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Prioritise your life

I’ve been dealing with symptoms of burn-out for over half a year now. Needless to say, this is very troubling as it’s quite a big thing to not be able to work normally, especially considering work plays such an important role in my life.

Anyway, I’ve gathered quite a bit of information and techniques to recognise when I’m walking the wrong path again, and which inadvertently leads to all sorts of physical unpleasant manifestations of stress.

I would’ve wanted that I knew this all before I burned out, and figured that the more people share their thoughts and tools on battling and perhaps even preventing burning out, the world would be a better place. And I want to make it a better place.

In the recent months I came up with a tool for myself to determine what is important, where I’m spending my energy, where I should be spending my time and how I’m doing from day to day. I call the tool “the personal retrospective”, although the name really isn’t that important ;)

Step 1: what is important to you?

So, the first thing you need to do to make sure that you’re doing the right things from day to day is determine what those right things are. For this, I’ve adapted an existing so called “Valued living questionnaire” to my own very simple form. In this form, you’re supposed to answer two questions for each category:

  • From 0 to 10, how important do I think it should be, and;
  • From 0 to 10, how do I feel I am giving it the attention, energy and time it deserves?

Note: 0 is allowed, too.

The form intents to uncover what you think is important, but also if you’re giving certain things too much or too little attention. And even though you probably think that you already have a clear view on what the answers are going to be (I thought so!), filling in the form gave me some unexpected results.

Step 2: convert to schedule

Given the answers on the Valued Living Questionnaire, it’s possible to create some sort of schedule from it. This means that, for every category in the questionnaire, you write down how many hours a day you should ideally spend on it to give the second column (“Realisation”) a grade that’s as high as the first column (“importance”).

Do realise that there’s just 24 hours in a day – I know it’s hard, but it’s time to accept that fact. ;)

You can write it down on the time form. Print it. Put it somewhere you see it often, so as to be reminded of doing the next step: the retrospective.

Step 3: inspect your time spent

At the end of every day, get the printed time form from the previous step and check if the time you spent today is in line with the numbers you filled in on the form. If not, try to remember the reasons why you haven’t been able to. Try to objectively determine if those reasons are actually valid.

This is just about awareness. Chances are you’ll do better the next day if you’re aware of the fact that you’re spending your precious time and energy on things you really don’t think are that important. It’ll - hopefully - also make it easier to say no when being confronted with something that will destroy your work-life balance.

Step 4: update the forms and lower frequency

If you do a retrospective every day, you’ll become aware of where you’re spending your energy and if you’re spending it in the places you want to spend it. Eventually, it will hopefully become a second nature, and in that case, you can probably lower the frequency of the retrospective.

Keep doing it though. And keep doing step 1 once in a while – once every month, maybe? Life tends to change in unexpected ways and before you know it, your priorities shifted. Big life events are called big life events because of the fact that they influence your priorities more than anything, after all.

If you’re going to try this, please drop me a line! I’m curious if there’s anything I can improve.