Slow Down to Speed Up

How to beat burnout in a weekend.

So, I have to admit something to you all. I crashed last week. I’ve been running as fast as I can so far this year. We published a new book. My girlfriend and I got engaged. And I’ve been helping some awesome clients get some incredible results.

I coach clients not to spend more than 40-50 hours a week working for more than a week or two - and I broke my own advice. I had spent over a month working 6 day weeks, and I was burnt out.

See, I love my work! I thoroughly enjoy the feeling of working hard and accomplishing meaningful things. And we’re in a busy season at Venture Greatly. So I got lost in the race. Interestingly enough - getting lost got me out of my funk, but I’ll explain that later.

The danger of the burnout is staying in that feeling of the funk. That feeling is like quicksand; it was sucking me in. Even though my work wasn’t at its best for the past week, I kept fighting it and pushed myself deeper and deeper. You can’t get out of a funk the same way you got into it.

I wrote about my previous experience with burnout in my book Level Up. I kept at that harried pace for years, while accomplishing relatively little. It was from this experience that I learned the value in Dr. King’s quote about persistence:

If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.
— Martin Luther King Jr.

The quote isn’t about the martyrdom of killing yourself by persisting at an unhealthy pace. It is about being honest at the pace you’re capable of right now and keeping moving. Always keep moving.

Why? Your competitors are always moving. Governmental regulations are always moving. Complexity is always moving. Technology is always moving. So get moving.

What causes burnout?

How can we square the difference of keeping moving even when we’re burned out? This can be most difficult part of climbing out of a funk. Moving forward doesn’t mean that you always have to be working.

At one point in time, the common wisdom was that hustle should come before sleep and rest. I remember reading a reference in The 4 Hour Work Week how polyphasic sleep (reducing sleep to as little as 15-minute intervals) could increase the amount of time that could be spent on work.

The Holstee manifesto that went viral a few years ago proudly says “If you don’t have enough time, stop watching TV.” Experts from Gary V. to Tony Robbins have all talked about outworking your competition. I don’t disagree with any of this advice or these techniques. There is nothing wrong with hustle.

What I have come to learn is that hustle is the exertion of creative energy. Hustle can push your ideas, thoughts, instincts, artistic visions, new business ideas, and more into the world. But hustle on its own is worthless if we have no reservoir of built up creative energy.

So. What causes burnout? Hustling while your creative energy is on empty.

How to keep going?

If you’ve ever come home from work and wonder if you actually accomplished anything today, then you’ve been burnt out. If I’m honest with myself, I’ve burnt out for the past week and was still trying to grind through it.

But grinding doesn’t work. If hustle is the exertion of creative energy, trying to hustle when I’m on empty will only lead to frustration and wasted time. So the first step in beating burnout is to stop.

I didn’t have the option to stop mid-week last week. I had client meetings, strategy sessions, and sales calls. In fact, up until 3 pm on Friday, I had a booked schedule. But then, I quit. It isn’t unlike me to work until 6 or 7 pm if I don’t have family obligations or dinner plans. But this weekend, I had to make plans to relax and recharge.

I scheduled nothing on Friday afternoon and Saturday and then penciled in time for family and friends on Sunday morning. In the afternoon, Suzanne and I binge watched season 1 of Lost. It was her first time with the classic series. (Also funny is that I used a show called Lost to find my way back to creative inspiration.) We had Chinese take-out for dinner, and the most interesting thing happened when I ran out to pick it up: I had this rush of emotions and work ideas. I was resting, but my brain was recharging on turbo. I saw connections between the characters, my projects, and even the outline for this blog article in the 10-minute roundtrip.

That’s what happens when we rest. Our brain’s incredible ability (I’ll get into the near-science in a future post.) to make connections and generate creative energy requires our resting. I think there is an important warning that binge watching TV isn’t the only way or necessarily the preferred way to recharge. Some exercise, time for prayer, a mini-vacation, and a long walk in nature could all be used in similar ways. I think a varied approach makes sense until you find your routine.

The next step is to resume at the right pace. I like to remind myself of Dr. King’s quote mentioned above. Another great way to think of your pace can be found in the author James Watkins’ quote:

A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.
— James Watkins

Hustle is power. The pace that is ideally suited for your skill set, mindset, and season of life is persistence.

When I came back to work yesterday morning, I had a little bit of catch up to do. And then I looked at my schedule and decided on a pace that was appropriate for me. This mindset shift takes acceptance because I can’t try to talk myself into acting like Superman. I’ll just burn out again if that is my aspiration.

What to work on next?

My mini-break this weekend, and then subsequent bounce-back this week was only made possible because I knew what I was going to work on next. I have a strategic plan. I also have a set of daily rituals that help nurture my mindset and allow me to focus on what is most important to me.

I’ve been burnt out before, and the bounce back has been nonexistent. The power is in the plan. It isn’t optional. My work only gets done because I have clearly defined goals, and well-resourced and tracked objectives. These are the instruction set for my brain’s ability to build up creative energy. My daily, weekly, and monthly reviews allow my subconscious to be constantly filtering information based on what can serve my goals.

My re-charge weekend also worked because I have a clearly defined purpose in my work and my life. I've also defined a vision of what this looks like in my work and life. These two tools would allow me to be able to jump into new tasks and work even if I didn’t have a strategic action plan in place.

As a reminder, we’re still offering our Purpose Finder worksheet. And I’d like to throw in a bonus. When you sign up to download that worksheet, you’ll be notified of the next big freebie we’ll be publishing: a personal purpose mini-course. It’ll be out this summer, and it will include all of the purpose tools that have had an incredible impact in my work life.