How to Win When You’re Completely Drained or Burnt Out

Daniel Schwarz
Daniel Schwarz

Feeling depressed, drained and burnt out

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as being too focused. When you’re totally “killing it” at work (which is an awesome feeling, I’m sure you would agree!), your body and mind can start to experience horrible, adverse effects if you don’t maintain a sensible momentum. It can make you feel drained.

Studies show that 53% of Americans feel overworked and burnt out, even though 86% of them would still work harder for a promotion, especially in a bad economy. But wouldn’t this make you feel even more drained? The answer to that is yes, it would.

If you’ve been pushing it hard lately, you might have feelings of depression or stress, or a lack of desire to work, or even a lack of confidence to work. It’s an awful feeling to have.

Not only can you still win in this situation, but you can also come to the realization that you never lost. Let’s talk about those high-expectations that you’ve set yourself, how to slow down, and how to keep your chill so that you win everyday.

How Overworking Effects Your Productivity

Have you ever woken up with a huge amount of energy and thought to yourself: “this is going to be a really productive day”? By midday you’ve completed all of your tasks and you can feel the tiger’s blood raging through your veins. It’s natural to want to keep up that momentum, but your body and mind can only take so much. Over time your brain will become more susceptible to boredom and a lack of ideas, eventually halting your productivity altogether.

While there’s definitely nothing wrong with getting a step ahead with your work, you do have to use the opportunity to relax and heal your brain. If you don’t, your brain will shut itself down, and that’s much harder to repair than a broken laptop.

By shutting down I mean having feelings of sleepiness or a lack of enthusiasm, which lead to much worse things. When you’re not hitting the same level of churn as you were before, you develop this misconception that you’re underperforming, failing to meet targets, or turning out work that’s below standard. You could even experience Imposter Syndrome, where you feel inadequate or useless, as if you’re a fraud and any success that you’ve had is down to luck (even though that isn’t true).

Overworking and imposter syndrome

Why We Are, the Way We Are

As humans we’re very goal-orientated. We think along the lines of “when I earn [x] amount of money, life will be better, or when I reach [x] target, I can take a break”. But when a target is reached we tend to set ourselves more targets without ever harvesting the rewards of the previous ones, and this is how we become so fixated on the future, leaving ourselves drained and burnt-out. You have to reap the rewards you’ve already earned in order to gain the next ones.

How to Slow Down

If you’re reading this you might be feeling stressed and overworked right now — it happens. Pressure and high-expectations can be overwhelming, and productive days can motivate you so much that you feel lethargic, drained and burnt-out afterwards. You need to slow down, and here’s how.

1. Be Proud of What You Accomplished Already

Sluggish results tend to follow bouts of highly-energetic results, so focus on what you’ve accomplished recently to capture a sense of perspective, and a better understanding of the volatility of your productivity. Don’t think of yourself as underperforming — think of yourself as slowing down after an especially hectic day/week/month. When you acknowledge your solid efforts, you’ll feel happier about taking a break.

2. Walk Away From the Desk and Have Some “Me” Time

Simply being happy increases your motivation, not only to work, but to do other things such as eat healthy, do exercise, and so on. Rationalizing your accomplishments can assuredly help you rebound quickly, but if that isn’t enough you’ll have to force yourself to step away from the desk. In the moment that can be quite hard, because you’re in a frame of mind where you feel like you should be catching up, not slowing down, but you have to remember that it’s the stress and worry talking. If you don’t stop and recover, your stress will drag you down even further.

“Me time” could involve a time-out to do some mindfulness meditation; not only can this sometimes offer instant results, but it can be used to keep you grounded all of the time, if you do it regularly. If you feel like you really need to heal your mind, “me time” could mean a half-day off, an entire day off, or a well-deserved holiday.

How to take a break and heal yourself

How to Prevent Yourself from Burning Out

Set yourself smaller targets. By lowering your (possibly high!) expectations, you’ll consistently hit your targets on a daily basis and the motivation will carry you to over-deliver. By comparison you’re actually performing at the normal standard but you’ll feel like you’re winning the day, everyday. You can walk away from the office each night having completed everything that you wanted to do, and more.

As a writer, there’s a phrase that’s always resonated with me since my high school English class: always leave them wanting more. In this case, “them” is your brain — always leave it wanting more. So when you still feel like you’re running on a full battery after completing that last to-do, bang out one more task and call it a day. Don’t worry, that motivation will still be there tomorrow, where you repeat the process all over again.

Essentially, you’re under-promising yourself but over-delivering. Pacing yourself in such a way that you’re not feeling drained after. It’s about maintaining a consistency.


Don’t worry, be happy.