Four Easy Steps to Burnout (and What to Do Instead)


Have you noticed how busy everyone is lately?  (Or at least how much people like to talk about how busy they are?)

Ask people how they are doing, and it seems like the most common response is: “Busy!!”

But did you ever wonder what that means, exactly?

“Busy” can mean that we are doing work we are highly engaged in and are excited about; it can also might mean that we are swimming in water that’s slightly too deep for us, and we are struggling to stay afloat. 

The signs of being overcommitted can start slowly showing up as unanswered emails, appointments cancelled or rescheduled at the last minute, showing up late (if at all) to meetings throughout the day.

When we are consistently operating from the overwhelmed form of busy, rather than feeling energized, we instead might unintentionally start down the path of burnout.

How to turn “busy” into burnout:

1) Work too hard

Stay at the office long hours, without a break.  Have meetings back-to-back, daily.  Not only does time feels like it’s at a premium, but because of your increasing fatigue, you’re less effective with the time you do have, even with tasks that should be relatively straightforward.

2) Don’t ask for help

Decide that you’re the only one with the skills or knowledge to get the work done that’s landing squarely on your shoulders.  Asking for help feels like a weakness at best or an impossibility at the worst.

3) Blame others

Start lashing out and blame others around you for the stress you’re under.  Something – or worse yet someone – must be responsible for making everything so hard.

4) See yourself as a victim

Hand in hand with blame, decide the circumstances you find yourself in are about you personally – that you have some personal failing that keeps you from succeeding, or that somehow you’re being taken advantage of.

If you’ve noticed the beginnings of any of these patterns in yourself, try these burnout remedies instead:

1) Build in breaks

Instead of powering through your entire day, taking even a short break (a 5- minute walk around the office or block, or eating lunch outside instead of at your desk) will provide a healthy way to release any pent up frustrations and get some needed perspective.  Taking even a brief pause in your day can help you to regroup and refocus.

2) Leverage the skills of the people around you

Asking for help is one of the greatest underutilized leadership skills, and makes more effective, rather than less.  What tasks can you ask someone else to do, delegate, or perhaps simply not do?  If it’s difficult for you to ask for help, see if you can reframe it as an opportunity to develop those around you.

3) Clarify your own needs

If you find yourself blaming others around you, which can lead to even more stress from ineffective communication, find the legitimate need you have that’s hidden underneath your frustration.  What is it that you need?  What do you want to ask for and from whom, even if it’s yourself?

4) Take responsibility for yourself

What’s your role in the situation you’re in?  What part of the situation can take responsibility for?  How do you really want it to be, and what are small steps you can take to make the changes that you want?

Your Turn

In the comments below, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to be sure “busy” doesn’t turn into burnout.

What are your signs that “busy” might be turning into burnout?

What helps you when you notice you’re too busy?

Hanna Cooper is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

LaRel Rogers

Thanks for sharing Hanna! It’s important to know how to delegate by leveraging the skills of the people around you. I also like the short breaks – or even having a walking meeting! A sign that when I’m approaching burnout is not replying to emails – i’ll see the red dot on Outlook but cant even open the application – no good! Will use these tips next time that happens!

Hanna Cooper

Thanks, LaRel! Walking meetings are great – a wonderful way to reenergize and get a different perspective for sure! I find that avoidance or procrastination is a sure sign that we need a break. Typically we power through it, but I have seen that taking just even a short break gives us renewed ability to deal with what is in front of us. Thanks for sharing your experiences here with us!

Christina Smith

Awesome article, Hanna! I really loved your burnout remedies – such good reminders to make sure to do. One way that I notice busy turning to burnout in myself is when I make mistakes that simply slowing down and thinking clearly would have prevented…when this happens, I try to sit down, slow down, and re-focus. Deep breaths! 🙂

Hanna Cooper

That’s great, Christina – mistakes are a sure sign that we are running on fumes! Breathing – always a good idea! : ) Thanks for chiming in with your insights!

Becky Latka

Good article! I tend to get overly busy when I’m trying to avoid dealing with something, so now that I know that, I ask myself that question; “what am I avoiding?”

Tammy Seleski

Boy, can I relate to your question! I recognized myself immediately in your statement; now that you put words to my thoughts I can ask myself the same thing. Thank you–you made a positive difference today.


I love that you pointed out that asking others for help makes you a more effective leader instead of less so. Too often people think that is viewed as a sign of weakness when in reality the weakness is not knowing your own limitations in time or knowledge. What an excellent tip!