How to Beat Burnout and Overcome Being Overwhelmed

The realties of burnout and being overwhelmed can’t be overstated for any leader. Whether you are a Domestic CEO, business, or church leader the reality of the weight of your position at times can be crippling, so much so that people end up wanting to get out. A 2016 article in St. Louis Post Dispatch sited LifeWay research that listed conflict within the church and burnout, 25% and 19% respectively, as two of the top reasons pastors leave their church. While there is no way to completely eliminate all of the stress with any job, there are a few things you can do to enable yourself and your staff to handle it better, enjoy working more, and to get more out of life.

1. Prioritize the Priorities.

Busyness does not equal productivity. Activity is not necessarily accomplishment. Prioritizing requires leaders to continually think ahead, to know what’s important, to see how everything relates to the overall vision.

-John Maxwell

If you don’t know what to prioritize you will waste your time, talent, and treasure tackling tedious tasks. Getting your priorities lined out often involves what you know and what you say no to.

Know what your priorities are. 

It is absolutely vital that we understand and determine what tasks are mission critical and what aren’t. We all only have so much time in a day, so it’s critical to determine what is essential, what is additional, and what can be delegated. The essential things are what keep the boat afloat, they are always tied to vision and mission. Additional things are the icing on the cake and though they can really add the pop and pizazz that sets your organization apart,  they should never be confused with essentials. Almost anything can be delegated provided that you are able to adequately describe what needs to happen and to cast the vision necessary to set the path to success for whoever you entrust with that role. Delegated tasks aren’t less important than other tasks, in fact most essentials (the cleanliness of your environment for example) should be delegated to capable people. The key here is to trust people enough to let them serve the vision.

No: Just say no.

Thanks to Nancy Regan, every kid from the 80’s knows how to say no, even if they didn’t practice that ability. The trick isn’t in being aware of how to form the words on your lips, it is actually projecting the powerful prohibition without allowing yourself to feel guilty about it. It’s true that we will miss some opportunities if we say no to them, but the reality is that we can’t do everything. There are other people who can do what you do. Just because someone asks doesn’t mean God led them to. The straw the broke the camel’s back is often placed there by the camel. As leaders we sometimes feel trapped by our position or power and therefore feel that we can’t say no, but you can and for good reason: you are already busy enough. Use some sense, don’t say no to everything, but don’t kill yourself trying to do it all.

-Know where your boundaries are.

I can’t stress this one enough. Knowing your priorities will help you set appropriate boundaries for yourself. Being able to say no will help you keep them in place. Good boundaries provide protection as well as the necessary space to actually be productive. The book Boundaries By Dr. Henry Cloud and John Townsend is a classic in this arena and should be required reading for every adult. There are versions of this book for marriage, kids, teens,  dating and even one for leaders.

-No – you aren’t supposed to do it all, go it alone, or carry all of the burden yourself.

New leaders especially feel the pressure to do more, attempt more, and take on more to prove their merit or impress their bosses. The reality is that if you take on so much that is causes you to fail, you still fail even with the best of intentions. Often though, that’s not the issue. As leaders we have a tendency to isolate rather than congregate. We allow stress and strain to build because we feel that that is how it is supposed to be. The reason it’s lonely at the top is because we either never invite other people up there or because we don’t climb down the ladder. It is crucial to build relationships into your life that help carry the strain, lift the burden, and ensure that you have breathing room in your life.

2. Call in the heavy hitters.

Think about it, the Justice League, the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Marines, Navy Seals, Green Berets, our Law Enforcement and Fire professionals. They all work better on teams, you will too. In Exodus 17 we read the story of how Moses was leading his people in battle and as long as he held his arms up while he was holding the staff, they had victory. When he let them down to rest, the faced defeat. Knowing he was unable to keep his arms up long enough to ensure victory Moses’s right and left hand men, Aaron and Hur, brought up a stone for him to sit on and held his arms up when he no longer could. As a result the Israelites won a miraculous battle. As remarkable as the effort they put into helping Moses was, the fact that Moses let them help is almost equally as impressive. As leaders, no matter what level or position, we need people who can help lift our arms until the battle is won. We win this world person to person and heart to heart as a team. We were never meant to go it alone

3. Rest

The Bible has plenty to say about rest. There is even a whole commandment that was was modeled for us by God himself when He rested on the 7th day. So why do we think rest is optional? One of the most powerful books I have ever read that addresses the need we have for a Sabbath is The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter Scazzerro. This isn’t a book for pastors, it is for you. Yes you. Of course you can work every single day, get a lot accomplished, make more money, and pile up more stuff. And you lose every time. You lose moments to make memories. You lose time with your kids. You lose the opportunity to grow spiritually. You lose those long walks at dusk that your spouse has always dreamed about. You lose when you relentlessly strive to get ahead without taking time to rest and enjoy the fruit of your labor.

A lot of us don’t really know what to do to unless we are doing something. I get that, sitting still in a room not doing anything actually creates more anxiety for many of us. I discovered that for me to relax I need to do something that takes my mind off all those pressing issues that life throws my way. I recommend that people find a hobby that brings them actual joy. For me it’s fly fishing. When I cast a fly rod something magical happens. It is more than the flexing of the rod, unfurling of the line, delicate landing of the fly, and fight of the fish. There is beauty and wonder, excitement and surprise, all bound into moment after moment that remind me that God’s love for me is bigger than the person who got upset, the plan that didn’t work out, and the issue that is still unresolved.

When I take time to rest not only does my soul find refreshment but my physical body has a chance to heal. Stress is considered the number one proxy killer today causing more then 60% of all human illness and disease. Our bodies and minds need breaks from time to time so we can live up to all that potential that God put in us. When we are well rested we actually become more creative, obviously have more energy, and will perform at a higher level than when we don’t take the time we need to breathe.

Burnout and being overwhelmed is a real issue today no matter who you are. Unhealthy patterns of life are ultimately stealing our joy, will eventually effect our families, and can destroy the things that matter the most to us. The only person that can do anything about it is you. So do. Make the change, set the boundaries you need, schedule in your own rest, and watch the world around you change for the good.


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10 Thoughts to “How to Beat Burnout and Overcome Being Overwhelmed”

  1. Karin

    Your article has good advice. I have been telling myself not to take on too much at once…but I still do it…and it shows. you are right that busyness does not equal productivity. As I learned, it leads to stress and in come cases, messing up. I’ve made the mistake of handling everything on my own. I learn it does not work that way. You have a good analogy of the justice league, Avengers, etc that is right they work as a team. Teamwork is the key as I learned! I am seeking the help I need to get my life back on track and not become burned out.

    1. Kelly

      I learned these lessons the hard way, maybe we can learn from each other? Thank you Karin!

  2. Cut

    Great post Kelly! This was also a good reminder. I often lose track of my priorities and go about the day doing busy work. While I am doing this work I feel ok, not happy, bc I know I can be doing something more productive. I ignore that feeling till its time to rest and then it hits me. I haven’t done whats most important with leads to stress then sleepless nights. Its all really boils down to you and knowing that we can also pray fir help is a MIGHTY plus:)

    1. Kelly

      It can seem like an endless downward spiral for sure. I pray for help all the time! Thank you!

  3. You are so right when it comes to prioritizing your tasks and last but not least REST!
    I think that combo right there would solve everything! Sometimes it seems impossible to avoid burnout when it comes to something at our job that we can’t avoid, but rest can still help with that. Great post!

    1. Kelly

      Thank you Eric! I used to think I was 10 feet tall, bulletproof, AND solar powered! As a younger man I thought I never needed rest, but I made some huge mistakes just because I was tired. Lesson learned!

  4. Netta

    Hey Kelly:

    Thanks for the sound reminders about all the doing-doing-doing! You’re right. Overdoing often leads to burn-out.

    The power of “no” cannot be underestimated, I say. Knowing what is important to you allows you to choose to do the things that support and enhance the things you value…and to choose to say no and not to the ones that don’t.

    1. Kelly

      Netta- I am learning the balance of saying no to myself as well as others! No one drives me harder than me. Goals are great but if we aren’t careful, they can drive our burnout too! Thanks for your comment!

  5. Rob S.

    I think we all go through burnout at some point in our lives, don’t we?
    The stress can just really get to you. I believe that you have it head on: Get your priorities in order. You can’t get ahead without having them lined up in a row and tackle them one at a time.
    And I have to say that saying no is really tough but sometimes you just have to and live with the decision. You come first.
    I agree that you need someone in your corner. It’s not for just one person to handle. Do you feel that you should only have one person to lean on or should there be other backups?

    1. Kelly

      Rob – Thanks for the comment! I feel that having only one person to lean on is a mistake and a recipe for disaster. It is far better to have multiple people to lift you when you are down!

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