Illustration: Dani Pendergast

The Burnout Effect

The Woman Who Finds Peace in Productivity

Far from being burned out, some of us are fired up by keeping busy

Janelle Harris Dixon
Published in
6 min readMay 7, 2020

This story is a part of The Burnout Effect, ZORA’s look at the pressures to perform and produce in an already chaotic world.

Denequa Williams Clarke can often be found sitting on her living room floor with her legs pretzeled into lotus pose, a position usually reserved for stillness and meditation. But she’s in a different kind of zen. Instead of keeping still, Clarke is keeping busy.

This is the part of her daily routine when she surrounds herself with stacks of corrugated white boxes to pack and ship customer orders for Lit Brooklyn, her flourishing five-year-old candle company. It’s a routine entrepreneurial task for Clarke, 31, who manages everything on her own from the creation of her signature scents — Home, a tranquil fusion of vanilla and lemon, is her favorite — to adorning each jar with a branded Lit Brooklyn label.

Since the coronavirus pandemic seized her native Brooklyn in an unprecedented halt, these tasks give her a taste of normalcy. Staying productive has kept her grounded in the turmoil. “I don’t work every day, but I still find a way to do things. Being focused and having a to-do list makes the chaos disappear because you’re creating your own reality,” Clarke tells ZORA. “If you’re busy with a to-do list, you have no idle time to be like, ‘Damn, I’ve been in the house for 37 days.’ I might not even know what day it is, but it’s in a good way because things are still getting done. My world is still revolving.”

“Being focused and having a to-do list makes the chaos disappear because you’re creating your own reality.”

Everyone is experiencing the pandemic at the same time but processing it in different ways. Staying busy through the disruption to our daily routines may be an opportunity to hang on to a little bit of control, says Tammy Wilborn, a licensed professional counselor and the owner of Wilborn Clinical Services. Wilborn has seen clients use productivity as a way to feel stable in the midst of uncertainty about the coronavirus, the economy, and the stay-at-home orders



Janelle Harris Dixon
Writer for

I'm a writer, editor and storyteller slaying race, class and culture-isms. I love Five Guys fries, The Walking Dead and you. My mind's my 9, my pen's my Mac-10.