Show 7 – Beating Back Burnout


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Carlton’s original Rant on Burnout: 

“I’ve counseled and advised a ton of entrepreneurs and freelancers. 

The most COMMON thing that comes up (sometimes it’s not obvious at first) is impending burn out.

Entrepreneurs get bored when the challenges are gone.

Freelancers take every job that comes along, and get overwhelmed (and the wife leaves with the UPS stud). 

Or, hell, modern life just intervenes. And you fry.  

You cannot keep doing that without dying young. 

The keys to surviving are: 

(1) avoidance — have a good, balanced life (my motto is “moderation in all vices” — I have to avoid boredom, as well as overwork)… and 

(2) have tools to combat burnout (like meditation, moving away from the rat race for a time or forever, having your Fuck You money set aside, knowing what relaxes you, exercising and GIVING IT TIME.)

Most folks don’t know what’s happening. And once it happens, they are ill-equipped to deal with it. So they self-medicate with booze and sex and drugs and more work… and guilt, and shame, and heart attacks.”

Kevin:  To misquote a famous beat poet…

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness… and burnout…

Brian McLeod’s Show Notes:

Imagine a lightbulb blowing out just as you flip the switch – there are no surge protectors for our brains.

It’s easy for even the sharpest marketers to become victims of their own success.

Carlton’s Best Reward = TIME OFF

HUGE Stressor: The trap of responsibility for other people involved in launching a product, tons of pressure, many overcommitments. Everybody expects and needs a paycheck.

What’s your max level of stress, anxiety and grief that you can take?

Kevin fell into the archetypal “bad client” relationship on a launch early in his career. Everyone ended up hating each other — but also had to finish the gig and get the job done, together. Miserable.

We all need deadlines to stay motivated, but impossible deadlines serve nobody.

Look at the parameters of your biz and ask yourself with total honesty, “What’s stupid for me to be doing right now?”  What’s hard vs what’s easy?

We can only tolerate a certain amount of stress. We can adapt and handle and tolerate a certain amount of stress okay. But when we hit the limit everything falls apart.

Stress kills. Take it seriously. Your body can and will fail.

All the little distractions and escape mechanisms in our modern digital world accumulate and pressurize the stress level in our “Stress Tanks”.  It’s so very easy to get addicted to our distractions. We set up our own bad habits, habitually.

When you have a clear goal, you’ll work very hard for it – and you can handle it.

Carlton’s “Immense Vats of Human Waste” metaphor for being the one capable of figuring it all out for clients. You’ve got to know how to do the job, manage the clients and the process, get great results, do work that works, consistently. Doing it for the hundredth time becomes no longer fun. “Yes, I can do it. No, I don’t wanna.”

FORMULA: Stress + X = Burnout. What’s your personal X? Everyone’s is different.

You can trick yourself into being productive (Need to start writing? Write some bullets!)

Once you get any good at this (post-rookie stage), you’re going to get offered a job — and your response to this eventual “opportunity” usually dictates your future as an entrepreneur or freelancer.

Many clients try to kill the goose that lays the golden egg by hiring them. Don’t.

Two types of burnout – the first is Deadline Burnout.

Know yourself and keep your stimulation in check.

There’s a dance between burnout and productivity. Find your boundaries. “Productivity” quickly turns into “too much to do”. As soon as you find your limits, respect them. Virtually nobody will ever do this.

2nd type of stress/burnout – Opportunity Burnout.

You get to a point where you figure out the game. You’re connected enough that everyone wants to work with you. Opportunities are everywhere, all the time. Can leave you feeling like you’re never doing enough.

It’s hard to find the line between living your own life or your business living your life.

Know your nut (your financial obligations plus variables that add up to your monthly costs of operation). Once you know what your nut actually and truly is, only then can you start to figure things out.

What people don’t take into account is your emotional nut – how much time with family, friends, kids do you need?   What/when is “enough”? Some never ask themselves that question.

FORMULA: (Risk = Stress) + X = Burnout

One advantage of being a freelancer is you get to walk away from anything you want to. And every time you come out the other side of burnout, you find your groove again.

Being tired and resisting the work just wastes your time. Go to bed, play with the kids, take the dog for a walk. You’re useless otherwise.

Staring at the wall is often some of your highest-value activity, despite people who can’t understand it because they only have two speeds: going hard and fast or asleep.

Make some time for High-Powered Fucking Off.

16 thoughts on “Show 7 – Beating Back Burnout

  1. Jason Parker

    This is a subject that’s near and dear to my heart, guys.

    Opportunity Stress is a problem with me. During periods that should be downtime, I get excited about a new direction. I go that direction. I burn myself out.

    However: If I were to make a little list of what I like and also works, my workdays would be only a couple hours daily. Plus I’d have about a week and a half off per month.

    1. John Carlton

      During most of my freelance career, Jason, I alternated between taking off massive time each month, and taking off 3-6 months a year. Both worked — the key was having time off, knowing you were going to have lots of time off, and convincing your brain that all promises of time off were real and would happen. Once you get in that groove, it’s important to make it a habit, a necessity, and a “good thing” in your life (no guilt trips allowed from Significant Others, family or colleagues). You’ll catch heat from others who think you’re slacking — learn to deflect, and show by example how much better a relaxed lifestyle is, versus working yourself into a frenzy…

      Thanks for the note.

      1. Jason Parker

        Cool John. Thanks for the tip. 🙂 This stuff is worth a lot of money to those of us who value the mindset stuff over all else. So I wouldn’t feel bad if you started selling it instead of giving it away. Anyway… You two keep rockin it!

      2. Kelvin

        Totally agree John…..a relaxed lifestyle is BEST for BOTH health and quality of work being produced.
        Learning to relax in amongst chaos IS achievable and is key.

        Stress produces more stress….peace produces more peace. It’s a state of being. The key is to not let your circumstances dictate your “state of being”. Work from peace yo!

        Love the podcast guys!

  2. Kevin

    My biggest takeaway from this episode is that if I am going to take a day job, it should be as a UPS driver in an entrepreneurial neighborhood. 😉

    But in all seriousness burnout and stress has been a massive problem for me in my work and personal life.

    What’s worked for me to get past the stress monster has been journaling. I’ve found that unloading the shitstorm going on in my brain every now and again helps me clarify the madness, find the root causes of any stressors, as well as the shortest path to getting past them.

    Thanks a lot guys!


    1. John Carlton

      Journals are good — I used them extensively throughout the early years of my career, when I had no one else to talk to. Later, I modified things a bit, and started writing out weekly “status reports” to myself (I think I’ve written about this in the blog somewhere), rather than do more formal journaling. But it all works — the key is to write out your thoughts, free your brain from carrying around worries or ideas or even keeping track of things… you train your brain to let go once you’ve written stuff down, and free up a LOT of memory space/thinking energy.

      Make sure to tell your buds about the podcast, Kevin. Spread the word, and maybe we’ll continue doing them…

  3. Hannah

    This podcast is truly golden. . It’s become my number one looked forward to podcast (along side the Bugle 🙂 ) that I listen to. I don’t have the privilege of successful interbet entrepreneur friends in my every day life, AND so many successful entrepreneurs i know online are only talking about the mechanics of success (which to most boils down to “hustle” and whatever the killer technique is).. leaving me feeling alone on the psychological journey of business-building at times. Like. .”am i whacky for needing to Meditate for an hour (or more) before i can even fathom doing the next thing I know I ” need” to do?”.. It really is enlightening to hear from 2 successful entrepreneurs who have been there, done that and aren’t afraid to go deeper. And to know that my quirks/”issues” (all of which you pretty much touched on) are in fact just signs of my brilliant uncontainable entrepreneur spirit 😀 Thank you both for another great podcast!

    1. Kevin Rogers

      Hi Stanley,

      There is no standard prescription for how to achieve balance. I don’t know your situation, whether it’s personal or work drama that’s got you backed into the corner here. But sometime you’ve just got to get through the round without damage. Keep your gloves high and protect that eye. Catch your breath and come out fighting next round.

      I don’t know any successful entrepreneur who hasn’t worn the shoes that are squeezing your toes right now. If it’s professional pressure you’re feeling, here’s a couple of questions to ask yourself that might help…

      1. Is the cause of my stress what gets me the check?

      If no, the answer is obvious… drop it like prom dress.

      If yes…

      2. How can I do it more efficiently?

      Are there parts of the gig you could outsource? Are you overcommitting, overthinking or undercharging?
      Is it one or all parts of the thing that are stressing you out?

      Sometimes we blame the job when it’s just one part that we hate.

      Take a long walk and talk this stuff through with yourself. You might like an article I wrote about this recently…

      Keep fighting brother.


  4. Alex

    Hi John and Kevin,

    I love this podcast!

    This is the most honest and extremely valuable talk I’ve heard from two American biz people.

    All around everyone is telling us that we’re under achieving; that we aren’t living up to our full potential; that we aren’t making the money that we could be making.

    And you know what?

    I don’t want to be living up to my full potential if it means that I’ll feel like shit.

    I don’t want that million or that celebrity status when I don’t have enough time and energy to have sex with my beautiful girlfriend.

    I’ll tell you what I want. I want to trek in the mountain. I want to have great sex with my girlfriend – every day – maybe twice a day! I want to have time with my family – my mother, father and grandmather. I want to talk about philosophical shit with my friends.

    That’s what I want – and that’s what I have.

    Now, I don’t have a million. But I LIVE all of the above, and I think that I have much more than a mere million.

    Thanks again for the great podcast!


  5. Karen

    Great podcast
    People underestimate the value of time off and think it means you’re being lazy. The brain and body need to relax. I’ve got to say that the upside to having migraines (seriously, there’s an upside) is that you learn that you cannot afford to burn out, you can’t afford to lose it or be too tired or angry or… too “anything”. That and meditating is the sh… (sorry).

  6. Craig Sunney

    David and John.
    I am glad I found this podcast. Thanks guys for making a dent in these often-ignored topics.

    Burnout kicked off a cycle of events, that I would not wish on my worst enemy. I ended up losing confidence in myself, and moping around at home, chowing down in a died of “poor me” thoughts laced with poisonous daytime television. By the time I realised what had happened, I had burnt through my ‘fu#k-you’ fund, lost my lets-buy-a-plane-ticket-and-take-life-by-the-balls gusto, and had shriveled into a quivering blob.

    I had become afraid of the world and each night I went to sleep hoping I would not wake up. On the outside though, no one knew.

    By the time I had fully sunk to the bottom of my own personal mental cesspit, I did not feel able to work, I had accepted the extensions of credit from those sterling chaps in organisations who still believed I had balls of steel (and a high credit rating), and was in debt to an eye watering level….(well the governments were doing it….why not me?)….and my girlfriend was banging someone else (and had been for while).

    Had I been in some tribe sat round a fire, threatened by sabre-tooth tigers, someone might have hollered “Snap the fuck out of it”. But I was mostly on my own (another contributory factor me thinks).

    Rather than turn to substances that might alleviate that constant mental hum that anxiety gave me, or sensibly turn to a professional for support (cos I didn’t know I was also suffering from depression at the time, and I had always been able to nix anxiety by just getting on and doin’ stuff)….

    ……I just decided I was going to rise out of it on my own…..or die trying.

    So slowly slowly, day by day, through positive self talk and acupressure on my feet (I discovered by accident that pushing hard there takes tension out of your stomach), I managed to get myself into a state where I could face the risk of taking on deals that might go wrong (and tank me totally), but somehow ended up going right.

    Confidence came back…slowly. Very slowly.

    Along this torturous three year long road, (on my way back up to “me”) I discovered I had become ultra sensitive to some things that I now notice not get talked about much….and I think they are ‘bosom buddies’ of Mr Burnout.

    The main thing I discovered is about confidence. ….and the learning was simply this: Remaining confident when the rate of change around you is accelerating is harder. After burnout, confidence and change for me were clearly on opposite ends of a sliding scale in a way they never had been before. (I know…no shit Sherlock)…

    …..And this thought lead me to a key ingredient to feeling confident and having to make your case (when surrounded by shitsters who like to make the world complex with their latest wizz-bang up-their-own-arse theories). And it is this. The importance of being grounded in fundamental timeless principles….principles that NEVER change.

    I could go on, but I won’t since your thread here is about burnout. Peace.


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