top of page

Why "Rust Out" leads To Burnout

I have a question for you. In the last week, how much of your time was spent doing work, holding conversations or in meetings that surged your energy? When I ask training groups or my clients this question, it usually hovers around 30% of their time. The rest of their time, they tell me, is doing tasks or sitting in meetings that suck the life out of them. I believe that so many women are frustrated and burned out today not just because of heavy workloads but also because they do work that doesn’t fuel their fire; it just bores them to death. Life is too short to do work that drains you, and no amount of money is worth the misery. Something to consider is this: Burnout isn't always caused by overwork, there is a type of burnout called “rust out" - and it's caused by using too few of your talents and gifts and feeling underutilized at work. It can be caused by spending too much time saying yes to projects that don’t match your unique talents and just going through the motions. One of the best ways to overcome rust out and regain inspiration and drive in your leadership again is to begin by simply noticing your energy. I find that our work tends to fall into one of three buckets: 1. Energy Suckers These projects feel like they take heroine effort, even though the task wasn’t all that large or difficult. Joy zappers. Someone else can do them better. 2. Energy Stallers These projects are tricky because they throw your energy into neutral. You’re good at these tasks, situations, or projects—But when you’re doing them, you feel like there is a part of you left unexpressed. This is where you can get trapped in the “golden handcuffs”—working for excellent pay and benefits in a job that’s “pretty okay” but too scared to find something that truly lights you up for fear you can't match your current salary. 3. Energy Surgers These projects bring a paradox—they are challenging, but they make you feel amazing, in flow, and as your most creative self. You could work on these projects for hours and lose track of time. Working on these projects feels effortless, and when you’re done, your energy is better, not worse. Where are you spending the most of your time at work today? Where should you be spending your time? What would be different for you in your career and in your confidence if you (and your team) could spend the majority of your time working with your energy surgers? You were not created to do work that drains you; that’s why noticing your energy and the clues your body gives are so important in creating a career you love.


Grab a friend work bestie and do this together! In the last 1 - 3 weeks, take a look at your calendar and do an energy audit: 1. Review your tasks, projects, meetings and activities and place the following symbols next to them: Energy sucker Felt drained, bored or dread for the work 🟰 Energy staller Not hard to do, but felt energetically neutral. Went through the motions. Energy surger Felt exciting, lost track of time. Geeked out for a bit! 2. Notice the time:

  • How much time did you spend in each category above?

  • Where do you WANT to be spending your time?

3. Recalibrate your energy:

  • What can you dump, delegate or outsource to free up your time and energy to focus on what gives you energy?

  • Where could you be keeping an activity that drains you that is actually someone else's zone of genius?

  • Advocate for yourself: Have a conversation with your leader about what lights you up and where you do your best work. Is there more of this to be found at work?

4. Lead your team:

  • If you lead people, have your team do this same exercise! Have conversations in your next 1-1 about what lights your team up and drains them.

  • Redistribute the work accordingly. One leader was shocked to see how some of her team thrived off of the same tasks that drained energy in others!

Have you ever noticed that when you’re working on something you love, you lose track of time? Your energy is off the charts, it comes alive, and you can’t wait to dig in. Also, you produce amazing results and make big impact. Imagine what is possible for you to create when you are using your best talents at work - and your team is, too!

Kelli Thompson is a women's leadership coach, speaker and author who helps women advance to the rooms where decisions are made. She offers 1-1 private coaching and is the founder of the Clarity & Confidence Women's Leadership program (online group training for corporate women leaders). She is the author of Closing The Confidence Gap: Boost Your Peace, Your Potential & Your Paycheck.

109 views0 comments


bottom of page