“. . .spend your days trying to meet unrealistically high goals and burnout isn't far behind. . . . Set reasonable goals and meet them, and you will stay emotionally involved in your work and keep burnout at bay.”—Steven Berglas, Ph.D.
Holly Lisle’s email newsletter hit home with me today. She talked about burning yourself out with writing. I recognized myself in her words, setting ambitious goals, determined to meet them, then giving up because it was unreasonable to stick to those goals day in and day out without regard to the season, holidays, family, the occasional cold, etc. Basically, I set myself up for failure.
“Self,” I said, “if you can manage a thousand words a day for a year, you could finish a book.”
“No problem,” I confidently replied. “I wrote nearly 6,000 words the other day and stopped only because I had to fix supper for the kids.”
“Well, then, if you can write 6,000 words on a good day, you should certainly be able to write 3,000 on a regular day. You could finish that book in six months.”
“Deal.” And we shook on it. Well, not really, but you get the idea.
The first few days went well. Then the weekend came and the kids were home from school and I had to get groceries and . . . well, Monday came around and I hadn’t written a single word over the weekend. So I was 6,000 words behind with another 3,000 hanging over my head. It didn’t take long for me to start thinking up excuses to myself about why I hadn’t been able to write that day. Pretty soon I was avoiding my computer because I felt guilty and no hope of 'catching up'.
A better way to set goals is to keep them low enough that you don’t have to stagger over the finish line dehydrated and cramping. Pace yourself. Set goals that are realistic and take into account the demands of daily life. If you have a blockbuster day, celebrate, but don’t carry the expectation that one prolific day leads to another. There are fairytales and fables and actual for-real studies that show you will be more prolific if you set a steady pace you can maintain. Bottom line is – don’t burn yourself out to the point where you are making excuses for not facing the page.