3 min read

How to build strong walls around work that don’t get washed out

How to break the cycle of overwork
How to build strong walls around work that don’t get washed out
Photo by Dallas Reedy / Unsplash

Sustain issue #4 (Get Sustain in your inbox next Thursday)

In the last couple of weeks since I relaunched this newsletter around the practice of Holistic Burnout Prevention (more on that here), I’ve covered the two leading causes of burnout from work. The first comes from taking low-quality restorative time outside of work and the other comes from poor boundaries around work.

Of course, the idea of having poor boundaries around work is highly nuanced. You might say that I’m being asked to do a million things and I’m doing the job of four people. I’d love to stop working, but I can’t.

I feel you since I’m doing the job of a few people right now.

These feelings about poor boundaries have only been accelerated during the pandemic. In a Microsoft report about work in the last year, Microsoft Teams users sent 42% more chats outside of typical work hours than pre-pandemic.

I’ve had several more junior colleagues throughout the pandemic tell me that they would take care of something outside of working hours since there was nothing else to do. Sigh.

While no person would say they want to volunteer their time to do extra work for no extra compensation or recognition, why do so many of us do so? It comes down to the false ideal that doing so will get you ahead in the long run.

However, this attitude helps us justify creating a habit of overwork. It lulls us into relaxing our boundaries over time so much that boundaries fail to exist.

We become the proud sand castle builder who is so sure of the wall they’ve built to protect it from the ocean. Until the tide comes in and washes it out.

So, how can you manage to break the cycle of overworking yourself?

  1. Know your priorities and make sure they are aligned with what your manager believes. There shouldn’t be any more than one big priority a month or three a quarter. Work toward those priorities and push out or say no to other stuff.
  2. Regularly check-in with yourself to make sure you’re on track and enlist your manager if new work is being thrown your way. If it gets really bad, a conversation where you share that the workload is too heavy, you’re wearing down, and you feel like you’re not able to produce your best work usually wakes a manager up.
  3. Remind yourself that the work that gets recognized and helps you get promoted are those big priorities. All the other busywork that leeches time isn’t doing anything for you or your organization.
  4. Don’t budge on boundaries. I’ve found that there is usually one project or event a year that makes me stretch a tad on my boundaries. It’s my one exception since the project is high impact. If you’re stretching your boundaries any more than a short period once a year, revisit steps 1 and 2 above.

Remember: The amount of tasks you do and the total hours you work doesn’t help you get ahead. Doing high-impact work well helps you get ahead. And it can be done without overworking yourself.

Protect your sandcastle.

At a sustainable pace,


Ready to downsize your relationship with work and quit burnout?

Hi, I'm Grant Gurewitz. I'm on a mission to end burnout at work. I've been in tech for 10 years (ex-Zillow, current: Qualtrics) who suffered deep burnout and came back from it with no help of the hacky advice out there.

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