As a result, you might burn out. You get buried under an increasingly large (and self-inflicted) load of work and you start to lose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel. However, a distinction has to be made. Being overworked and getting burned out are not necessarily the same thing. They can exist independently.
Burned Out, But Not Overworked
This scenario is more common that most of us would like to admit. You’re sitting at your desk and you feel like you’re burning out. You feel like you’re overwhelmed with the work load and you just can’t get started on any of it. Instead, you procrastinate and distract yourself accordingly.
Guess what? You’re feeling the effects of burnout, but you may not actually be overworked. This is more an issue of motivation. It is very hard to get yourself motivated about tasks where you have no passion and no interest. The work load may indeed be reasonable, but you may be bored or disinterested. That leads to a feeling of burnout.
Overworked, But Not Burned Out
And here is where the flip side is particularly compelling. What if the workload really is more than you can probably handle, but you don’t feel burned out at all? No, I haven’t drifted off into some mythical dreamland that does not exist.
For the fortunate few who don’t have to choose between success and happiness, pursuing a passion might not feel like work at all. They have way too much to do, but only because they choose to give themselves this much to do. Because of this elevated level of interest and investment, the individual may not experience the symptomatology of burnout.
Overworked and Burned Out
Yes, this is the most commonly cited combination, but it may not actually be the most common scenario. If you are feeling the effects of burnout, though, evaluate your situation carefully. Are you not taking enough breaks or are you simply not pursuing the right kind of work?
As a side note (since this isn’t a Grammar 101 post), both “burned out” and “burnt out” are acceptable spellings for the same term.