Have you experienced burnout?
You know—feeling as if you have no fuel left in your tank, day after day? Sound familiar?
If you’re an independent consultant who is a high-achiever and focused on not only taking action, but following through for results…
Well, then it’s probably safe to say you have experienced burnout—multiple times.
My theory is that all consultants feel burned out eventually.
We’re jugglers—We’re fully committed to our craft, want to make a difference, run ourselves as a business, have meaningful relationships outside of work…it’s inevitable to feel burned out at some point or another.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could catch ourselves sooner? What if we had markers on our journey—to help us know we’re about to cross a self-destructive line?
I have a confession to make…I just did the Burnout Self Test, provided by MindTools, and I scored a 54/75 indicating I am “at severe risk of burnout” and I better “do something about it—urgently”.
Why did I take the test? I had noticeable indicators that I was walking towards the ‘burnout cliff’, again! Even after I wrote an article about burnout, Read This If You Are Feeling Burnout as a Consultant, I found myself taking steps towards it.
The crucial words here are—I am at risk of burnout—and I better do something about it.
Meaning, I can do something about it. Now, call me peculiar, but I found that exciting.
Why? Because I’m not actually burned out yet. I noticed I was heading in that direction. I even recognised it before I took the test, and I knew I had to do something about it very soon.
And I did. But before I tell you about that…
Are you wondering how I found myself in this predicament, again?
It started with a decision I made late last year. I decided, for my own reasons, to pursue two of my passions while continuing to ‘walk my talk’ and invest effort into my business as an independent consultant. I started:
- As a consultant for consultants—I wanted to continue to provide content and value to my independent peer consultants
- A new consulting opportunity—As an independent consultant, I found it hard not to accept an offer with a client that was exceptionally aligned to my craft, my business, and my long-term goals.
It was a hugely successful quarter, but I realised it was taking a toll. It was only when I stopped to celebrate and reflect on my next steps that I noticed I was moving towards burnout.
BUT I didn’t wait till it was too late and I was in the throes of burnout—I’m wiser these days!
In the past, I wouldn’t have realised there was something wrong till I:
- Was so physically burned out I was having heart palpitations, bleeding ulcers, and constant migraines.
- Had essential relationships blow up in my face (or I blew up in theirs).
- Did my job so poorly my employer was frustrated and disappointed with my results, and I ended up damaging my personal brand.
- Had my husband looking at me as if I had two heads and a tail and asking me if I was just a sucker for punishment.
I try to avoid being a ‘sucker for punishment’, these days. I have learned from my mistakes and from others’ too. Now I’m more aware of the potential for me to burn out, especially when I’m so focused on my goals that I begin to overtax myself.
If you are interested in helping yourself reduce the likelihood of burnout and the multiple negative impacts it can have for you, for your business and your family, then I have some indicators for you to watch out for.
They are markers on your journey towards burnout. One marker may not be enough, or maybe that’s all you need. However, take it seriously if you have 3 or more.
Thanks to these 10 indicators from www.helpguide.org, I have an excellent framework to build upon and express my thinking. I’m going to share the first five this week and will save the next five—and how I’ve applied them in new ways—next week.
The First 5 Leading Indicators You’re About to Walk Over the Cliff into Burnout
Indicator 1: You’re Tired and Drained Most of the Time
This can be a tricky indicator to spot—It’s not always easy to notice how tired and drained you feel.
We’ve all had the days where we’re tired, either at the beginning of the day, when we hit the 3 PM blahs, or when we get home at the end of the day. And if you look, you can sometimes spot the reason—maybe you just had a crappy night’s sleep from mulling over the proposal you needed to present the next day.
BUT notice if you’re tired throughout the day, no matter how much sleep you get.
Or if you struggle to get out of bed and get through the day (more days than not). If you journal, it may be easier to spot this pattern.
I started to notice it was getting harder to get up in the morning, though I’m usually a morning person. I depended more and more on coffee to get through the day, and I was starting to head to bed earlier and earlier. The word that caught my attention when I was reviewing my weeks’ worth of journaling was ‘and’.
This pattern actually can be normal, in our business, but only for a period of time. But when it’s happening more often than not, it’s time to pay attention.
Indicator 2: You’re Sleeping Poorly Most Days of the Week
Sleep, or the lack of, is a major contributor to stress and illness. Research continues to show the huge value of sleep for our mental and physical health.
Sleeping poorly can be a reason for the first indicator. Keeping an eye on your quality and quantity of sleep is a great way to monitor your level of wellness. If you get enough, you generally have a good foundation. If you get too little, you may be heading down the burnout path.
I haven’t been sleeping well because of the glorious physical transitions of my body. Joy! And I have to admit—my ego takes a bit of blow that I’m not ‘young’ like I was. I used to be able to keep going for weeks on end with very little sleep. Match that with being stubborn and ignoring that I need to get sleep, and I’ve purposely taken another step to contributing to my own burnout. The first quarter of the year made me realise, I can’t expect that of myself anymore, and I have to treat myself better.
Indicator 3: You’re Repeatedly Ill
We all get sniffles, colds, and even the flu.
There are the usual illnesses—The ones that correlate with kids going back to school and getting their parents sick with all kind of germs in late September. Then this gets shared at the office in October. Then there are the December illnesses from long year-end hours to finish projects, make deadlines to match budget dates, etc.
For this indicator, we’re talking feeling under the weather, week after week. Or having repeated stomach issues or feeling like you are continually fighting off the flu.
Thankfully, I didn’t have any serious illnesses this last quarter. What I did have was an increase in headaches. And that was enough for me to realise something was up.
Indicator 4: You’re Taking Out Your Frustrations on Others
Being an independent consultant can be difficult. It’s sometimes hard to understand our client’s position or to get their attention.
But when we lose our temper and lash out, it’s time to stop and take personal stock. This is an unfortunate and visible indicator that something is ‘off’ for you.
For me, this indicator is getting rarer and rarer. And when it does occur, more times than not, it’s because I’ve mismanaged my hypoglycemia. Nothing like being hangry to increase my feelings of frustration!
Indicator 5: You’re Feeling Detached And Alone in the World
There are times when it’s healthy to detach and create some space between yourself and what’s happening around you. And then there are times when you take it too far.
This one can be a bit difficult for me to monitor. I actually have a preference to detach because I’m an introvert. After a long week of working with my client, taking in networking events, speaking at an event or conference, and engaging with my family, the best thing for me is to detach.
However, this indicator is about knowing the difference between when you are detaching to recharge versus feeling alone or abandoned in the world.
For me, I have a robust network, empathetic trusted advisors, and a loving and supportive family. I know this with absolute confidence. So when I felt alone in the world when I was reflecting on my first quarter’s outcomes, that was another signal that things weren’t right for me.
Keep an eye out for these five indicators—and for the next five the following week!
These indicators act as signposts on our busy journeys. It means we can realise we are nearing burnout and self-correct before we actually fall off the burnout cliff.
Taking the test this week helped me realise this, and I’ve taken the necessary steps to change course. I hope it serves you too!
Keep an eye out for the next five indicators in my article next week—I will add some of my own insights and experiences too.
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Thank you for reading.
Founder and President
Stand & Deliver Inc.