Kill your darlings at work to refocus, avoid burnout
Sustain issue #77 (Get Sustain in your inbox next Thursday)
Many weeks when I create Sustain, I write a line I love. One of those emphatic single-line paragraphs. Then, during revisions, I realize it doesn’t fit. It doesn’t land the point I want to make perfectly.
So I make the horribly tough decision to highlight the line, view it lovingly in its blue highlight shine, and then delete it out of my life.
I kill my darling.
This advice to kill your darlings is famous in the writing world dating back to 1916. Author Stephen King had this to say on the subject, “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
Hear that writers? Kill your darlings. But this is not a newsletter about writing.
Instead, kill your darlings when it comes to goal-setting and choosing what you work on.
I’ve written at length about how to use goals as your top defense mechanism against overwork. But that only works effectively if you’ve removed enough goals from your plate.
That is, have you killed your darlings?
Otherwise, you’ll be doing work that might not be the highest impact but telling yourself ‘it’s ok since it’s something I care deeply about.’ Having been there myself, let me tell you that these darlings will lead you to burnout faster than you can imagine.
For example, I produced a regular Facebook Live video series for customers years ago. It started out helpful and well-received. So I insisted we keep doing it. But it became a gigantic ball of stress to align the leadership team, plan the talking points, and produce the video. It was the lowest impact item I was working on but was contributing most to my burnout.
I had to kill my darling.
As you make goals for Q4 and start thinking about the year ahead, what darlings can you kill?
It might feel painful in the moment. But like my tomato plants, if you trim the suckers (the non-flowering part of the plant), you’re going to have a richer crop of tomatoes.
Ready to downsize your relationship with work and quit burnout?
Hi, I'm Grant Gurewitz. I'm on a mission to eliminate burnout at work. I've been in tech for 10 years (ex-Zillow, current: Qualtrics) and suffered deep burnout and came back from it even though I never found a playbook for doing so. So, I'm writing it myself.
✉️ Want my top tips? I share my full step-by-step playbook in How I Quit Burnout, my premium newsletter. Get the next one delivered straight to your inbox >
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