Personal development · Startups

How do you know if you're burnt out or just being lazy?

Varun Gupta Sr. Front-End Developer at Code Brew Labs

November 30th, 2016

I know the easy answer to my question is "just take a rest and don't think about it," but how would you really know? Do you have a personal acid test to know if you're really tired or just plain undisciplined?

Doug Winter Founder and Director of Isotoma

December 1st, 2016

This is actually a great question.

My personal experience of burnout in myself, and having seen it in others, is that it affects mood in ways that go well beyond productivity.

When people are burned out there aren't just not getting things done (and often they continue to perform on basic things like attendance), but they're grumpy, miserable, convinced everything will fail, and often dodge responsibility.

it feels more like something passive aggressive, whereas plain lazy people will just fade into the background.

taking a rest isn't enough to resolve burnout either.  my experience is that it can take many many months for people to recover from severe cases, where there has been a lot of stress.  some people can be broken forever.

laziness is actually kind of weird, and when i see laziness it is often either demotivation or procrastination.

Individuals will procrastinate because they aren't equipped to manage the tasks that come up in their work, due to missing mental skills or a lack of a sense of empowerment or responsibility.

Most people actually want to succeed and deliver in their work and are not consciously just not doing stuff.  if given bite-size tasks they know they can complete they'll often attack them with gusto - but when they get larger more inchoate tasks they can struggle. 

This is one of the more difficult issues to resolve as a manager, since the individuals themselves are generally not equipped with sufficient self-awareness, since they'd otherwise have resolved it themselves.  

If you are asking if you yourself are being lazy then you need to consider how you relate to the work you aren't doing that you think you should. do you hate it? do you feel it is someone else's problem? do you feel that, no matter how you do it, you will get in trouble or fail? do you actually not know where to start? all of these are natural and come up in some circumstances, but knowing why you're not doing them will help you decide what might be causing it.

Michael Hartzell Entrepreneur, Addicted to "Yes" - When Everyone Wins

November 30th, 2016


Eliminate the serious risk of something physical.
  • Physical - get a check up. There is a bucket load of physical possibilities that go unnoticed because they are not obvious. (Take it from someone who has experienced it and waited too long)

    ---- and don't forget depression, even mild.
If your physical checks out...
  • Burnout test - has a simple test to help you ask the right questions.

    Or if you are a fan of Oprah,
If you pass the test...

Here is what lazy people do:

Don't forget the theory about lazy people:


ingrid bond founder, steward; bioponic world org & llc, art dealer; bond fine art, consultant; bond business consulting

December 6th, 2016

100% true for me... whenever i can't move forward in a project no matter how much my mind and 'will' tell me i want to, need to... must... (after all i have a DEADLINE!). if i allow myself the freedom to be in the - halting of forward movement - to be fully present in it - writing what i do see, speaking 'it' with friends who simply listen, along with going outside (most important part) for a hike in nature to be present in what 'it' is... without exception i will find that the project, business entity, spirit, is holding me back -- because i have not yet seen -- OPTIMUM EXPRESSION, OPTIMUM OUTCOME. and if i participate by allowing the pause and lack of motivation to BE... optimum expression WILL REVEAL ITSELF. 

this process is not something to be forced or controlled. it is the creative force of the natural world at its finest and it doesn't give a hoot about time, personal will, demands, or deadlines. the very best comes through me when i put aside me need to force and control this process and instead am in a full on collaboration with the natural force of creation, totally awesome -- what comes from that.

Dane Madsen Organizational and Operational Strategy Consultant

November 30th, 2016

Michael is right - do not confuse activity with effectiveness. The most productive people are not really very busy.  The test to me is how much I think about the project I am involved with. You might be surprised that you spend 10x more time thinking about it than actual "work".  I can argue that this is the most important part as a leader and Founder.  Lazy? Are you gauging this on activities? The activity trap has killed more careers and businesses than "lazy" but thinking ever did. I also argue that unless you are spending more time thinking than "doing" you will increase your risk of failure. 

Burned out is another issue.  You may never have been burned out but you will know it when you are. If you are asking if you are, then you are not.

Victor PMP Director of Business Technology at PermaPlate Co.

December 1st, 2016

I would say true lazy means you have no personal or life goals, you are content to watch TV and drink beer your entire life and never try to accomplish something.

Burned out means you have goals, want to accomplish something, but just don't have the motivation to try and realize those goals for a temporary period of time.  Everyone needs time to rest and recharge, if you start feeling like you don't cane or spend a Sunday on the couch, don't stress, just relax and take some time to enjoy life.


Peggy Kelsey Creative Director at Change Your World-online courses to increase personal and professional productivity

November 30th, 2016

You may find the answer when you observe yourself. Have you been working your butt off and now are feeling tired and lazy? Then it's burnout. Or do you have a longer-term pattern of avoiding things you don't like, and often find yourself goofing off during your working hours when there is work to do. This may be laziness, but it also could be that you've lost the inspiration for your project, or that your project is taking you in a direction you don't want to go, but haven't been willing to admit that to yourself yet. If, as Gabor states, you really feel like goofing off but you're also still excited about your project, a few days break may help. AND you should take them.

Peter Kovalsky Principal at Law Explainer

December 6th, 2016

Here's the secret about laziness: it is precisely the same trait as efficiency. Both consist largely of the deprioritization of non-essentials. We just call it "laziness" when we've put too many things into the "non-essential" basket. That is to say, laziness is a calibration error, not a defect of personality or behavior. 

I think the answer to your question has to do with this, too. Because burnout is fatigue, it can't be cured by a recalibration or a change in perspective the way that laziness can. 

Henry Daas Coach-Approach Strategic Advisor

November 30th, 2016

My metric can only be described as a 'fuse'. When I blow up over trivial things, that is a warning sign that something is amiss. When I am unfocused or unmotivated, same thing. I have cultivated numerous go-to strategies - taking a mental health day is one of them - but so is the gym, yoga, meditation, shrink, coach, and myriad other things. Experiment, find what works for you and be mindful of the stress BEFORE the fuse becomes a nub...

Tom DiClemente Management Consulting | Interim CEO/COO | Coach

December 1st, 2016

Hi Varun,

Taking a rest is not the answer.

I would say that if you have to ask, it is more likely that you've gotten lazy or, alternatively and even more likely, you've lost sight of your goals and direction. It could be that you are simply not interested in what you are doing.

The first thing to do is to sit back and think about your goals and recommit to a set of job and personal goals. Then think about your strategy and tactics to get there. This is something you should stop and reassess frequently any way. 

Hopefully, you've come up with some major changes that are needed. If you did not, I suggest you start over and do it again.

Then start executing again. Continually reassess your progress in tangible business terms. You will probably find that this fresh start energizes you and puts you back on the right path to success. 

If it does not, take this reevaluation of goals, strategies and tactics to a higher level in your company. If you cannot, or if you otherwise see only roadblocks, then it is probably time to consider a major change, in another company, another industry or even in your personal life.

Hope that helps, Tom

Scott Omelianuk Entrepreneur in Residence, Consultant; Creating, Remaking, Managing and Marketing Businesses

December 6th, 2016

I'd like to add a third possibility to being burnt out or lazy, both of which I think happen less in highly motivated business builders than in others. This is based on personal experience, so YMMV. 

I call it the Hurdles. Fortunately, it's not fatal, like laziness, not nearly as persistent as burnout. 

For me the Hurdles happen when I get deep into a new project or venture, pushed forward by excitement and possibility and suddenly, I'm not sure why, start to see cracks in the idea. Those cracks soon take on outsized significance and, all of the sudden, rather than seeing the well tested proof points or recalling all the positive feedback or seeing how far the project has come, all I can see are the reasons "this won't work." Competition, speed, not the perfect team, a lack of my own confidence. Suddenly I see more reasons for failure than for success. BTW, It's about this time when, say, working on a PPT for investment, I'll start to fiddle with the crop of an image for two hours and then the next day again and suddenly the project is dead in the water, full stop. 

There's a neurological basis for this kind of distraction, that's not necessary to get into here, but the upshot is, the cracks are ultimately no more significant than the positives that your'e already encountered. And in fact they can be useful in recognizing what potential obstacles you'll push aside (and how) in the future.

For me, having finally recognized them for what they are, the Hurdles have become a useful part of the process of creation.

Sure they can disguise themselves as laziness, as burnout, but really they're just a natural moment of self doubt that I think all entrepreneurs encounter. It's just that the successful ones recognize it, deal with them, in an afternoon, a day, a week, whatever, and start moving forward again with a fuller understanding of the venture they're the captain of. 

Anyway, this is one more emotion that can afflict founders and I'd suggest always exploring it, because ultimately it's the folks with eyes wide open who succeed deliberately.