Do you know when it’s time to step away?


As leaders we’re most successful when we lean in. When we go the extra mile. If we’re honest, that’s what energizes many of us, and it’s how we’ve grown our careers, built our personal brands, and achieved success. We’ve chosen to heavily invest (our time, talent, finances, etc.) in growing our careers and our organizations by pouring into them.

And that’s often a great thing.

But what about when it isn’t great anymore?

Do you know how to tell when it isn’t? When enough is enough? Do you know when it’s time to take a step back or to step away from something?

Knowing when you’ve hit a wall and you need a break is critical. Dialing back isn’t a failure. It’s what leads to growth, both personally and professionally. But if you don’t know how to recognize it or how to adapt, you’re destined to fail.

Here are 10 signs that it’s time to take a step back from what you’re doing and gain new perspective:

  1. You’re easily irritated at small things that never used to bother you
  2. You can’t remember the last time you just sat and had a leisurely conversation with your significant other or a close friend
  3. You get frustrated instead of energized by the work you used to love
  4. You’re unable to maintain a consistent sleep schedule and often wake feeling worn out
  5. Your personal relationships consistently take a backseat in your decision-making process regarding how you spend your time
  6. The airline club attendant knows you by name, and knows more about your life right now than your spouse or close friends
  7. You’ve gained weight
  8. You skip regular exercise to make time to catch up on that extra work you’ve taken on
  9. You’re eating and drinking (alcohol) more to try to find pleasure in something in your day
  10. You feel like your tank is constantly on empty – like you’re barely able to make forward progress

If you see yourself in these examples, know that there’s still hope. It’s all fixable.

I know this from personal experience. All of these examples were true for me over the last two years. My career was growing significantly. I had a job that I loved – until I didn’t. As I took on more responsibility, and as my company asked me to step into ever increasing leadership roles, the work began to consume me. So much so that by the time I realized there was a problem, I was on the road nearly six days a week, every week. My family life suffered. My wife was effectively single-parenting our children. I was worn out, and got sick at least monthly (and I typically get sick once or twice a year, max!). And I began to hate the work – and myself for letting it get this bad.

Why do you need to get a handle on this? Because it can destroy your relationships, push you into depression and anxiety, and kill you. Yup, kill you. Don’t take my word for it, here’s the proof:

Only the Overworked Die Young

The Research Is Clear: Long Hours Backfire for People and for Companies

7 Reasons Working Too Much Is Bad For Your Health

The #1 Cost of Overwork is Personal Relationships

Now that you know the problem, and you know why it’s a problem, how do you fix it?

  1. Talk to someone
    1. Talk to your spouse or significant other. If you don’t feel like you can talk to them, try a trusted colleague or friend in your industry, your pastor, doctor, therapist, a neighbor. Heck, strike up a conversation with someone at Starbucks if you have to. It will help you to process your thoughts verbally, to be heard, and ideally to have someone there who can give you some feedback and perspective.
  1. Start saying “NO” to new opportunities, projects, and assignments
    1. This is one of the hardest things for me. And if you’re a driven, career-minded professional, it’s probably a challenge for you too. What I found is that saying NO to more things allowed me the time to focus on the really important stuff, to get more done, and to create some time and space to regain my personal life.
  1. Begin blocking time in your calendar
    1. Prioritize time with family, exercise, and personal time, and treat those with the same level of importance that you would treat a client meeting or a meeting with your boss. Don’t cancel them to make space for other work.
  1. Cut out any non-essential activities at work.
    1. If it doesn’t directly generate revenue (or whatever your primary role is), delegate it. If you don’t have anyone to delegate to, just stop doing it. Seriously. This is difficult for some, especially those who feel like they’re the only ones who can do a particular task well. What you need to recognize is that if your need for perfection is causing you to become overworked, you have to change it. Otherwise, you’ll spin yourself in circles always chasing a perfection that is likely impossible to achieve.
  1. Have a hard conversation with your boss and your team.
    1. Let them know the truth. If the pace and the volume of your work are unmanageable, you’ve got to be honest about this. Asking for help doesn’t signify weakness. Holding it all in does. It’s ok to ask to be taken off projects, to delegate work up to your boss, and out/down to your team and others in your organization. It’s a healthy way to approach a mounting workload.
  1. Quit
    1. For some (including me), this is the only way you can truly regain your life and fix the problem. It’s scary to think about this because not only is your financial health at stake, but for so many of us, your ego is at risk with this one too. But if you’re a high-capacity leader then your skills, experience, and abilities will be in demand in the market. BUT…you’ve got to get a handle on the habits that got you into this problem and fix those quickly. Otherwise, you’ll be in the same boat in a year or two and changing jobs won’t really have fixed anything.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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One thought on “Do you know when it’s time to step away?

  1. Sometimes we are a victim of our own success. Stepping back is a courageous step and creates the space to grow again. Thanks for the thoughtful insights .