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5 Signs Your World Is Spinning Out of Control

Almost every leader I know is busy. A little too busy.

Busy has a price, and often that price leads to a leader’s world spinning out of control. It’s not just a price you pay. It’s a price everybody pays: your family, your team, your church.

A fine line separates ‘busy’ and ‘out of control.’ The challenge, of course, is knowing when you’re near it.

I’ve been close to that line and I’ve crossed it a few times. Thankfully, I’m not in that season now and have learned how to better avoid it.

The stakes are actually quite high.

If your world spins out of control for too long, you end up in burnout, like I did a decade ago. And as I outlined here, the road back from burnout is a long one that not everyone makes (by the grace of God, I did).

How do you know that your world is actually spinning out of control?

Here are 5 signs I’ve learned to recognize in myself and in others.

out of control

1. You’re too afraid to slow down

When your world spins out of control, you convince yourself you can’t take any time off. The default solution in your mind is this: work more.

Yet that’s a futile line of thinking. There are actually just a fixed number of hours in the day. You can’t create more.

And the more you work, the less effective you become.

It’s critical that you get under what’s driving your irrational reluctance to slow down. Chances are that when you look, you’ll find fear.

Fear usually drives the belief you can’t slow down. And that’s always a bad sign for leaders. Anytime fear is in the driver’s seat, God isn’t.

Fear says “It all depends on me.” God says, “No, it doesn’t.”

Fear says “If it’s going to get done, I have to do it myself.” God says, “So, you’re just going to ignore the 7 billion other people I created?”

Fear says “If I don’t keep pushing, it’s all going to fall apart.” God says, “What happened to rest?”

Naturally, there’s a tension. Leadership requires effort, heart, skill and perseverance. And there are seasons where you will simply need to burn the midnight oil and push through.

But seasons can become patterns and patterns can become your default.

If you feel like you’re too busy to slow down, you’re simply too busy.

2. Your activity is increasing while your productivity is decreasing

One sure sign of a leader whose world is spinning out of control is this: a ton of activity and very little productivity.

Some leaders work massive amounts of hours but produce less than other leaders who don’t put in as many hours and still manage to do more.

Activity does not equal productivity. One sure sign your world is spinning out of control is that there is an inverse relationship between hours worked and things accomplished.

Too often you end up staring at a blank screen when you just should have gone home. Or gone to bed. Or played with your kids. Or gone for a run.

Ironically, one of the best ways to cure a lack of productivity is to work less, not more. At least for a season.

Try it.

3. The lines between work and leisure are blurred

I love the age we live in. But being connected everywhere and all the time comes with its own set of challenges.

Work used to be something you went to and came home from. Now, thanks to smartphones, work is something you carry in your pocket.

When your world is spinning out of control, the lines between work and leisure are blurred. You’re never off at home, but you’re so out of control that when you’re at work, you’re not really on.

You’re tired. Maybe you run errands during the day and work at night. And as a result, you feel like you never get any rest.

Change that. Set up some boundaries.

Work when you work. Play when you play. Rest when you rest.

And when you’re not working, turn the notifications off on all your devices.

4. You underreact or overreact to almost everything

One sure sign you’ve crossed a line and your world is spinning out of control is that your reactions to things around you and within you are disproportionate.

When your world is spinning out of control, you’re either numb to everything or you overreact to everything.

Your emotions should be proportional to what’s happening around you. You should be happy when you’re supposed to be happy. And you should be sad when you’re supposed to be sad.

It’s amazing how rare that is to find in busy people.

5. Nothing’s fun anymore

Remember when leadership was fun? Remember when life was fun?

If your world is spinning out of control, that memory can feel like it was a long time ago. You may be tempted to believe it can never be fun again.

That’s a lie.

Sure, leadership is hard. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.

Leaders whose worlds are spinning out of control never smile. Which is too bad, because they have a heavenly Father who still smiles at them.

In the seasons I’ve stopped having fun, I’ve had to pause long enough, sleep long enough and pray long enough to realize I’ve lost perspective.

When you’ve lost perspective, just remember God hasn’t lost his.

What Do You Think?

These 5 signs can help you realize when things have gone too far. If you’re not in burnout yet, it’s absolutely possible to dial back.

The common denominator in this whole discussion is to just stop.

Stop. Step back. Get out of the spin and recalibrate.

If you’ve gone beyond spinning out of control and have hit burnout, I put some reflections and free resources together for you here that I hope can help.

And if you’re ready to get serious about your time and your priorities, I’ve shared some practical and extremely effective ways you can start protecting your time while working smarter and not harder in my new resource, The High Impact Leader.

As we’ve seen recently with the exit of some prominent and much loved large church pastors, the stakes are high.

In the meantime, what are in your life is telling you things are spinning out of control?

Scroll down and leave a comment!


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  2. Ken Mason on November 12, 2016 at 10:46 am

    I’m a big proponent of “trusted friends” , I fear that I might not recognize these symptoms in myself, putting them aside as “I have to get this done..” but a trusted friend can make a real difference in helping us understand ourselvs.

  3. […] 5 Signs Your World Is Spinning Out Of Control by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  4. Cheryl on October 31, 2016 at 11:16 am

    As a single mom this is lovely to read but irrelevant to the kind of “leaderehip” required to keep the house going on one salary with kids. It’s fair to say that life is one day away from total chaos every day. There is not a thing that can be done about it without outside help. Something that is not available to most of us

    • Rabecca Beason on November 12, 2016 at 7:42 am

      Good Morning Cheryl, as a single mother, I can relate to this dilema. I become so busy that sometimes I forget my purpose and calling…to be the mother…the teacher. It can be overwhelming! I’ve found that if I dedicate a time for what I call “family time” once per week, it seems to ease the tension. We set a time and no matter what…that time is ours. We decide what we are going to do and then we do it. Some of the activities were:
      *game night – everyone had their dinner, took their bath, then we pulled out SORRY or YAHTZEE or LIFE…lot of laughs and fun.
      * Candle light dinner- set up a formal dinner table with candles. The whole apartment is dark. It doesn’t really matter what we eat, as long as, we are together eating and talking.
      *Story time- After dinner and baths, I sit down and read to my children. We discuss events in the story and what we would do in those situations. It isn’t easy, but I find that those are the times my children remember and value the most.

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