You can’t love what you do when exhaustion has begun taking its toll. For control freaks, workaholics, and business owners who just can’t seem to delegate, it can be hard to make yourself step away and take a break. But if you want to continue being a successful, motivated person who’s in charge of your own life, you have to take care of yourself, too. Here are four signs that you’re nearing burnout.

Your health is taking a turn for the worse

You’ve got a cold that’s lasted three weeks, you always feel exhausted, and your medicine cabinet is your best friend. If you can’t remember the last time that you felt well, it’s probably because you’ve been burning the midnight oil a little too often. Have you eaten a nutritious meal today? How about this week? Has exercise gone out the window? You’ll know that you’re approaching burnout when you’re pushing your body beyond what you can handle.

You are having a hard time focusing

Do you sit down to get work done and find yourself staring blankly into space? Are you constantly tempted to check social media instead of writing that article that’s due tomorrow? Do you find yourself losing your train of thought and having disjointed conversations where you’re not really communicating? Consider that you may be pretty close to being burned out. While it seems like just plowing ahead is the right way to proceed with a gigantic to-do list, you need to recharge before you can give 100 percent to your business again.

Your lack of boundaries is making you feel resentful

You can’t seem to say no to that one client who never pays you on time, even though you don’t really enjoy working for them. You tell a new customer that you can definitely have an order ready on time, even when you know that you’re going to have to kill yourself to make it happen. You agree to work on a holiday that you’d planned spending with your family because your partner pressures you into it. If you have no boundaries when it comes to the people you work with and for, you’re on the fast track to feeling completely spent. Unless your clients, family, and friends like being snapped at every time they try to talk to you, it’s better to set firm boundaries about holidays and time off, and to stop working for clients who drive you crazy every time.

Work is your entire life

Maybe you’ve convinced yourself that you LIKE being on the clock 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Maybe you’ve fallen into the trap of glorifying business and when people ask you how you’re doing, you immediately begin bragging about how it’s all work and no play. Every freelancer or small business owner (ok, everyone, really) should have a calendar with time scheduled in for being with the people you care about and just relaxing. These appointments with yourself should be as nonnegotiable as any meeting with an important client would be. As famous former basketball coach John Wooden once said, “Don’t let making a living prevent you from making a life.” It helps to think about what you’d like the ideal to be in your work-life balance and then carefully guard time with your family, your friends, and yourself.

Whatever you decide to do in life — take a moment and actually decide, then stick with your plan. Burnout and exhaustion are difficult to recover from if you go too far down. It is easier to take care of yourself all along the way, than to try and pick out your little scorch marks later.


William Lipovsky owns the personal finance website First Quarter Finance. His most embarrassing moment was telling a Microsoft executive, "I'll just Google it."

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