Episode 449

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Burnout can sneak up on us; before we know it, we’re ready to sell the agency. But before we get to this critical point, there are usually signs and symptoms of burnout, but it’s not always easy to differentiate them from regular day-to-day stress.

In this week’s episode, I’m talking to Eric Recker about those crucial signs that you might be burning the candle at both ends a little too often and how to turn it around for the better. If we can get ahead of our burnout by identifying that we’re heading in that direction early, there’s so much we can do to help turn it around before we start making rash decisions.

If your world is starting to feel a little gray, monotonous, or like you’re in the trenches a little too often for your liking, those might be your signs to start going into recovery mode. So join us to learn how agency owners can start recognizing burnout signs and symptoms and how to recover from them.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.


What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Is it burnout or business as usual?
  • The importance of having people around you to check in with
  • How to de-crisis yourself if you feel you’re at risk of burnout
  • Turning off the false sense of urgency in your mind
  • Commit to 30 minutes of unstructured quiet
  • Filling yourself back up after being chronically empty for a long time
  • Disrupting your routine to scale burnout recovery
  • A recipe for sustainable recovery that’s realistic and achievable
  • Setting boundaries between work mode and relax mode
  • Bringing burnout recovery tactics to our employees

“Everything is gray in the beginning. There's not a lot of color. And that's what happened to my life when I was burned out.” - Eric Recker Click To Tweet
“One thing that helps a ton before we enter a space of quiet is to do a brain dump and write down everything that's swirling around in our minds.” - Eric Recker Click To Tweet
“We are empty when we're burned out. We're just chronically empty. So we have to figure out how to fill back up.” - Eric Recker Click To Tweet
“Our overcommitment looks a lot like phones and Netflix. If we did a time audit, we’d see we're terrible at how we use our time.” - Eric Recker Click To Tweet
“It's not a sign of weakness. It just means you overshot doing a good thing. Burnout happens because we do too much.” - Eric Recker Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Eric:


Hey, everybody. Drew here. You know, we are always looking for more ways to be helpful and meet you wherever you’re at to help you grow your agency. It’s one of the reasons why we’ve produced this podcast for so long, and I’m super grateful that you listen as often as you do. However, there are some topics that are better suited for quick hyper-focused answers in under 10 minutes. That’s where our YouTube channel really comes in. For quick doses of inspiration, best practices, tips and tricks, head over to youtube.com/the at sign Agency Management institute. Again, that’s youtube.com/the at sign or symbol.

And then Agency Management Institute, all one word. Subscribe and search the existing video database for all sorts of actionable topics that you can implement in your shop today. Alright, let’s get to the show.

Welcome to the Agency Management Institute community, where you’ll learn how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money, and keep more of the money you make. The Build a Better Agency Podcast, presented by a White Label IQ is packed with insights on how small to mid-size agencies are getting things done, bringing his 25 years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant. Please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Hey everybody. Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute to welcome to another episode of Build a Better Agency. You know, sometimes they talk about when the student is ready, the teacher will come. So I feel like this is one of those episodes for me, and I hope for you as well. So my guest is a guy named Eric Rucker, and he’s an author and he talks about how basically we’re in burnout mode and how we have to be better about giving ourselves some recovery. What Eric doesn’t know, and I probably won’t tell him during the interview, but what Eric doesn’t know is I was up till three in the morning last night getting some work done because we’re going into two and a half days of all day meetings, and I had things that I have to get done, and I ran out of time.

And so I literally was burning the candle at both ends. And so it’s ironic, I think, to me, that we’re gonna talk today about what we’re doing to ourselves when we work like that. And I know that I have a tendency to go 120 miles an hour, and I don’t always do the things that I need to do to take good care of myself. And so I just feel like the universe, you know, again, I went to bed at three in the morning, and by the way, my interview with Eric is at seven in the morning. So you can do the math after you figure I gotta take a shower and get ready, you know, before I show up on camera. It was a short night for me. So I sort of feel like the universe is saying, Hey, stupid.

Really need you to pay attention to this, really need you to just stop for a minute and think about, yep, you got a lot done last night, and yes, you were on a lot of deadlines. And fill in the blank. Fill in the blank, fill in the blank. ’cause we do that to ourselves all the time. And so I think it’s ironic that he and I are talking this morning, and my job is to get ideas out of his head to help all of you not go into burnout mode. And I think obviously, I need to be listening and take a little bit of his medicine for me as well. So I’m gonna do that. So without further ado, let’s get to Eric so that both you and I can learn how to take better care of ourselves. So we’re more productive, we’re more alive, we’re more available to the people that we love.

We are healthier, and we can do the important work we do for longer. So all of those are good reasons to pay attention to how we’re treating ourselves and maybe do a little better job of taking care of ourselves. So with that, let’s talk to Eric. All right. That’s it. Thanks everybody. Eric, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Thanks for having me, drew. I’m excited to be here.

So tell everybody a little bit about who you are, your background, how you came to write the books that you’ve written, and then I’ve got a ton of questions for you. So, but give everybody a, just a sense of who you are and what you’re about.

Yeah, so I am a dentist by trade. So I’ve been a dentist for about 20 years, and I have gone through three significant seasons of burnout. And so one of those seasons of burnout actually led me to almost selling my dental practice in walking away. And it felt like the only thing I could do. Burnout had such a grip over me at that point, and I actually was within a couple months of selling my dental practice, and the person I was going to sell it to was in a horrific car accident. Oh, geez. And we quickly realized that that was not the route to go. He survived, but we decided that was not the route to go. And so I was faced with this thing of, I was trying to escape burnout.

I was trying to go around it when in reality I needed to go through it. I needed to figure out how can I get through this? How can I move forward into the life that I want? And now I am in a place where I’m seeing patients in my dental practice three days a week I’m doing coaching, speaking, workshop, facilitation around these topics because I feel like I’ve been through all of these things in my life, and I want to be able to help other people on their journey.

Okay. So in your books, you talk about sort of the, maybe signs isn’t the right word, but the, you know, ev ev you, as you and I were talking before I hit the record button, you know, everybody works hard. Everybody’s on the go, everybody’s burning the candle at both ends as business owners, yada, yada, yada. How do we know that this isn’t just normal business owner stuff and that we’re actually heading towards a danger zone?

Yeah. Recently I was asked, you know, can you describe, describe burnout in a word? And for me, the word that I used was gray. And the reason that I used that, one of my favorite movies of all time, is The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I don’t know if you’ve seen that Drew, but I absolutely love the movie. It’s about Ben Stiller, and he is a character who works for Life Magazine. And in the beginning, his life is boring. It is dull, it’s gray. He hasn’t done anything. I would not describe him as burned out because he really hadn’t done anything to, to get to that point. But in that movie, the cinematography portrays what I see burnout as really, really well.

Everything is gray in the beginning. There’s not a lot of color. And that’s what happened to my life when I was burned out. I had a hard time getting excited about things. Yeah. I had a hard time celebrating things. I was just in the grind. And when I think we, when we start to get gray, when we start to get flat, when things don’t excite us very much, and we, we can even get to the beginning of a week and say, I don’t have enough. We time In this week to get the things done. And that is on repeat, your life just gets monotonous on repeat gray. And so those, those are a few of the things that I really notice about myself.

And I, I’m guessing that every business owner, not just our audience of agency owners and leaders, but every business owner and leader goes through seasons of gray. So how do I know when this is a moment versus this is potentially a crisis?

Crisis? Yeah. I think it is. One of the things you have to do is you have to be in relationship with other people, and you have to be in relationship with other people who are willing to give you feedback on, on where you’re at. So one of the things that my wife really noticed about me is that I was getting very reactive. So when she would ask me questions, I would be quick to snap back with an answer. Nothing that I was talking about was well thought out. Hmm. And so I think, well, that’s one thing that we can really do, is we can lean on those people who are close to us and ask them for feedback on, on how we’re doing. Those are tough questions to ask, but we were not meant to do this life by ourselves.

I think that’s one of the great lies that Covid told us, is we had to be isolated and that other people were toxic. Well, a lot of people have kept that going, and they’re not around people. They’re not in networks. And so when, when you’re by yourself, it’s, it’s a little bit harder to know. But these things that I’m talking about when every week feels like the same week over and over again, when you don’t ever feel like you can get ahead. When things start feeling like if you’re in a pattern or you’re in, you just can’t break free from it, that’s when it starts to be a problem. We’re all gonna have a bad week. We’re all gonna have a week where we feel like we are in a funk.

But if that is every single week, we have a problem.

All right. So let’s say I’m feeling, or that’s, that’s accurate. That’s me. I’m, I am feeling like I am on the hamster wheel and I just can’t get off. I think, I think one of the other things that is probably true is when, you know for a business owner, you know, if a portion of the time that they spend doing work needs to be doing sort of that deep thinking work, that I’m not making a thing. I’m not, I’m not producing something, but I’m, I’m really thinking about the future of my business. I’m mentoring my people. I’m, I’m present and available. And I think one of the other things, when somebody is burnt out, one of the things that we see is that they really struggle to be present.

They struggle to do the deeper work of their job, partially because they just don’t have the time. But also just because they don’t have the mental bandwidth, they’re so exhausted mentally and physically that it’s hard for them to sort of do that deeper work. So, so let’s say somebody’s checking the boxes and they’re saying, yep, this, I think I’m at, I think I’m at risk for this. What do you do next? What’s, what? How do, how do you de sort of crisis yourself? And, you know, you’re not probably gonna go on a three month sabbatical. You’re probably not gonna, you know, as you almost did, you’re they’re probably not gonna sell their business. Although, I will say, I think one of the things we’re seeing, and you may be seeing this too, in some of the work that you’re doing, one of, one of the crisis points that we see is when an agency owner is just like, I, I have to be done.

I, I need to check out. And so they do begin the process, or they do begin to entertain the idea of selling their business perhaps before they had really planned at it. ’cause they just have no more gas in the tank.

Yeah. And for some people, that’s an option. It really is. It, it, and it might be the best option, but we wanna make sure that it’s an option that has, we’ve had some of that deep reflective time to decide, is this really what I want? Or am I just escape trying to escape the problem?

Right. So I’ve self-diagnosed, I’m like, yep, I’m at risk of really kind of crossing over the threshold of this is just a moment into, boy, this season has gone for a long time. What do I do next?

Yeah. So the biggest first step is just to raise your hand. And that’s a big step for a lot of people. It’s, it’s really surprised me. So for about six months, I have had a free challenge on my website, a five day knockback burnout challenge that people can sign up for. And I think that’s a great step to take, just to click on that. And it gives five days worth of tips on how to kind of loosen the hold of burnout. But I’ve been surprised that a lot of people have told me that they’re not even sure they can raise their hand on that. Hmm. So I think what’s important is that things that are kept in the dark have power over us.

Yeah. They do. If we don’t talk about it, then it’s always gonna be this thing that festers, it’s always gonna run around in the back of our minds. Yeah. So, talking to someone that we can trust. If we don’t have someone that we can trust, talking to a counselor or a therapist, that is hugely important. I, my whole family has seen a therapist, and when we need to, we do see a therapist, and why would we not want to have an ally to work with us? I’ve had people, coaching clients that have raised their hand and said, Hey, I’m feeling burnout. I need you to help me get through this.

And it all starts with that place where we say, here I am, kind of the, the aa, I’m Eric Wrecker and I’m burned out and I don’t know what to do about it. So I think that is, that is the biggest step. And then I’m not sure how we move forward without Wyatt reflective time. I’m just not sure. And believe me, I know that this is, this is super important. When my office closed for Covid, I had something that I hadn’t had in years, and that was discretionary time.

Yeah. Right? Yeah. As a dentist, I’m sure you were just shut down for a period of time. Right.

We were, it was so strange. So we were shut down, but we were also deemed essential. So how can you be closed but have to be available? So we had to see emergency patients, and it was super vague. One definition of emergency was if somebody chipped a tooth, you had to help ’em. The other one was only things to keep people out of the hospital. So how do you rationalize that? Right. Right. So I had this no schedule, but I had to deal with emergencies. But I had a million webinars to watch to figure out all of the things as all business owners had to do. Right. And so what do you do in the midst of that? I, I was being pulverized by what we were talking about earlier before the podcast, the false sense of urgency.


So, to me, talk us,

Talk to us a little bit about that.

Yeah. So I think the false sense of urgency is a background app that runs in our mind. So we all have apps that run on our phones, right? They’re running in the background, doing all this stuff that I’m quite frankly happy. I don’t know what all they’re doing on there, but we have to swipe ’em and shut ’em down. The false sense of urgency runs around in the back of our head and says, what you are doing is not enough. You are not doing enough. You are not being enough. The false sense of urgency thrives on the word should. My dad always told me, don’t should on yourself. Right. And it’s true. But we get tormented by this. And it leaves us either stuck in the past or worried about the future.

And what I decided that I needed to do in that time, and it went against everything that I had done in the past. But I knew that I needed quiet. And I, I feel like God was telling me, Eric, you need to quiet your mind. You need some space here, or else you are just gonna implode over this time. So I committed to 30 minutes of quiet every day, which is crazy. It’s absolutely ludicrous. I had no quiet in my life before that, and I was gonna go to 30 minutes a day. Right.

And I’m sure that felt like, I’m not sure I can do it.

Absolutely. Yeah. Absolutely. So I sat down and I didn’t even know, what do you do? How do you sit, what do you find? Any of that kind of stuff. So I said, I’m just gonna do it, which is always how I’ve done. I shot first and asked questions later. Right. So after, so

What did your, what did your first day of quiet look like?

Oh, drew, I tell you what, after what felt like at least 45 minutes, I looked at my watch. I was 46 seconds into it.

Oh my gosh. So you were just like sitting in a chair.

Yep. Just sitting in a chair and just kinda looking around. And I thought, oh boy, what have I signed up for? So I picked up my phone, set a timer for 30 minutes. Right. Put it on Do Not disturb, and just let my thoughts run. When they started going to a bad place, I just started saying, I am here, right here, right now to try to ground myself. Probably set it 50 times that first, that first time. Yeah. Yeah. But I think I could have seen that looking at it at 46 seconds as failure. And whether it was or not, who cares. But I learned from that. I said, okay, I have to boundary my time. I have to set a timer so that I know when it’s gonna be done so I don’t have to think about when it’s gonna be done.

Yeah. Otherwise, you would’ve been looking at your phone every 30 seconds.

Yeah. And I will tell you, after about three or four days, I started craving that time. My body needed that time. My mind needed that time so much that I wasn’t gonna miss it after that. And when I went back to my dental practice, when we were back open, I went back to, to almost no margin. But what I did, and I, I think this is so important, is I learned that 30 minutes a day is what I want, but it’s not always possible. What if I can have five minutes? What if I can have two minutes? What if I can just be in a space that’s relatively quiet and breathe for two minutes, just breathe.

And it’s amazing what that can do. The science is off the charts. I’ll save you the time. You don’t have to look at, look it up. But five minutes of deep diaphragm belly breathing is ridiculously rejuvenating for us. It can reset our mind, it can get us in a lot better place. So I think quiet is just one of those things that even if we don’t have time for it, if we’re gonna do the deep work of seeing what we want, pushing back, burnout, being more present in our lives, I don’t know how we do it without it.

So for you, quiet was literally unstructured. So it wasn’t, you weren’t listening to some meditative music or somebody in a James Earl Jones voice walking you through a meditation. You were, you were just literally in silence and you just let your mind wander.

Yep. Well, at first that’s what it was. And then I knew that then I wanted to start experimenting with some different things. So I studied a little bit on mindfulness, and I started doing some body scanning, and I started doing, I would, I would just focus on breathing one time. And another time I would have some, I would try to think about the future a little bit. So it started to be where I would just do, do different experiments with the quiet, which is what I love about life, all life really is, is we’re just doing a bunch of different experiments. Right. We’re trying something out.

And I think the, the super, super important thing about Quiet is that we don’t judge ourselves for it. We just go into it. And you know what, if we have, if we have 30 minutes, or if we have five minutes, let’s say you do five minutes of quiet, let’s a good goal to work up to at the start.


And let’s say your mind is all over the place. Well, guess what? You didn’t do with that five minutes. You weren’t on your phone. You weren’t distracted by a screen. There weren’t other things that you were doing. You were letting your mind do what it wants to do, and that is idle and not be stimulated. So I tried to be, I had a mentor that I worked with through this, and he said, Eric, you are so hard on yourself. You set ridiculously high standards for yourself in this bracketed time. Don’t judge yourself. Don’t have expectations. Just

Let it happen. It happens. Rules for you.

Yeah. No rules. Just enjoy it.

I’m, I’m guessing though, you see with some of your clients, your coaching clients, that they need something more structured. So I just wanna make sure everybody who’s listening is not hearing, like, if, if you know yourself well enough to know that you need some, you know, background, white noise music, or you need somebody walking you through, so, you know, there’s lots of apps that, that walk you through some breathing exercises or whatever. That would be okay too. You’re still quiet within yourself. You’re just having some external tool help you stay in that quiet, right.

Yeah. Yeah. And quiet can look like a lot of things. Some people are gonna pray while they’re quiet. Yeah. Some people are gonna journal while they’re quiet. One thing that I think helps a ton before we had enter a space of quiet is to do a brain dump and just write down everything that’s swirling around in our minds. Just get it down on a piece of paper, every single thing, again, without judgment. And then you have that outta there. So it’s less likely to spin during that time. There is not one right way to do quiet. Some people will even move while they’re quiet. Right. They’ll walk around

The block, could they walk or something? Sure. Right.

Absolutely. Okay. Absolutely. We are just such a society that’s, that is, we’re so stimulated. Yeah. And everything we have is stimulated. We’ve lost these little pockets of time that we’re unstimulated. So, right. Used

To be you just reach for, you just reach for the phone. Right, right. Whether you’re, whether you’re checking the news or Facebook or whatever your app of, you know, puppies of the day, whatever your app is, right? Yeah.

Yeah. We all have this phone routine, right. Where we pick it up and maybe we go, whether ESPN, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, we go around the horn on all of our stuff, fail, fail videos, whatever your thing is. And then sometimes that