The project survival guide – how to make things happen without burning out!

I love this time of year. The dreaming is done and it’s time for action. We’ve all crawled out of the Christmas slumber and now it’s time to make this new year happen. Projects are on the go, big changes underway. People all around with big plans, determined to make them happen this year.

So I thought I better write a quick guide (slash essential reminder to myself) on how to take on projects on top of what you already have on your plate, and NOT burn out.

Because while January is the month of action, February is usually the month of burn out.

It is the biggest problem of people who have taken their life into their own hands and are making things happen. Because they usually have to learn the hard way that if you don’t know how to look after yourself, how to pace yourself, then you’ll last no more than about 6 weeks…if you’re lucky.

It’s like starting a marathon running at full speed. You might think you’re getting ahead, but in reality you are NOT going to get to that finish line.

So here is my survival guide to taking on projects and not burning out:

1. Eat well

When you’re focused on deadlines and feeling the pressures and stresses of a project that has you playing outside of your comfort zone (and they usually do to a certain degree), then if you’re anything like me, food becomes an after-thought and meals regularly get skipped. If that is your tendency then you need to change things around immediately.
FOOD IS YOUR FUEL. If you’re not eating well then you can’t be playing at your best. Food has the ability to keep us feeling energised, focused and alert OR sluggish, tired and foggy-headed. It’s all about what you eat, how you eat, when you eat. You don’t have to go far to find guidance on keeping yourself properly fuelled with food, so if you don’t know what food and eating habits your body, brain and emotions need to thrive then make THAT your next big project.

2. Take your sleep seriously

Get plenty of it and good quality. Going to bed late every nightto get a couple more things ticked off your list or because you can’t switch your brain off will do more damage than good in the long term. When you’re sleep deprived your brain works slower, you’re not as sharp and you’re not as productive. So catch those Zzzs to keep on top of your game. As Ariana Huffington says ‘sleep your way to the top’.

3. Find ways to unwind and de-stress (that don’t require alcohol)

It’s amazing how often when I ask clients what they do to relax and unwind and switch off from the day, they give the exact same answer I used to: glass of wine in front of the TV. It’s a false friend. You might think this is helping you to switch of, de-stress and chill out but it isn’t. Sitting mindlessly in front of the TV like that has you slumped in a numbed-out zombie-like start – it’s not recharging you or bringing you back into the here and now, which is what you need to be doing and the alcohol is adding to the stress on your body, not taking it away. What’s more the next day you’ll likely deal with the grogginess with coffee or sugar to pick you up and so begins an endless cycle of attempting to control your energy levels in all the wrong ways.

To unwind the healthy way try running, swimming, dance, yoga, meditation, get out amongst nature, hang out with animals, get a massage, have a hot bath, try an evening with all screens and phones switched off.

Try things out and find what works for you so that you can use it whenever you feel stress building up.

4. Slow it down

When we have a lot of things on our plate the natural tendency is to RUSH. Ramp up the gears and race around trying to get everything done as quickly as possible. Some people (by some people I mean me) can find themselves living permanently like this and that’s how you end up making yourself ill. But doing things in a manic sped-up pace doesn’t actually equal greater productivity. Your choices are rushed, you make far more mistakes and if you burn out you’re no good to anyone.

So slow it down. Make a point of walking slower, eating slower. STOP RUSHING. It takes you out of flight or fight mode and back into the far healthier and far more productive rest and respond mode where the happy hang out.

5. Rest hard

When you’re working hard and playing hard you need to rest hard. It’s not only essential for your physical, mental and emotional health, but it’s also essential for your productivity. So if you’re ramping it up on the project front and really putting in the hours then you need to be doing the same on the resting front as well. Get to bed early. Rest MORE than you normally would and if you suddenly feel a powerful need for a duvet day, then listen to your body and DO IT.

6. Ask for help and support

Whether it’s practical advice or someone to just listen to you as you get some worries and fears off your chest, make sure you ask for the help and support you need. You’re doing something brave and deserve to be helped and supported just like you would your friends when they’re taking on a challenge that is stretching them outside their comfort zone. Don’t try and do it all alone. Let others help you. It’s the biggest lesson all life designers have to learn sooner or later: the power and importance of daring to be vulnerable and asking for help.

7. Your tips

I learn so much from my clients and readers like you. So let me know what YOU do to keep yourself from burning out when taking on new challenges and projects (leave your comments below)


Selina Barker