Mental Health

Creating a ‘Not-To-Do’ List to Avoid Burnout

Maybe avoiding burnout is less about the things you do and more about the things you don't.

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Originally published November 8, 2019. Updated April 4, 2024.

Content Warning: stress, burnout, anxiety

Last week, we published an article on stress and burnout for Stress Awareness Week (which ends today). In the article, the author, Li-Anne Y, shared tips for avoiding burnout. One of these tips was to create a “not-to-do list.”

Recently, I’ve been dealing with my own case of burnout.

This happens several times a year. I’ll be cruising along just fine, and then I’ll begin to notice the early warning signs: falling out of routine, staying up too late, procrastinating, increased anxiety, and exhaustion.

After reading Li-Anne’s article, I decided to create a not-to-do list of my own in hopes that it would help me navigate this overwhelming season.

My Not-To-Do List to Avoid Burnout

1. Don’t prioritize things that don’t matter

If there is a lot going on, I find myself labelling everything as a priority, even when it’s not.

When I am falling behind (or feeling like I’m behind), I tend to label everything as a priority and struggle to stay on top of it all.

I find it is better to make a list sorted by a priority scale rather than a column of items that are priority and others that are not.

This way, I can simply start at the top and work my way down.

2. Don’t multitask and lose focus

When I’m feeling overwhelmed, my mind races at a mile a minute.

When I start tackling things, I often try to tackle everything at once. This results in chaos and even more overwhelm.

I find focusing on one or two things at a time is much more manageable and helps me be more productive.

3. Don’t stay up late on my phone

This is one of the hardest habits to change. Being on my phone in bed always results in staying up too late and difficulty sleeping.

The cycle continues with staying up late, sleeping in, starting the day late, and feeling behind before I even get started.

Setting an alarm on my phone that reminds me to put it away is a good start to breaking the habit.

4. Don’t avoid self-care and ‘me time’

For whatever reason, when I hit the point of burnout, I tend to avoid self-care and quiet time rather than slowing down and prioritizing self-care so I can recover and move forward.

Despite knowing that spending time each day to take care of myself actually boosts my well-being (and even my productivity), I still tend to skip this important part of my day, much to my own detriment.

I find having a scheduled slot of time each morning is the best way to ensure I don’t skip over taking care of myself.

5. Don’t get caught up in the news or what’s on social media

When there is so much going on, and I’m feeling overwhelmed and burnt out, the last thing I need is to obsess over the news or lose myself in endless social media scrolling.

While it’s important to know what’s going on in the world, the news tends to feed on our anxiety and outrage. When I’m burnt out, this only fuels the flame.

The truth is, I can have a general idea of what’s happening in the world without needing daily updates and without following every little detail.

Social media is similar. While scrolling through photos of nature and wildlife can be therapeutic, getting caught up in an endless insta-scroll and getting sucked into everyone else’s highlight reels doesn’t help matters.

I’m far better off reading a book or relaxing with a favourite show.

6. Don’t over-compensate with caffeine

I’m not a regular coffee drinker; however, recently, I discovered some coffee drinks that I do enjoy. Generally, my body can tolerate the caffeine hit.

However, when the occasional cappuccino turns into a daily grande specialty drink, my system tends to go into caffeine and sugar overload, and I notice my anxiety and overall stress levels increase.

I also find that consuming too much caffeine affects my sleeping patterns over time.

I’ve learned my caffeine tolerance levels and do much better when I stay within them.

7. Don’t engage in self-criticism

Last, and most importantly, I find a big contributor to burnout is self-criticism and how I label where I’m at.

Life gets busy sometimes. Sometimes, there is a lot to get done. Sometimes, unexpected things arise, and it’s difficult to keep up.

When I accept this as normal and focus on doing the best I can–one step at a time–the busyness rarely results in burnout.

However, if I judge myself, focus on what I’m not doing rather than what I am getting done, and generally view the situation as a sign that I am doing something wrong, things get exponentially worse.

I owe myself grace and the acknowledgement that doing the best I can really is all that I should expect of myself

What’s on your “Not-to-Do” list?

If you are in a season of stress and are feeling overwhelmed or burnt out, I encourage you to make a not-to-do list of your own.

Who knows, maybe avoiding burnout is less about the things you do and more about the things you don’t.

Lauren Bersaglio

Lauren is the Founder of Libero Magazine. She started Libero in April 2010, when she shared her story about her struggles with an eating disorder and depression. Now, Lauren uses her writing and videos to advocate for mental health. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, playing cozy video games, and taking selfies with her 65lb goldendoodle, Zoey.

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