January 21, 2015

I have recently been enjoying the Startup podcast. The premise of this podcast is that it is the story of Alex Blumberg’s journey of starting a podcast company. The podcast covers some of the interesting and tough situations that startup founders face like raising money and finding a partner. However the most recent episode covers a topic familiar to many in the legal and campaign professions: burnout.

When I started studying for the bar exam the first thing that the bar prep course covered was handling the stress of studying for the bar exam. The message the bar prep people had was simple: this is a marathon and not a sprint. When you know going into something that it’s going to be long and difficult you have to plan to be resilient. Doing so is different than powering through a tough day or week. You have to plan to rest becuase if you do not plan to rest you are planning to fail. It may seem scary to do it, but BarBri had evidence and data to backup the idea that if we followed their plan, which included not doing work on Sundays, that we would likely pass the bar exam.

So the key to avoiding burnout is something that most of us are bad at: time management. The good news is that you can plan to be bad at time management and you can also get better at time management. The first part is simple, whenever you are estimating how long it will take to do something you simply double that amount of time and then impress everyone around you when you finish early. This is how Scotty always had things ready in the nick of time for Captain Kirk on the Enterprise. Many times you will finish after your original estimate but before your double estimate. Eventually you will build the judgement that allows you to stop doubling your estimates but a little padding never hurts. Watch Randy Pausch’s time management lecture.

In life there will sometimes be things outside your control. You will forget to do something important or there will be an emergency that you have to tend to. There will also be times where you need to sprint to the finish line whether it is the last weeks before an election or preparing to give a speech to a group. However with appropriate planning and judgement it turns out that most burnout is optional. As Merlin Mann once said, there is no award given for being the most stressed out person in the world.

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This work by Matt Zagaja is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.