My productivity fetish: Work in three month blocks, then take time out...

Dealing with burnout
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Welcome to our new content series My productivity fetish! It's an eye-catching name, we know.

The aim of the series is simple: ask entrepreneurs what they feel makes them productive? What tactic, a piece of tech, abstruse Eastern philosophy - whatever! - helps them thrive. Here Barnaby Lashbrooke, founder of Time etc shares how he prevents burnout.

I went through a period, not long ago, where I was suffering from burnout periodically.

I went through bursts where I was full of energy and passion, and then one day I'd wake up drained and be plagued with thoughts of: "I just can't do this anymore."

The lows could last as long as six months at a time.

I’d imagine most of the readers of this site can identify with that. Following your passion is by no means an easy path to happiness.

It’s fraught with fear of the unknown and, the older and wiser you get, the more the weight of responsibility bears down: of having a family that depends on you, staff on payroll, office costs to meet and clients to keep happy. While the fear drives you on, it can also eat away at you mentally.

Any business owner that says they can compartmentalise, and completely switch off once they get home, is lying. I certainly haven’t met one yet.

I knew I had to find some kind of coping method in order to run my business better, be happier and more motivated – to re-find my mojo if you will.

And, thankfully, the best relief I found for curing burnout has changed the way I work completely. I hope that, by sharing it, it might help some of you.

Part of the reason I was burnt out is because I don’t have an exit strategy. I’m fully committed to running my business, myself, for the long term. That’s all very well, but without an end in sight, it’s easy to lose momentum.

Energy comes in fits and bursts – it cannot be sustained ad infinitum.

So, I made a very simple change. I decided to approach work in three-month blocks.

It sounds simple, but for me, it was a revelation. By altering my outlook, suddenly the future seemed far more manageable.

I decided I would mark the end of each three-month period with a time out period for contemplation, away from the office. I blocked out two or three days in my diary where I'd take time to think, brainstorm and recharge my batteries.

I used that time to consider what I wanted to do or achieve in the next three months and to look back at what worked and what didn't in the previous quarter. I set myself a fresh list of objectives and goals and I also thought about specific projects that needed to get done. 

I now do this religiously.

The concept of working in quarters is not something that is unique to me; this is something that huge companies like Google do through their Objectives and Key Results (OKR) performance programme. 

And, it does work. I end up with a fresh head and a three-month period where I know exactly what I'm doing. I also know I only have to work hard for three months until I can take another couple of days off to reset.

I am now really into the rhythm of that cycle. I start each new quarter with energy and excitement, and I have time to take stock of our achievements at the end.

The number one thing is that I am happier, more motivated, I have more energy, and I find I can commit myself relentlessly.

About Barnaby Lashbrooke

Barnaby Lashbrooke, founder Time etc

Barnaby Lashbrooke, 34, is founder of Time etc – a platform that allows you to easily outsource tasks to carefully hand-picked virtual assistants. It's now operating in both the UK and USA.

He built his first business, web hosting company SupaNames, aged 17 from £150 investment to 24,000 customers. He sold it, at the age of 24, for a multi-million pound figure to Pipex Communications PLC.


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