I was talking with some pastors the other day and the topic of burnout, being too busy and doing too much came up. This seems to be a common thread among people, no matter what they do.
Here are some of the things they asked:
- How do you know if you are close?
- Are there warning signs that you are getting too busy?
- How do you know that your busyness is not just a season, but becoming a way of life?
I know in my life, there are warning signs when I am doing too much or taking too much on. Sometimes I adhere to them and make changes, other times I bulldoze through and pay the price.
Here are some warning signs to be aware of:
- What is normally easy is now hard. This is one of the first things that happens. For me, it centers on preaching, sermon prep, reading leadership books. Whenever I find myself not feeling motivated in one or all of these areas, I know I am past the point of running too fast in life. To combat this, I take periodic breaks from preaching (I try to not preach more than 10 weeks in a row) and I work in books that have nothing to do with sermon prep or church ministry to give my brain a break.
- Sleep is hard to come by. For many Americans, sleep is hard as it is. We go to bed too late, we don’t take enough naps, spend too much time on technology and get worked up. I try to get to bed by 10:30, I try to not look at social media or texts after 8pm so that my brain is able to take a break. I’ve read studies about how using a smartphone after 9pm can be harmful to sleep and productivity. If you have to take sleeping pills, watch TV to fall asleep or find yourself going to bed at midnight or staring at the clock at midnight, you need to work on your sleep.
- It is hard to get going in the morning. Some people are morning people and can’t wait to get going, others are not. I’m not a morning person. But, when I find myself having a hard time getting going in the morning, needing multiple cups of coffee to stay awake or to focus, that’s a warning sign. Think about this morning, how hard was it to get out of bed? The harder it was, the closer you are to burning out.
- Motivation is hard to come by. It is true that you are more motivated and alert at certain parts of the day. For me, it is first thing in the morning, which is why I reserve that for sermon prep and not meetings. It is when I am most creative and I need to give that mental time to the most important part of my job: preaching. When I find that motivation not there, I know I have a problem.
- You get angry fast. When you are tired, you tend to get angry fast. Your fuse is shorter with those closest to you: family, friends, coworkers.
- You use things to calm down. This might be food, sex, porn, exercise, drugs, smoking, alcohol. While these things calm you down and all of these are not necessarily sins, when used to calm us down or help us relax or sleep or “take the edge off” we have a problem. If you think, “I just need ____ to calm down or feel better” you have a problem.
- You don’t laugh as much or have fun. This is connected to what we’ve already said, but if you can’t remember the last time you laughed and had fun, that’s a problem. When you are tired, the last thing you have energy for is fun or community.
- You have pulled back from community. When you are tired, especially if you are an introvert, the last thing you want is to be around people. Ironically, one of the things that can be the most helpful to warding off burnout and helping to bring you out of unhealthy patterns is community, being around people who care about you.