How to Burn Out In 6 Easy Steps (Any Chance You’re Burning Out Right Now?)

If you’re like most leaders, the last thing you want to do is burn out.

Yet a growing number of leaders are finding themselves doing just that. It’s no longer even just a ‘hey I’m in a mid-life crisis so I’m burning out’ kind of thing.

Stress and burnout run deep and they run young. 70% of adults in their twenties and thirties now say they’re experiencing some level of burnout. 

In 2006, I was one of those deeply overwhelmed people. After a decade in leadership leading a fast-growing organization, I burned out. My formula for growth was as simple as it was stupid: more growth equals more hours. 

Eventually, I hit a wall and my body quit. I just woke up one day and it was like my body said “So we’re not going to do this anymore. I resign.” My energy sagged, my drive diminished, my brain fog increased and I lost all the drive that moved me for most of my life.

By the grace of God, I got out of burnout.

As I learned the hard way, when it comes to overwhelm, if you don’t declare a finish line, your body will. 

Full Burnout Or Low-Grade Burnout???

The kind of burnout I hit years ago brought my life to a halt. For a few months I was wondering whether I even had a future, my energy was so low.

If you’re in that kind of deep burnout, you know it. Your life grinds to a halt and you’re a shadow of what you used to be.

But I think there’s another kind of burnout.

I call it low-grade burnout, and my sense is millions are in it right now.

The definition of low-grade burnout: the functions of life continue but the joy of life is gone.

You’re getting up every day, going to work, watching your kids play sports, and socializing, but you really don’t feel anything anymore. You’re functioning, but you’ve gone numb.  The joy of life is gone.

Burnout is a spectrum, and if you’re in low-grade burnout you could end up just a few missteps away from heading into full burnout.

Curious as to where you are?

My team and I developed a free Burnout Indicator that will give you a custom report on what your burnout risk and level are, along with some practical steps on what to do next.

You can check your burnout level here.

So I’m guessing you don’t want to burn out, but if you decide you do, here’s exactly how to do it…quickly.  See if you recognize any of the signs below.

They describe way too many leaders.

Step One: Live Like You Have No Limits

It’s easy as a leader to believe you have no limits, and for a season, you can live like that’s true.

When I was heading into burnout, I had a formula for growth that was as simple as it was stupid: more growth equals more hours.

I just kept moving as though I was a robot: no slowing down, no respecting limits. Time off was for people who needed it. I didn’t.

If you want bonus points as you burn out, make sure you neglect sleep, diet, and exercise. It will get you there faster.

In short: live as though the rules that apply to most human beings don’t apply to you.

As I learned the hard way, the rules never apply to you…until they do.

Step Two: Let Other People Decide How You’ll Spend Your Time

Another way to burnout quickly is to let other people decide how to spend your time. This is largely accomplished by spending your entire day reacting to everything that comes your way— emails, texts, knocks at the door, and random requests.

This is exactly why you begin your day with a to-do list which quickly becomes a never-done list.

When you fail to focus your time on the things and people that matter most, the most important relationships and tasks always get neglected. Which further raises your anxiety level and creates an ever-growing sense of never being done.

If you don’t decide ahead of time how to spend your time, other people will decide for you.

Step Three:  Ignore Your Energy Levels

You get 24 equal hours in a day, but not all hours feel equal or produce equally.

I’m a morning person, but when I was on the road to burnout, I ignored the fact that my energy waxed and waned over the course of each day.

I’d squander my best hours, spending them unstrategically, which left my most important work (in my case, writing) to the late afternoon when my energy was at its lowest. Which is a great recipe both for producing subpar work and feeling even more tired.

Conversely, when my energy was low, I’d refuse to listen to my body and take a break, figuring that I could just push through and get more done. That’s a good strategy once in a while if you have a deadline, but other than that, it’s a perfect pathway to an accelerated burnout.

Living as though you have unlimited energy is a great way to deplete all your remaining energy.

Step Four: Let Everyone Else Set Your Priorities

Everyone who calls, texts, knocks on your door, and asks you for things is just doing what every human being does: trying to move his or her priorities onto your agenda.

Nobody will ever ask you to accomplish your top priorities. They will only ask you to accomplish theirs.

Before you judge them, realize you do the same thing to the people around you: every time you message or talk to them, you’re putting your interests onto their agenda.

The best way to get overwhelmed, overcommitted, and overworked is to say yes to things that are important to other people while neglecting what’s important to you.

Ineffective leaders spend their day reacting to everything that comes their way.

Step Five: Spend All Your Time With All The Wrong People

The people who want your time are rarely the people who should have your time. 

While your family and top performers wait unattended, keep investing your time in two groups: the chronic low-performers and the people who want your time for no strategic reason.

That will keep you infinitely busy because many chronic low-performers (think about the person who’s always late or the drama king or queen who always has some new crisis that demands your full attention) rarely change as a result of your interaction with them. They’re still perpetually late despite your coaching and the drama never seems to stop no matter how empathetic you are or how many ideas you have to stop the sagas.

When you spend a lot of your time with chronic under-performers, you leave feeling drained and they leave no better off. That’s a perfect recipe for exhaustion.

Step Six: Keep Being The CEO (Chief Everything Officer)

If you really want to burnout deeply, convince yourself that you have to be the CEO—Chief Everything Officer (Hat Tip to EntreLeadership for that term).

No one can do it as well as you. No one cares as you do. As a result, refuse to trust your team or even build a great one in the first place.

When you convince yourself that nothing runs without you, eventually you can get to the place where nothing runs—because even you don’t anymore. Then your burnout is complete.

Want To Avoid Burnout? Or Climb Out of It?

Have a sense of how burnout happens?

The bigger question is: How do you get out of it and stay out of it?

That’s why I wrote my new book, At Your Best: How to Get Time, Energy and Priorities Working in Your Favor. After I burned out, I developed a strategy that got time, energy, and priorities working for me, allowing me to accomplish far more in far less time. 

I’ve since trained thousands of leaders around the world in the At Your Best strategy that’s helped lift them out of stress to finally do what they want to do—grow their organizations, advance their careers, launch new ventures, be far more present at home, and take regular time off.

You can pre-order the book here and get a free Masterclass. More details below.

What Do You See?

If you were going to add an easy step toward burnout, what would you add?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

 

How to Burn Out In 6 Easy Steps (Any Chance You’re Burning Out Right Now?)

6 Comments

  1. Jane on September 13, 2021 at 5:02 pm

    Another biggie on the fast-track burnout: Ignore or leave for low priority the thing(s) that rejuvenate you, be it quiet time with JUST you & God, listening to your “favorite encourager” podcast/video or blocking time for meditation/study of things that aren’t necessarily prep for immediate ministry. In the largest sense, Jesus fills us; however, if we don’t MAKE plans for “fill time” it rarely automatically happens. The FIRST person I’m responsible for is me; it radiates from there. Unhealthy nucleus leads to cellular break-down, then organ break-down, then body break-down (both physically, as well as organizationally). It rarely happens quickly and is similar to the effects of deferred maintenance on a building. From personal experience I find I am more flexible, more sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s promptings (and, consequently, more effective) when the moisture of rejuvenation permeates my existence.

  2. Jane Meyer on September 13, 2021 at 5:02 pm

    Another biggie on the fast-track burnout: Ignore or leave for low priority the thing(s) that rejuvenate you, be it quiet time with JUST you & God, listening to your “favorite encourager” podcast/video or blocking time for meditation/study of things that aren’t necessarily prep for immediate ministry. In the largest sense, Jesus fills us; however, if we don’t MAKE plans for “fill time” it rarely automatically happens. The FIRST person I’m responsible for is me; it radiates from there. Unhealthy nucleus leads to cellular break-down, then organ break-down, then body break-down (both physically, as well as organizationally). It rarely happens quickly and is similar to the effects of deferred maintenance on a building. From personal experience I find I am more flexible, more sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s promptings (and, consequently, more effective) when the moisture of rejuvenation permeates my existence.

  3. Jimmy on September 8, 2021 at 4:40 pm

    Sadly I’m in low grade burnout. I am seeking help for this. Thank you for all your doing

    • Carey Nieuwhof on September 9, 2021 at 9:21 am

      I’m so sorry Jimmy. I’m thankful you’re seeking help. Good for you!

  4. Carey Nieuwhof on September 8, 2021 at 9:57 am

    Steve..thanks! Changed. 🙂

    I’m glad this helped. That’s my heart. I wish everyone could find a sustainable pace.

  5. Steve on September 8, 2021 at 8:00 am

    Wouldn’t that be COE?

    Anyway, thanks for this great reminder. Seems like no matter how often we catch ourselves in these things, we go right back to them. “Like a dog returning to its vomit…”

    Thanks for caring, Carey.

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