You see, burnout and I go way back. It turns out that a strong work ethic, coupled with lousy work habits, a need to please others, and a misguided sense of martyrdom add up to a piss poor work-life balance. It's not the fault of bosses, or clients, or co-workers. I let it happen. I encourage it even. It's the fault of me.

Since there's a good chance you're in the same boat, let's start with a simple fact: 

You are not to be trusted. You are a team player. You don't want to let people down. You don't want to look bad. So you'll do whatever it takes, whenever it takes, for however long it takes. You'll skip lunch. You'll skip the gym. You'll skip sleep. You'll skip beers with your buddies and birthday parties and time on the water. You'll skip sunsets. This is because you're a dumbass. This is because the thing you care about least is you. You should not be left to your own devices. Because your own devices suck. So here are some other people's devices that might prove helpful.

Joel Peterson is the Chairman of JetBlue Airways. He posted a piece on LinkedIn called 10 Signs That You're Working Too Hard. For me personally, the primary sign is usually "I'm totally freaking my shit over here!" But he's got some more insightful signs which include:

  • You can't play nice. You get mean with flight attendants, waiters, or (God forbid) bartenders.
  • Your mind races in circles. Re-plowing the same field over and over isn't "intense focus"
  • You wallow in self pity. Yup. Check. Related: Woe Is Me in Mood Fixer.
  • You're always running late. That just ain't cool man.
  • You live in the past or future. Be here now. 

Okay, so you're overworked. Now what? Now this: 10 Ways To Stop Feeling Overworked and Overwhelmed. It's a good tight overview of the principles in Scott Elbin's book Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative. I suggest reading the article (or the book if, you know, you're not too busy with work). Seriously, give it a quick read. There's lots of actionable stuff.

In the end, I think actionable advice is key. A few thoughts I've tried (tried!) to lean on over the years include:

  • "No" is your friend. No is probably your best friend actually. The fact is, you can't do it all. So quit pretending (to others and yourself) that you can. Do less, better. Do less, better. Do less, better.
  • "Now" is your friend. Determine the most important thing for this hour, this day, this week, this year, and get on it. Now! 
  • "Not Now" is your friend. Don't do today what you can put off 'til tomorrow. If it can wait until tomorrow, and it's not your most important thing, get it out of your brain. 
  • "You" are not your friend. This point has already been made. But seriously. You are not to be trusted. Seek help. Your friends and loved ones can (and will) set you straight way faster than you can. 

In the end, I think it's important to remember that we are not What We Do. We are How We Do It. So do your work well. Effectively and efficiently. With style and grace. With compassion and humor. 

Overworking won't get you there. 

Because you can't dig your way out of a hole.

Put the shovel down.

Look to the light.