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Avoiding burnout isn’t about getting three square meals or eight hours of sleep. It’s not even necessarily about getting time at home. I have a theory that burnout is about resentment. And you beat it by knowing what it is you’re giving up that makes you resentful. I tell people: Find your rhythm. Your rhythm is what matters to you so much that when you miss it you’re resentful of your work. I had a young guy, just out of college, and I saw some early burnout signs. I said, “Think about it and tell me what your rhythm is.” He came back and said, “Tuesday night dinners. My friends from college, we all get together every Tuesday night and do a potluck. If I miss it, the whole rest of the week I’m like, ‘I’m just not going to stay late tonight. I didn’t even get to do my Tuesday night dinner.’ ” So now we know that Nathan can never miss Tuesday night dinner again. It’s just that simple. You’re going to be so much more productive the rest of the week if you get that.
Katie is a soccer mom. She was running Google Finance (GOOG) and her team was in Bangalore, India, and she kept doing conference calls at one in the morning. I was really worried about her hours, and she said, “Don’t worry about the 1 a.m. calls to Bangalore. I love my team. It doesn’t bother me a bit. What bothers me is missing soccer games or having my child see me walk in late to the recital.” From then on we’d be in meetings and Katie would get up to leave, and people would say, “Oh, Katie, can’t you just stay five more minutes? We’re so close.” And I’d say, “No, Katie has got to go.”
So find your rhythm, understand what makes you resentful, and protect it. You can’t have everything you want, but you can have the things that really matter to you. And thinking that way empowers you to work really hard for a really long period of time.
Watch Marissa Mayer explain how to avoid burnout at www.businessweek.com/howto/burnout or in our iPad and iPhone apps