Burnout is one of the absolute worst things that can happen to a person as a student or worker. You start with the mindset that you can do it all and succeed and end up getting less done than you would have if you put less on your plate.

But putting less on your plate is often not the answer to solving these problems. The real solution, however, is to break your tasks down into baby steps to get more done and maintain your sanity.

Step 1. Calm Down and Clear Your Head

When you’ve got a lot to do, panic slowly sets in and tells you that you can’t possibly finish everything. This leads to half-finished work, tasks being completed late, and things slipping through the cracks.

If you’re feeling like that right now, the first thing you need to do is chill. Just chill. Push the panic back and come back to reality. The world isn’t ending because you have a lot to do.

The world may end, however, if you burn out and aren’t able to complete all of the things that you want to complete.

Step 2. List Your Most Important Tasks

Everyone likes to think that everything they do for work or school is important to their career or education, but it’s not. Subconsciously, you’re likely putting the most important things out of your mind to make way for tasks of less importance. It’s not a knock against you, and it can happen to us all.

Take a few hours to list out ALL of your tasks and label them by importance and effort. This idea is extremely similar to the “Urgency/Importance Matrix” made famous by Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and First Things First.

Ask yourself the following questions to figure out your most high-effort tasks:

  • Does this task require a high level of creativity?
  • Does this task take a long amount of time?
  • Is my mood going to affect my ability to do this task?

To figure out your most important tasks, ask yourself:

  • Does this task have a set due date?
  • Is anyone relying on me to complete this task?
  • Will I have to work harder later if I don’t get this done now?

Step 3. Break Up Your Most Important and High Effort Tasks

What do you do when you’ve got household chores to complete? You prioritize and break “household chores” into “wash dishes,” “vacuum floors,” and “dust stuff.” Now that’s pretty easy, but how do you approach something like writing a term paper for your English class or finishing a program for your Computer Science course?

Put simply, make a list of all of the little things you can do to make progress and start ticking things of that list as you go. Those items can be as simple as “talking points” and “gathering sources.” Just remember that each item counts as progress, and that the more you get done now, the less you have to do later.

For creative tasks, like writing, talking points are extremely important. If you start with a plan of what you’re going to write about, you’ll find it becomes much easier to get through.

Conclusion

Burnout is hard to beat, even with these practices in place. For the best results, make sure you’re staying healthy, getting a lot of good sleep, and taking breaks to enjoy life.