7 Signs You're Burned Out -- and What to Do About It

Last Updated Oct 3, 2011 3:50 PM EDT

The word "work" literally has four letters, but has it become a figurative four-letter word for you as well?
Here are seven warning signs that you are burning out on your business or your job:

1. You see weekends and vacations as R & R. If you look forward to a vacation because you want to do nothing and just veg out... you're burned out. Time off should be fun, adventurous, stimulating -- we all have chores to do, but if all you can think about is sitting on the couch and escaping from the grind you need to make changes.

What to do: Plan something for this weekend. I don't care what; just make sure it's active. Take a hike. Take a ride. Go to a play or a movie. Stay somewhere overnight. Do something -- do anything -- you normally don't do. Don't worry about the household stuff, because an uncluttered mind beats an uncluttered home any day. Then try to plan (yes, plan) at least one thing you'll do each day just for yourself. Every day is the same when you have nothing to look forward to. Sameness is the mother of burnout.

2. You leave work thinking, "That is all I can handle today." We all have to go home at some point (even if "home" means walking up a flight of stairs.) But how you leave work means everything: If you leave because you've reached your limit then you allow too many headaches, problems, and crises to occur on a regular basis -- or you have gotten away from doing enough of the work you wanted to do when you took the job or started the business.

What to do: Save one fun thing and do it just before you leave work. If you run a business, choose something gratifying: Checking daily receipts, scoping out online feedback (hopefully positive), chatting briefly with employees, planning your next move... always leave on a positive note. Same if you work for someone else: Reflect on all the items you've checked off your to-do list, call a coworker and compliment him or her on a job well done, take a look at your personal development plan (not the one created for you but the one you created) and think about what you'll do tomorrow to keep advancing your career.... Never save the tough stuff for last; how you leave work sets up your next day.

3. When you're home you think about work -- but not in a good way. We all take work home with us, even if only in our minds. What do you think about? Do you worry about what might go wrong? Do you dwell on interpersonal conflicts or the lack of opportunity? Some aspects of work are fun; the key is to think about them.

What to do: Don't wait for someone else to help you find the fun in what you do. (You'll wait a really long time.) Think of something you want to do differently: A new project, a new initiative, a new branch in your career tree -- whatever. Then whenever you think about work force yourself to think about what you want to do instead of what you have to do. The "have to" stuff will find you whether you think about it or not; you are the only person you can rely on to find and do the stuff you want to do.

4. The phone is no longer your friend. A ringing phone should sound like an opportunity: To make a sale, to help someone in need, solve a problem, turn a positive into a negative... but not if you're burned out. Then a ringing phone (or a new email alert) sounds like the ominous music in "Jaws" before the shark appears.

What to do: Put a piece of tape over the caller ID screen, do everything you can to avoid letting calls go to voice mail... in short, answer the phone. Even if you've messed up, no call is ever as bad as you imagined and answering the phone lets you turn a bad situation into something more positive. Whether you answer the phone or not, the problem still exists until you deal with it. Keep chugging away and in time almost all the calls you receive will be positive -- and if not, you'll have gotten really good at dealing effectively with the negative ones.

5. You hire or promote just about anyone. Hiring or promoting an employee should be just as exciting for you as it is for them. Think about it: You get new skills, new attitudes, new points of view... you get to leverage the skills and experience of others. Pretty cool, right? Not if you're burned out; then you see every new employee as a warm body and every promotion as an open slot filled.

What to do: After you select the best candidate, take a few minutes to reflect on why you chose them. Pay particular attention to the specific skills or behaviors that put them over the top -- that's what you should seize on first. If an employee is an outstanding programmer, get them started right away on the new application you need. If an employee is great with people, have them start by repairing damaged or neglected customer relationships. You hired or promoted them for a reason; turn them loose! Your business wins, and so does your attitude. And speaking of winning...

6. You've stopped thinking about winning. Face it. We all try to win. We all want to succeed, to get promoted, to build a bigger business... we're all competitive to some degree. If you've stopped thinking about the next level then mentally you're stuck in a rut -- and your career is stuck, too.

What to do: Take a step back and think about what you once wanted to accomplish. Are those goals still realistic? If not, create new goals and targets. If there truly is no way "up" for you in your current business or profession it's probably time to move on, painful as that may be. But be objective: The "ceiling" you perceive is rarely impenetrable, only seeming that way because you've given up. Don't.

7. You think everyone else has it easy. Perspective is the first casualty of burnout. Lose perspective and you think the people around you get all the opportunities or the businesses around you get all the breaks. Deep inside you know that's not true, but you let yourself dwell in "woe is me land" because to accept that others have it just as rough -- and yet somehow are succeeding -- means the problem is you.

What to do: Accept the problem is you -- not in a depressing way but in a liberating way. Accepting that you are the problem instantly gives you control to find a solution. (When everyone else is to blame, what can you do?) Everyone has it rough. Everyone struggles. Everyone is impacted by forces outside their control. No problem: What will you do about it? No one has it easy, but people who accept responsibility for their future have it a lot easier than those who don't. You're in charge -- and that's a good thing.

Related: Photo courtesy flickr user wwarby, CC 2.0
  • Jeff Haden On Twitter»

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    Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business from managing a 250-employee book manufacturing plant. Everything else he picked up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest CEOs and leaders in business. He has written more than 30 non-fiction books, including four Business and Investing titles that reached #1 on Amazon's bestseller list. Follow him on Twitter at @Jeff_Haden.

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