How to Work on Long Term Projects Without Burning Out


Working on any long term project runs the risk of burning out.

Burning out is the experience of feeling that your work means nothing and that you’re making no progress. You’ll most commonly experience burn out at the 1/2 – 3/4 mark of a project.

This is when progress slows down and you can really start to feel as if you’re spinning your wheels.

While there are many ways to recover from burn out, it’s best to prevent it from happening altogether.

Please note that being worn out (from spending too much energy) isn’t always the same as being burnt out. Burn out stems from little to no feedback or change no matter how much energy and effort is put into a project. Being worn out stems from spending too much of your energy.

Often times we do wear ourselves out during burn out, since we think that the more energy we put into a project, the more amount of change we’ll see. This leads to both a combination of burn out and being worn out.

Here are some ways to prevent burn out:

Remember Why You’re Doing This

It’s common during burn out to forget why you decided to take on such a large project in the first place. This can lead to the belief that nothing you do for that project matters, since the project itself doesn’t matter.

Try to remember why the project matters, so that you can remember why your efforts matter.

The Initial Spark of Inspiration

What was the initial spark, or sparks, of inspiration that made you want to start the project?

Revisit your inspirations, to revisit the feelings of being inspired and productive.

The Benefits of Doing It

Make a list of all the benefits of completing the project. Write down every single reward you can think of, no matter how small. Keep writing until you’ve exhausted all the possibilities.

Now read through the list until you grasp just how important your project is.

Done? Good. It may seem as if all the effort you put in is worthless, but know that you’re slowly working towards those rewards.

What Would Change If You Don’t Go Through With It?

What would be different if you quit? What would change? What wouldn’t change?

The answers to those questions may help you realize why the project you’re working on is so important.

Keep Motivational and Inspirational Quotes on Hand

Sometimes keeping up the motivation and inspiration can be all that’s needed to prevent burn out from happening in the first place.

Mentors Can Have Motivational Mantras

Look to your mentors for motivation.

Do your favorite mentors have quotes or sayings that give you a drive to work and produce? Write them down and keep them in a place you can see often. Read those quotes and mantras and feel motivated and inspired.

Look to Others for Inspiration and Motivation

You can also look to others in your life for inspiration and motivation.

In particular, friends and family can prove to be a great source of council and wisdom.

Think About the Rewards

There are rewards in everything, including quitting.

What Would You Gain From Persevering?

If you persevere and complete your project, what will the rewards be? List them, if you haven’t already.

What Would You Gain From Quitting?

If you quit, what rewards will you gain from that.

People may try to frame things so that it looks as if quitting has no rewards, but everything has its pros and cons.

Are the Rewards Worth It?

Consider whether or not it’s worth persevering, or if it’s worth quitting? Perhaps a compromise is better?

Weigh the gains and loses for yourself, and consider the cost of continuing vs. the cost of quitting.

Update Your Plan

Things Can Change Over Time

Things can always change over time, and the plan that you had for your project at the beginning may need to change as well.

Your First Ideas Aren’t Always Your Best Ones

Your first ideas aren’t always your best ones, so try to come up with ideas that make it easier to work on your project without burning out.

Modify for a Better Fit

If you do have ways to make working less stressful, and ways that will prevent you from burning out, try modifying your project with those ways in mind.

Celebrate the Small Victories

You may find that there are small victories and rewards along the way, ones that you may have missed out on.

If you have a list of the rewards that will happen if you complete your project, go through them often to see if any of them have come sooner than expected.

Consider the Cost of Quitting

Quitting always has a cost, but so does persevering.

Persevering always has its rewards, but so does quitting.

Write down the pros and cons of quitting and persevering with your project, and consider them from both an emotional and logical point of view. Consider your mental health as well as physical health, and try to see things from all sides before making decisions on whether or not you stop or keep going.

Sometimes burn out can be a good thing, and it can help us know when we’ve reached our limits. Sometimes it’s best to prevent burn out from happening in the first place.

Use your judgement to know what you should do about burn out on longer projects.

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