself to the same expectation you would hold a co-worker. Being overly conscientious usually means you say “yes” to everything and pile too much on your plate even when you know you can’t handle it. Would you expect the same from your co-worker, even if you could see they were struggling to stay afloat? After you tackle your priorities, it’s okay to move things that aren’t on the priority list to the following week.

Know Your Personality and Ask Accordingly

Understanding how you work and stay energized is critical to establishing a balanced schedule and prioritizing tasks. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Do you get distracted easily, or can you work through anything?

I am introverted. Being around people drains me. I’ve learned that if I schedule multiple meetings on a given morning, I won’t get any work done that day because I don’t have enough energy to recover. Now, I space my meetings throughout the week and try to avoid back-to-back meetings in a single day.

Prioritize Tasks That Invigorate You

If you want to experience a burnout to breakthrough moment, you must harness what little energy you have to inventory your to-do list and prioritize the tasks that invigorate you. Balancing your energy ensures your brain doesn’t get overwhelmed with tasks you dread.

Every day focusing on aspects of running a graphic design company that make me happy has helped me shed the burnout cloak, establish a healthier work-life balance, and feel motivated to work harder in the time I’ve carved out for such. I hope it can help you too.