Episode: How to Beat the Burnout Culture
Michael Hyatt: In 2013, the Romanian hacker Marcel Lazar cracked open email accounts belonging to the members of George W. Bush’s family, and inside Lazar found paintings by the former president of animals (especially dogs), still life, a golf course, even some very curious self-portraits. Until Lazar released the images to the media, no one knew about Bush’s hobby, but Bush wasn’t alone in his pastime. Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ulysses S. Grant, and Dwight Eisenhower all painted. Though Eisenhower’s doctor suggested the hobby to relieve stress, his real inspiration was another avid amateur, Winston Churchill.
Winston Churchill: We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds.
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Churchill’s great strength, according to the historian Paul Johnson, was his power of relaxation, and painting was a big part of that power. He took up the hobby during a bleak time in his career and kept at it the rest of his life, even through the worst of the Second World War. As Johnson concludes, the balance he maintained between flat-out work and creative and restorative leisure is worth study by anyone holding a top position.
Well, that’s sound advice, but let’s be honest. Most of us aren’t listening. According to Gallup, the average American work week is closer to 50 hours than 40, and one in five works 60 hours or more. Now you might be tempted to think it’s blue-collar workers who clock the longest shifts, but no. It’s professionals who rack up the most hours. In fact, a study by the Center for Creative Leadership found professionals and business leaders who carry smartphones tend to work more than 70 hours a week.
It gets worse. Alexandra Michel of the University of Pennsylvania has tracked investment bankers working 100 hours or more a week. Factoring long commutes, family commitments, and other demands, and even marginally overstuffed schedules cause us to steal time from the margins. Working on nights and weekends? Check. Leaving vacation days unused? Check. Going to bed late and rising early? Check.
Two-thirds of leaders surveyed by Nick van Dam and Els van der Helm from McKinsey & Company admitted being generally dissatisfied with how much sleep they get, and quantity isn’t the only issue. More than half were also dissatisfied with the quality. Meanwhile, ransacking the margin pantry for more spare hours is celebrated.
Elon Musk famously said entrepreneurs should work 80 to 100 hours a week if they want to be effective. His superpower, said one journalist, has always been sleep, or really the ability to go without it. It’s like the guy is always on. According to his biographer, he actually used to sleep in a beanbag next to his desk, and in a 2016 call with analysts Musk said he keeps a sleeping bag in a conference room next to the Tesla production line.
In offices all over, bragging rights go to those who work the most and sleep the least, and that’s especially true of America, where we work longer hours than practically anyone else in the world. The pressure to overwork is so great that some even lie about working more than they do, like someone inflating their golf game.
We’re living in what German philosopher Josef Pieper called total work, where labor drives life, not the other way around. The results are honestly depressing. More than half of employees say they’re fried, 40 percent work weekends at least once a month, a quarter keep plugging away after hours, and half say they can’t even leave their desk for a break, according to a joint survey by Staples Advantage and Future Workplace.
When Kronos Incorporated and Future Workplace checked with more than 600 human resources leaders, 95 percent said that burnout is undermining their employee retention efforts. They identified low pay, long hours, and heavy workloads as the three biggest contributors to burnout. So let’s just stop and ask…Why on earth are we doing this to ourselves?
Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt, and this is Lead to Win, my weekly podcast designed to help you win at work, succeed at life, and lead with confidence. Today we’re going to tackle the burnout culture. I’m here with my cohost, COO of Michael Hyatt & Company and my eldest daughter, Megan Hyatt Miller. Thanks for joining me, Megan.
Megan Hyatt Miller: Hey, Dad. It’s great to be here with you today.
Michael: I’m excited about this topic. This is something that’s really prevalent, something we’ve discussed a lot, and something we need to address head-on.
Megan: Absolutely. As you mentioned, today we’re talking about burnout…the cost, the cause, and the cure. You know, Dad, I really liked that you mentioned counterbalance at the beginning, because that’s what this is really all about: the necessary ebb and flow of work and rest. It’s a balancing act, and there’s definitely a tension there.
Megan: But we pay a price when we lean too far in one direction or the other, and as you pointed out, this is really a cultural issue. It is everywhere. So first, let’s talk about the cost.
Michael: I’d like to start with a story that happened to me about 15 years ago. I was under a lot of stress at work. I was trying to turn around a failing division in our company. I had inherited this division that was in pretty bad shape, so I was working nights and weekends. In fact, my entire team was doing it. Then I found that I ended up in the emergency room three times in a row, thinking I was having a heart attack.
Michael: Yeah. Thankfully I wasn’t. It was just stress. Finally, to get to the bottom of it, I went to a cardiologist, and I said, “What’s happening to me?” He put me through all the stress tests, wired me up, did all that kind of stuff, and he said, “Look, your heart is fine. That’s not the issue. Your issue is stress, but…” And this was the big but. “…if you don’t do something about the way you’re living and about the pace you’re living, this could be for real, and next time you see me it could be a real heart attack.”
That was a wake-up call. I felt like then I had to dial it back and take a look at this whole thing about pace and about how many hours I was working and the amount of rest I was getting, or in that case not getting.
Megan: So did you think that what you had experienced was abnormal or was that common among your peers at that time?
Michael: I didn’t really know. I assumed it was kind of abnormal. In fact, I was embarrassed by it. I remember one night, the first time it happened, I was in New York City with a friend of mine. We were having dinner at a lovely restaurant, and all of a sudden everything started swirling around me. I got kind of dizzy. I felt like I was about to lose consciousness.
My friend was telling this long involved story, and I finally just stopped him and said, “David, I think I’m having a heart attack.” He looked at me. His eyes about popped out. He raised his hand and said, “Check!” Immediately, we ran outside. I mean, I kind of ran. We got in a cab and went to a hospital in Midtown, New York. As it turned out, it wasn’t a heart attack at all. They couldn’t find a single thing, but I was so embarrassed to have that happen in the middle of this lovely dinner.
Well, the crazy thing about that is even though I thought that was abnormal at the time, what I’ve since discovered, as I have spoken to a lot of CEOs and business leaders, is that it’s… I don’t know how prevalent it is, but it’s fairly common. When I tell that story, a lot of people come up to me and say, “Oh my gosh. That happened to me too.” So it’s more common than you would think.
Megan: Wow. That’s kind of a funny story to tell after the fact, but it certainly was not funny then. That just leads into the fact that there are numerous consequences to this burnout culture. There are four, in fact, that we want to discuss today.
Michael: Yeah, absolutely. Let’s start with this first consequence: your effectiveness. The research shows that we actually produce less for the extra hours we work, and at a certain point we’re just chasing our tails. Jack Nevison, founder of New Leaf Project Management, crunched the numbers from several different studies on long work hours. Get this, Meg. He found there’s a ceiling. Push past 50 hours a week, and there is no productivity gained for the extra time.
Megan: Oh my gosh. That’s like the joke is on you.
Michael: Exactly. In fact, it can go backward. One of the studies he examined found that 50 hours on the job only produced about 37 hours of useful work, but at 55 hours it dropped to almost 30.
Michael: Yeah. Nevison calls this the rule of 50.
Megan: Wow. That leads right into the second consequence, as you alluded to earlier with your story, which is your health. Our minds and bodies are just not designed to work around the clock.
Michael: No, they’re not.
Megan: And when we try, it’s no surprise that it wrecks our health. Because of those hours we work, most of us don’t get the sleep we need, and to save time, in the kitchen we eat for convenience, not nutrition, or even joy. You’re just grabbing food on the go.
Michael: Refueling. That’s it.
Megan: Exactly. We don’t get enough exercise or rest and relaxation, and it often looks like just collapsing exhausted in front of the television or mindlessly clicking away online.
Michael: That’s true for me. When I’ve had a day that’s really long like that and I’ve put in too many hours, I’m just basically a zombie. So plop yourself down in front of the TV and numb out.
Megan: The result, apparently, according to the World Economic Forum’s Human Capital Report, is Americans are unhealthy, stressed, and depressed compared to other countries, despite our relative wealth. That was definitely true for one of our clients, Colleen Hammond.
Colleen Hammond: My name is Colleen Hammond. I’m the founder of the Total Image Institute and creator of the Style Academy. I have a huge need to be productive, not only for my children, but for my health, for my marriage, and for my business. My business had exploded, and I was dealing with balancing my family, balancing my business. It got so big so fast I couldn’t keep up. I was very overwhelmed. If anybody had ever come into my home and talked to my family, they would know my family didn’t see me.
I was working probably 80 hours a week, 60 or 70 hours a week. It’s the old adage “An entrepreneur will work 80 hours a week for themselves so they don’t have to work 40 hours a week for somebody else.” I took that literally. It finally got to the point where on a Sunday… Because for me Sunday is sacrosanct. This is family time. It hit me one day on a Sunday when one of my children didn’t call me a hypocrite but basically said, “I thought you said Sunday was family time,” and I realized I had put my business ahead of my family.
A few months ago, I actually was diagnosed with breast cancer, and that added another level of stress because of not only just the health issue but how I chose to deal with it. I ended up actually having a heart attack a month later, and I was in the hospital for that. So combining the business with the family with my health, I had to figure out how to be productive.
Michael: Lack of sleep is a major contributor to this problem. Depending on how you look at the numbers, the national average is pretty close to six hours a night. According to a study conducted by David Dinges, head of the sleep lab at the hospital at the University of Pennsylvania, test subjects going on six hours of sleep a night (this blows my mind) for two weeks functioned at the same level of impairment as someone legally drunk.
Megan: Oh my gosh. That is terrifying.
Michael: It is.
Megan: Wow. It’s a vicious cycle. Excessive hours rob us of sleep and self-care, but according to neuroscientist Penelope Lewis, our lack of sleep dings our effectiveness, further extending our work hours. As Lewis says, sleep-deprived people come up with fewer original ideas and also tend to stick with old strategies that may not continue to be effective. We totally know this is true in our own experience of life, don’t we?
Michael: Yeah, absolutely. Anybody who’s a parent of small children experiences…
Megan: I’m raising my hand right now. You can’t see me, but I’m raising my hand.
Michael: Exactly. People who are in your shoes or people who were in a situation like we were with five daughters under the age of 10… It’s like chronically sleep-deprived, and you do feel drunk all the time. No wonder.
Megan: I wouldn’t quite go that far all the time, but I get what you’re saying there. The other thing is that very often we see this happen when we try to work late in the night. My mom will often say to you, “Just go to bed and try to wake up in the morning and get done in half the time what you’re trying to do right now,” and that proves to be true every single time.
Michael: Absolutely. She’s always right. Okay, that rolls into the third consequence: your relationships. This is where you have to pay the piper, and there’s a real serious consequence. According to business researchers, Nick van Dam and Els van der Helm (I quoted them earlier), in a sleep-deprived state your brain is more likely to misinterpret emotional cues and overact to emotional events, and you tend to express your feelings in a more negative manner and tone of voice, which is a nice way of saying that when you’re tired you kind of lose it, and it has a relational impact. Right?
Michael: In addition, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley found that we’re more likely to lash out at those perceived slights when our energy is drained.
Megan: I know this is true for me. How often do you end up in a fight with your spouse or an argument with your kids or something when you’re tired? It’s almost like always a common denominator.
Michael: And the next morning you think, “Why did we go through all that?”
Megan: Exactly. Another study from the Walter Reed Army Institute confirmed and extended these findings. They discovered that sleep deprivation leads to a drop in emotional intelligence, stress management skills, and behavioral coping skills. This is not a good recipe. In other words, it sets us up for relational sabotage.
Aside from the havoc wrecked on our emotional states, overwork also has a practical consequence for our loved ones. When we engage in overwork, we’re asking our spouses and children to carry the weight of our ambition. That just makes me feel sad to say that.
Michael: Yeah, that whole weight metaphor is really interesting, because Andy Stanley uses the metaphor of a rock to make this point. He says it’s like we have some big rock and we ask a loved one to hold it for us while we go off and work some more. For a while it’s okay. They want to be helpful. They want to help out, but after a while the weight of that rock gets to be too much, and they drop it, and it has serious consequences.
Megan: I remember the first time I heard that story I cried, because I thought about times that I had been in that situation and times I had put other people in that situation and how unfair it is and, worse, how unconscious it is.
Michael: Yeah, I’ve done it a lot too, and I’ve asked your mother to hold the rock way too many times.
Megan: I think that’s why this self-awareness thing about this is so helpful, because once you wake up and realize that’s what you’re doing you can make a better choice, but man, it’s sobering when you realize it, for sure.
Michael: Yeah, it really is.
Megan: The fourth consequence is your legacy. The Journal of Psychology surveyed hundreds of professionals to find out the effects of sustained work obsession. The results were clear. Overworked employees reported emotional exhaustion, physical illness, and lower investment in their jobs. That was after only one year of chronic overworking.
Megan: Can you imagine the results of sustaining overwork for a decade or more?
Michael: It kind of goes back to the whole zombie comment. I mean, the walking dead. Right? As your health, your relationships, and your effectiveness all crumble, so does your legacy. Our addiction to work is literally killing us. Get this. One Harvard Business School study suggests that overworking might be a factor in 120,000 deaths a year. In fact, in Japan this is such a big problem they actually have a word for it: karoshi. It means death by overworking.
Megan: Now that we’ve explored the dangers of burnout culture, let’s explore the cause.
Michael: All right. In light of the devastating costs of burnout culture, we have to wonder what’s behind this. How did this burnout culture start, and what forces keep it going? It’s easy to assume that society or business leaders are to blame, but more of the fault, I think, rests on us than we probably care to acknowledge.
Megan: Yeah, I hate to say that’s true, but I think it is. There are three main reasons why we stay stuck in burnout culture. The first reason: it’s ingrained in our culture. There’s a fascinating story in 1843, the culture and lifestyle magazine published by the Economist, that explores how overwork came to be the cultural norm. It travels down through history from the 1930s when they imagined that employees in 100 years would only be working 10 or 15 hours a week…
Michael: As if.
Megan: …to today with longer hours and unprecedented work stress. The article offers many reasons, including, first, work has become more interesting, and more employees find their identity in their careers.
Michael: Yeah, and I’ve seen that in the work world, where somebody retires… This literally happened in a job I was in, where the person retired, and the day after they retired they said, “Well, if I’m not the divisional manager, who am I?” Their identity was so wrapped up in their job they didn’t have an existence, hardly, apart from that job.
Megan: Wow. That is really sad. The second reason is that social engagement outside of work has decreased substantially.
Michael: Duh. If you’re working all the time, you have no social life. Right? These things feed on one another. No social life, you work too much; you work too much, you have no social life.
Megan: Right. Vicious cycle. Technology has also made our culture more frenzied than ever, they said.
Michael: What’s crazy about that is the promise of technology was that it would make us more productive, save us time. In fact, this is probably what they envisioned back in the 30s when they were thinking we’d be working 10 to 15 hours a week. Technology will solve all of our problems.
Megan: It reminds me of The Jetsons.
Michael: Exactly. Except more frantic.
Megan: They also said we’re more ambitious and have more visibility into the fruits of affluence than ever before, propelling us into a never-ending quest for more.
Michael: I found this one really interesting, because all you have to do is think about Facebook, where you see everybody bragging on the best things in their lives. They’re never really showing you the undercarriage, but it’s always the shiny new outside of whatever it is in their life that they like, and you get a little bit envious or jealous and it does make you more ambitious.
Megan: Well, let’s be honest. Have you ever left Facebook feeling better about yourself than when you got on?
Michael: No, and the research proves that, but we digress.
Megan: That’s for another show.
Michael: This whole thing is further exacerbated (by the way, I love saying that word) by the fact that we’ve come to idolize work ethic. In the post-Depression era echo, laziness is the ultimate sin, but according to Gary Blau, professor of human resources at Temple University’s Fox School of Business, there’s healthy work ethic and unhealthy work ethic, and according to Blau, we’re headed for trouble when we assume that work is inherently virtuous and that, conversely, time off is inherently lazy. However, both of these ideas have seeped into our collective outlook on work.
I can tell you for most of my career I always felt guilty if I wasn’t working on the weekends, and if I wasn’t working during my vacation I was being lazy. There was kind of this expectation that if you’re really committed to the company, to the enterprise, you’ll put in those extra hours. Forty hours a week? No. Maybe for people in government, but not for people in private enterprise.
Megan: So that was the first reason about why we stay stuck in burnout culture. The second reason is that we don’t know a better approach. Another reason people feel trapped is that they’re simply unaware of other alternatives. This isn’t surprising, given the extent to which overwork has become a cultural norm. We’re too busy existing in a toxic work culture to notice its toxicity. It’s like being a fish in the water. Right?
Michael: I was just about to say that.
Megan: This is one of those cases where the telepathy is real.
Michael: Exactly right. That’s kind of the whole reason Michael Hyatt & Company exists. Our aim is to help overwhelmed high-achievers catch a vision of a different way in which they could both win at work and succeed at life (it’s not either/or; it’s both/and) and to resource them with tools like the Full Focus Planner or my Free to Focus course to help make that a reality.
Megan: For you, this is not something you knew earlier in your career. You kind of had to learn it the hard way. Right?
Michael: Yeah, I did, unfortunately, and I would really like to save people a lot of grief by giving them shortcuts, by giving them a vision for how it could be different, and by really articulating a different set of values so they don’t get caught up in this cultural norm and end up burned out.
Megan: Absolutely. We want to make people aware that there is a different way.
Michael: That leads naturally to the third reason. I have to be honest here. It’s easier to win at work. This is one of the most difficult ones to hear, but the truth is most of us feel more comfortable at work than we do at home. I think this is why we drag work home. This is why if we get bored we kind of go back to work, because at least there we have stuff we can check off, stuff we feel comfortable doing. It’s a lot less messy than relationships and trying to do all this stuff on the weekends and the evenings that involve our families and our health and all the rest. Work is just easier.
Megan: I think that’s really true. It provides a lot more certainty, and when you’re at home the gains and the progress are far less measurable.
Michael: So true. Especially raising kids. You don’t see the results for, like, 37 years.
Megan: Wait a minute, wait a minute. Okay, moving along. Sarah Damaske of Penn State conducted a study on the daily cortisol levels of over 100 professionals. Surprisingly, the stress hormone spiked when participants were at home, not at work.
Michael: That is fascinating.
Megan: She goes on to say that no matter how urgent something is at work, you’re not as attached to the urgency as you would be to, say, a health scare or the death of a loved one, because we’re emotionally entangled at home in a way that we aren’t at work.
Michael: It totally makes sense.
Megan: In addition to relatively less attachment at work, the study also suggests that work is less stressful because it’s more defined, which is kind of intuitive.
Michael: In a sense, work has predictable dragons you’ve learned to slay. As Harvard Business Review puts it, “For some, work can be a haven, a place to feel confident and in control.” Sometimes home feels like anything but that.
Megan: I think this is particularly interesting when you think about the difference between men and women in a professional setting.
Megan: Well, kind of how our culture often thinks about it. I think for men it’s often seen that overwork is necessary or even something to be praised because it’s a way of providing for their family.
Michael: Yeah, totally, because you can think to yourself, “Okay, I’m doing this for the family,” and then all of a sudden it becomes more noble, when in truth it’s actually an escape, because you’re escaping into a realm where you know what you’re doing. It’s less messy. You get all of these rewards. You get praise. You feel this sense of accomplishment, and you can feel like you’re morally fulfilling your duty as a husband and a father.
Megan: I think it’s a little different for women, though. I think for women the cultural expectation is often implied that you’re supposed to be potentially pursuing a professional career, like I am, but you’re also supposed to be the primary caregiver for your children, so there’s enormous guilt that comes when you’re working on the weekend or at night, which is something I try not to do now, but it’s something I think when it’s necessary there are a lot of emotions tied up in it.
I remember a story from a couple of years ago when Jonah, our youngest son, was in kindergarten. His teacher said to me, “You know, I haven’t seen you for a while. It’s so good to see you.” What she meant by that was that Joel had been picking up Jonah in the afternoon because we had flip-flopped. Normally, Joel drops off and I pick up in the afternoon, but because of some conflicts, he’d been doing it.
The other moms were there doing room mom stuff and class parties and volunteering, and I wasn’t doing that because I have a professional career. I remember the guilt I felt at that. I felt like I was failing at work, because at that moment I was doing school stuff, and I also felt like I was failing as a mom, because clearly I wasn’t volunteering as much as the other moms.
Michael: That’s clearly a double standard.
Megan: It is.
Michael: I will say this, though. I think it has gotten better. We’re certainly not where we need to be, but I can see it in you kids. Three of my five daughters are married, and two of them have kids, and I can see more of an equal sharing in the roles, but there was definitely not that expectation when you guys were growing up in our home. In a sense, Mom…God bless her…enabled it, because she was also helping me to justify the reason and saying to you guys, “You should be grateful that Dad works so hard to provide all this wonderful stuff for us.” She was kind of playing into the whole thing.
Megan: I think the challenge now, as men and women professionally, is for us to recognize when we’re doing that, whether we feel guilty or whether we’re trying to escape or whatever emotionally is going on, and instead to lean into the squishy, messy home time of relationships and all the engagement that happens there that’s less certain, because it’s so important.
Megan: Before we continue our conversation about burnout culture, I want to pause for just a minute to talk about a new resource you’ve created to help guarantee we grow as leaders. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Michael: Yeah. I’m so excited about this new product. It’s called LeaderBox, and it’s essentially leadership development that comes in a box. It’s a monthly curated reading experience designed to maximize your time, grow your leadership, and accelerate your results as a leader. It delivers personal and professional development to your door, helping you get through two books a month in just 30 minutes a day.
Megan: That is so important, because we’re all just so busy. We know that reading is vital to our continued growth as leaders, but there are so many books out there competing for our attention that it can be challenging just to decide what to read, let alone find the time to read the books and then apply those lessons to our businesses. It can be overwhelming fast.
Michael: Exactly. That’s where LeaderBox comes in. My team and I have a combined experience (get this) of over 50 years in the book publishing industry. It’s a lot, and we’re leveraging all that know-how to bring you the most valuable books each month, the ones that are really going to move the needle in your life and business, in a curated, subscription-based service. Two books, custom Activation Guides, and more will arrive on your doorstep each month.
Megan: Just to say it again, you can get through this in 30 minutes a day, which is crazy. That’s a lot of books to read in a year in 30 minutes a day.
Michael: And actually it’s only 21 days of the month. We give you the weekends off.
Megan: That happens in the Activation Guide. So talk a little bit about what is in those.
Michael: This includes a 21-day Reading Plan, executive book summaries, action steps, a list of related resources, plus my proprietary Book Insights framework to help you quickly internalize the key concepts. It’s an easy, complete subscription that allows you to automate your growth in just minutes a day.
Megan: I love this solution, because I think it solves a very real need for leaders who are committed to personal growth and professional growth but need to achieve it as quickly as possible. I mean, come on. We don’t have time to sit around for hours every day like we’re professional students. Plus, unlike so many subscription services, you’re offering the option to cancel at any time.
Michael: Yeah, that was a big decision for us, but we wanted to take all the risk out so that leaders can get the development tools they need without having to worry about being locked in if it’s not right for them.
Megan: For those who are interested, where can they find out more?
Michael: Well, I thought you’d never ask. You can subscribe now at leaderbox.com, and I’ll encourage you to do that today so you don’t miss the cutoff for the next box.
Megan: That’s important, because each box is only available for one month, and there’s no way to get your hands on them after that. Right?
Michael: That’s true. The books in the Activation Guide this month are great, and I don’t want you to miss out, so subscribe now.
Megan: Great. I hope all of you will go check it out. Now let’s dive back into our conversation about burnout culture.
Michael: Okay, we’ve talked about the cost, we’ve talked about the cause, and now it’s time, finally, to talk about the cure.
Megan: The costs of burnout culture are so devastating and the causes are so deeply ingrained that it’s easy to assume the cure must be similarly highly complex. Right? Thankfully, that is not the case. It’s very simple: work less and rejuvenate more.
Michael: Yeah, easy to say, but harder to learn and harder to practice. I don’t know how many years ago it was, maybe 10 years ago, I read a book called The Power of Full Engagement by Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr. These guys coach high-performance athletes, and one of the things they found about these athletes was that they really focused on energy management, and they did it by observing a rhythm between really hard work and then a lot of rest.
As it turns out, in the Olympic world or in the athletic performance world, the higher your performance, the more you have to rejuvenate in order to sustain that level of performance. We can’t just go, go, go, go, go. We have to have rejuvenation, and that’s what we’re going to talk about.
Megan: To that end, we have something really exciting. A five-ingredient recipe… Don’t you love it when we have recipes?
Michael: I love recipes.
Megan: …for self-rejuvenation to help you unplug, recharge, and perform better than ever. The first ingredient is rest. The thing about rest is it’s built into our bodies. We are made to shut down for a third of our day. A third of the day. That’s a lot.
Michael: That’s a lot. Absolutely. That ought to tell us something.
Megan: It might be giving us clues. If we cheat ourselves out of this innate need we have, this off switch that’s built into our bodies, we are signing up for burnout.
Michael: Yep. I think there are at least three times when we need to prioritize rest. Obviously daily, as you pointed out, through adequate sleep and even naps. As you know, I’m a long-time napper. I’ve napped my entire career.
Megan: You almost have a PhD in napping.
Michael: I do. People can’t believe this, but I can fall asleep in 60 seconds or less, but I’ve had a lot of practice, and I do it daily. So, daily through adequate sleep and naps, weekly by taking a day off like a sabbath, and then annually with vacations and maybe even a month-long sabbatical. That’s something I didn’t think was possible, certainly, for most of my career, but a lot of the issue there is that we need to think “What would it take to make it possible?”
At any rate, we’ve already discussed at length the consequences of cheating sleep, so I won’t dwell much on daily rest here, but suffice it to say that adequate sleep and napping lead to better health, greater focus, and improved performance. That’s what the science says. Then a weekly sabbath does this to a greater extent. It allows us to push the “pause” button from all our doing and just recharge, to actually be with the people we love the most, get even more rest, play, and all the rest.
As Rabbi Abraham Heschel puts it, “Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to someone else.”
Megan: That’s really a beautiful quote. To be clear, we’re not talking about only taking one day off. The context of this quote is religious, but we’re talking about Saturday and Sunday for most people. What I love about the idea of sabbath, though, is that there is humility that’s baked into it. We can stop for a whole day, or two days is what we’re really recommending, and the world is going to keep turning.
Michael: It’s almost an act of faith.
Megan: It is an act of faith. I don’t think it’s almost; I think it absolutely is an act of faith.
Michael: By saying, “I’m going to start with rest” or “I’m going to end with rest,” regardless, I can afford to take this time off because I have an abundance mentality, that God is going to provide for me if I work six days or five days or whatever, but I don’t have to work seven days. It’s not all up to me.
Megan: I think it’s a direct confrontation to our mentality of self-reliance. From a Christian perspective, we believe that ultimately the results are in the hands of God and not in our own hands, and it just is a good check to us getting out of control on that self-reliance thing.
Michael: It’s a totally good reminder.
Megan: A monthly sabbatical compounds both the humility and the benefits.
Michael: This is an idea I want to camp on for just a minute, because I think for most people they’ve never contemplated whether this is possible. You might be like my nutritionist, who when I told her that I was going away for a month said to me, “Well, I could never do that.” I said, “Whoa, let’s stop.” I like what Tony Robbins says. If you ever say to yourself “I can’t do that,” then you must.
I said to her, “What would have to be true for you to be able to take a month off?” That kind of reframed it, and then she started thinking. She said, “Well, I guess I would have to let my clients know in advance that I was going to be gone that month.” I said, “Okay, good. Check. What’s the next thing that would have to be true?” She said, “Well, I’d have to work out the cash flow implications, because, obviously, I’d be missing the cash intake for a solid month.” I said, “Do you think that’s possible?” She said, “Well, I think with enough planning, yeah.”
I saw her about three months later, and she said, “I booked a two-week vacation to Italy.” She said, “I know it’s baby steps. It’s not a full month, but I’m getting started.” She had a marvelous time, and she recently told me that she booked a sabbatical for three weeks this next time, and she wants to work up to a month. So it’s possible. We have to think about it, but some amazing things happen when you take a month off.
We’ve even instituted that in our company as an employee benefit. Once our employees have been here for three years, on that third year they get to take 30 days off. No guilt. No work. We don’t expect them to check in. We don’t want them to check in. In fact, we penalize them if they check in. We want them to take that time off so they can really rejuvenate.
Megan: Part of that is because we see the benefit in our results and their creativity when they return. You’ve certainly experienced that when you’ve taken sabbaticals.
Michael: Totally. You come back with a complete makeover of your mind and your body and your spirit, and I’m so excited to get back to work.
Megan: And you have a thousand new ideas. In fact, our team, I think, secretly braces themselves when you come back from sabbatical, wondering what big fun changes are ahead.
Michael: I think that used to be true initially when I was doing it, because I would allow myself to think of new ideas, but I don’t really do that anymore, because I’m not thinking about work while I’m gone, and I just intentionally push them out of mind. I think if it’s a good enough idea it’ll come back to me later.
Megan: What’s amazing about it, though, even though you’re not thinking about work, your brain is at rest from the part of your brain that is being used in work, so when you come back you’re in the peak state of performance, and the ideas that come from that are incredible breakthroughs usually.
Michael: They are. It’s why we have the best ideas in the shower when we’re totally relaxed. The same thing is true here.
Megan: Absolutely. The second ingredient for this recipe for rejuvenation is reflection. We live in a busy and noisy world that will suck the life out of us if we let it. This is why it’s essential that we intentionally pull away to a quiet place, pause, and reflect.
Michael: For me, the way that’s best done is a daily quiet time. My day always starts with the basic same morning routine, where I’m going to read the Bible, I’m going to pray, I’m going to journal, I’m going to meditate. All of that gives me a time to collect my thoughts and to reflect on what matters most in a disciplined, regular way that helps me make sure life isn’t just slipping past me and I’m not asking myself the questions “Where am I going? Where is all this leading?” and I have an opportunity to course-correct.
Megan: I love that. So many people have been inspired by your morning routine and how you think about that, and it’s something I have in the last couple of years started to incorporate myself. I initially found it really challenging, though, because I have young children who wake up early. There are so many things to keep up with with kids. I found that if I would lower the bar to a very small bar to try to get over, this was actually possible no matter what season of life you’re in.
Your quiet time now and this morning routine you do lasts for a long time because you have the luxury of that in this season. I don’t. Mine is getting longer as my kids get older, but I’ve found that even 5 or 10 minutes of meditation or 5 or 10 minutes of reading something spiritual, whatever it may be, just to be alone… I can usually get up that much earlier than my kids, even though they wake up early, and that has been transformational for me. It’s important to remember this is applicable no matter what season of life you’re in.
Michael: That’s right. We’re all in different seasons, and we need to give ourselves the grace to do what we can.
Megan: Absolutely. Okay, the third ingredient in this recipe for rejuvenation is relationships. Arguably, this is the most important one. You and I are made to live in relationship with others, but in a world of social media and fake connections, we have to really be intentional about building time for these relationships. Otherwise, we think Facebook is a real thing, and it’s not. We need quality, in-person connections.
Michael: Face to face. Absolutely.
Megan: The personal payoff is huge to this. The right relationship can open up a world of learning, encouragement, accountability, and connection for us.
Michael: The fourth ingredient is refreshment, and here I’m talking about food and drink.
Megan: I’m going to be honest. This is almost my favorite one.
Michael: I know. It’s one of my favorites too.
Megan: Except for the naps. I really like the naps too.
Michael: The bottom line is that in order to be productive, to feel energetic, to be focused, we need adequate fuel. It’s that simple. Specifically, you need to keep your blood sugar regulated, and that’s really what this is about. When it spikes and drops, you lose energy. This has a biochemical impact on your brain. Brain fog. It’s a real thing. You’ll experience difficulty with focus and other cognitive activities.
People often say they don’t have time to stop and eat. I’ve said that to myself in the past. “I’m going to work through lunch” or “I’m going to work through dinner” or “I’m not going to eat breakfast. It just takes too much time.” That’s stupid. It’s like saying you don’t have time to stop and get gas for your car.
In addition to how often you eat, it’s also about what you eat. You have to pay attention to eat foods that are actually going to contribute to your productivity and be good, clean fuel and not stuff that’s going to bog you down and mess with your blood sugar and cause you to be more fatigued after you eat than before you ate.
Megan: I have to be honest about something here. When I saw the first point of this and it was food and drink, I thought we were talking about some kind of Italian fantasy of pasta bowls and wine, and then you started talking about healthy food and blood sugar, and my fantasy just slipped away. Okay, I don’t think that’s what you were talking about.
Michael: But I think that has its place too.
Megan: I think so too. Truly for me, that fantasy… While I’m not Italian, unfortunately, I like to think of myself as being grandfathered in. On the weekends, that, for me, is a huge source of refreshment. One of my favorite things to do on the weekends is to be in the kitchen cooking, usually by myself, sometimes with Joel or one of my kids in there. I love that. I love to make a big meal for my family. I love to connect and have conversation over a great meal.
I think both sides of this are super important. On the one hand, food is about refreshment from a physiological standpoint, and we have to think about the technical side of that so that we’re nourishing our body, but then we need to nourish our soul through food and drink as well. That kind of connection around the table is imperative for the health of our souls and the well being of our families.
Michael: Yeah, it really is, and you don’t have to wait till the weekend, even. One of the best ways to connect is to have dinner together. There’s a new idea. Actually get your family together and have dinner. I know so many families that just stop and refuel, and everybody is eating in front of the TV. This happened to us in the past. Eating in front of the TV, not really interacting with one another. Everybody is on their devices. But to use these mealtimes as a time not only to feed your bodies but to feed your souls and to give you an opportunity to really connect.
Megan: I totally agree. All right, the fifth ingredient is recreation. There’s a difference between amusement, like entertainment, and recreation. The former leaves us tired…more tired, in fact, than when we started. Even like a trip to Disney World. You can come back more exhausted than when you left. Personally, when I think about going to Disneyland or Disney World I feel tired, thinking about taking my kids there. Yet the latter refreshes us and grounds us.
Michael: Arthur Boers describes these activities as focal practices, and I’ll let my friend Father Kenny Benge explain these to you.
Kenny Benge: Let me give you a definition of a focal thing and a focal practice. This comes directly from an interview with Albert Borgmann. He says a focal thing is something that has a commanding presence. In other words, it doesn’t yield to our engagement with it. When we engage with it, it affects us in an embodied sort of way, and it connects us and engages us with other people.
So focal things and the kind of engagements they foster have a power to center our lives and arrange other things around this center in an orderly way, because it helps us know what’s important and what’s not. A focal practice results from committed engagement with a focal thing. That’s a very abstract definition. Let me give you an example. Let’s think about learning to play the guitar versus listening to an iPod.
As you play a guitar, it requires something of you, and it’s not easy. It requires practice. It requires becoming familiar with the traditions of guitar playing. It also draws us into a community of other guitar players, because we often need to learn to play the guitar from someone who already knows how to do it. In that sense, it focuses us. It takes energy, it’s not easy, and then it connects us with a larger community. So focal things and practices do those kinds of things with us.
The same thing with meal preparation. When you prepare a meal and you involve other people with it, everyone participates. This was obviously the way meal preparation… It wasn’t even an option in earlier days. Meal preparation involved everybody else. Firewood had to be cut, the meal had to be cooked, and then when people sat down and had the meal they were engaged with each other in a bodily way. One of the things people notice these days… More and more dining room tables are actually disappearing from people’s homes, because less and less people actually just sit down and share meals together as a family.
One of the helpful things in terms of devices is to ask yourself a couple of diagnostic questions. Where are you not because of your engagement with technological devices? To help you understand it a little bit more, technology assists us because it helps us transcend time and space. Another way of saying it is that technology shrinks our world and speeds it up.
A good diagnostic question is…When is that helpful for you, and when is it harmful or violent to us as creatures? A lot of rest and recreation has to do with being restored not just in mind and emotion but also in body, because we’re embodied creatures. Focal practices help us slow down and create space for ourselves, so we can reengage as whole people with certain parts of life that are holistic.
Megan: As we discussed in our show opening, Winston Churchill provides a powerful example of the value of reflection. Per Churchill, for recreation to be effective it must be different from what you do professionally. You have to do things that don’t mirror what you do at work.
Michael: That’s why we advise no business on the weekends. Not even reading business books, which is something I love to do at any other time. It’s time to light up the other parts of our brain. As Churchill puts it, “Change is the master key. A man can wear out a particular part of his mind by continually using it and tiring it, just in the same way as he can wear out the elbows of his coat.
There is, however, this difference between the living cells of the brain and inanimate articles…the tired parts of the mind can be rested and strengthened, not merely by rest, but by using other parts. It is not enough merely to switch off the lights which play upon the main and ordinary field of interest; a new field of interest must be illuminated.”
He went on to say it’s no use inviting the businessman who has been working or worrying about serious things for six days to work or worry about trifling things at the weekend. In other words, for recreation to work, we have to switch it up.
Megan: Absolutely. This is why you advocate and we talk about a lot the need to develop hobbies, interests, read books that are outside of our normal purview, to stimulate different parts of our brain, just like Churchill is saying here.
Michael: We just got back from vacation last week at the time we’re recording this, and I took up painting. I’ve never painted before, but Mom is a painter, and she does a great job at it. I decided this was something I wanted to learn, because I just wanted to give creative expression to something. And I loved it. I think this is going to be a lifelong hobby for me. It employs a completely different part of my brain than I normally use.
Megan: And gives the rest of your brain a break.
Michael: That’s right.
Megan: Wow, that was great. Today, we’ve covered three facets of the burnout culture: the cost, the cause, and the cure. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, you can get the show notes and a full transcript online at leadto.win.
As we come in for a landing, I’d like to remind you that even though the causes may be vast and the cost devastating, the cure for burnout culture is available to you starting today. Whether you paint like Churchill (or now my dad) or cook like I do on the weekends or maybe do something else this weekend to rest, you can take action now to move your life and our culture away from the overwork addiction. Dad, do you have any final thoughts today?
Michael: Yeah. The last point you made is really apropos. It really is in our hands. Sometimes we think burnout is something that happens to us, like we’re the victims, but we have a lot of agency. We’re going to be talking a lot about that in these podcasts, that we do have more control than we think.
We don’t have to burn out, and we don’t have to suffer from overwork and all this. These are little choices we make, and we’re kind of accomplices in our own demise. We have to take the control back, and we have to be intentional. Otherwise, we are going to drift to burnout. It’s entirely possible to live a different kind of life. We just have to take action.
Megan: I love that. Okay, before we close, I want to remind you about LeaderBox. It’s automated personal development in a box. Check it out at leaderbox.com.
Michael: Thanks again for joining us on Lead to Win. If you like the show, please tell your friends and colleagues about it, and also please leave a review of the show wherever you listen to podcasts.
Megan: This program is copyrighted by Michael Hyatt & Company. All rights reserved. Our producer is Nick Jaworski.
Michael: Our writers are Joel Miller, Mandi Rivieccio, and Jeremy Lott.
Megan: Our recording engineer is Matt Price.
Michael: Our production assistants are Mike Burns and Aleshia Curry.
Megan: And our intern is Winston.
Michael: We invite you to join us for our next episode, where we’ll be discussing the anatomy of a tough talk so you can win with even the most difficult conversations. Until then, lead to win.