Don’t Burn Out!

Unit of One


Has the new economy got you down? Are you feeling tired, tattered, tested, bested, toasted, and roasted? Are you looking for something to pick you up, slow you down, lift your spirits, drop your burden, make you smile, help your style? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Take the next few minutes to sip a cup of mint tea, to listen to your favorite recording of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik — and to read the tips and tactics of these 15 Fast Company sages, your peers in the relentless race to the future. All of them are superbusy superbodies, and although they’ve suffered some bumps and bruises along the way, they’ve developed a few important tricks in the art of self-regeneration. They’ve vowed not to burn out, and they’re learning how to keep the fires burning.


Vinod Khosla

General Partner
Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
Menlo Park, California

It’s great to know how to recharge your batteries. But it’s even more important to make sure that you actually do it. I track how many times I get home in time to have dinner with my family; my assistant reports the exact number to me each month. I have four kids, ages 7 to 11. Spending time with them is what keeps me going. Work is just my hobby.


Your company measures its priorities. People also need to place metrics around their priorities. I spend about 50 hours a week at work, and I could easily work 100 hours. So I always make sure that, at the end of it all, I get home in time to eat with my kids. Then I help them with their homework and play games with them. When I’m with my family, I often turn off my cell-phone (I got rid of my pager a long time ago).

My goal is to be home for dinner at least 25 nights a month. Having a target number is key. I know people in my business who are lucky if they make it home 5 nights a month. I don’t think that I’m any less productive than those people.

To make work more fun — to make the intensity a positive experience, rather than a negative one — you have to take time out to do what you enjoy. Keeping track of your behavior each month means that you don’t slip up, because you know immediately whether your schedule is matching up with your priorities.


Vinod Khosla ( was a cofounder of Daisy Systems and a founding CEO of Sun Microsystems. He joined Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in 1986.

Susan Bishop

Founder and President
Bishop Partners
New York, New York


Entrepreneurs thrive on stress. And I’m someone who can tolerate a huge amount of it. When I finally start to burn out, I’m probably twice as far gone as most people are when they reach that point. When you burn out, you cross a line that separates positive, exciting stress from negative stress. And it hits you like a hammer.

That hammer falls hardest when I’ve put off doing something difficult. So my advice is this: Don’t procrastinate. The best way to keep charged up is to do what’s been nagging at you.

I once had a client whom I had to stop working with because my company was very busy. It was stressful even thinking about giving that client the news. So I put it off. It took me three months to work up the courage to do it. I kept trying to talk myself out of it, and, in the meantime, I continued to work with the client. Instead of just doing what I needed to do, I lived through three months of stress. It paralyzed me. It also affected my relationships with other clients, because it was a huge drain.


I finally decided that I just had to bite the bullet — to make a plan and stick to it, as painful as that might be. I phoned the client and scheduled an appointment. I wrote it down on my calendar, so that it would be impossible to ignore. Then I just did it.

When you finally do that thing that you’ve been putting off, the freedom from the stress that it was causing you is its own reward. It feels so great to have done it. Good stuff immediately begins to flow into the space that the negative stuff had been occupying. You’re no longer paralyzed. You get your energy back.

Susan Bishop ( has started a cable-TV channel in Alaska, worked as a TV actress, and served as a partner for six years with the executive-search firm Johnson, Smith & Knisely. In 1988, she founded her own executive-search firm, Bishop Partners, which focuses on clients in the communications industries, including media, entertainment, cable TV, telecommunications, sports, multimedia, and information technology.


Ben Carson

Pediatric Neurosurgeon
Johns Hopkins Children’s Center
Baltimore, Maryland

I have a prescription for boosting your resistance to burnout: Get outside of yourself, and do something that has nothing to do with your normal day’s work. That’s what I tell my patients. Do other things. Do things for other people, if you can. Do whatever you must to get the focus off your own problems. You need to have a diversion, particularly when times are difficult.


I average about 12 surgeries a week, from brain tumors and spinal-cord tumors to a range of other problems. I often work on more than one patient at a time, and, since each one is in a different room, I’m constantly trying to coordinate things — how long each surgery will take and when to send for the next patient. And by my side, there’s always a resident who’s learning to perform neurosurgery. I feel like a pilot, trying to teach someone else how to fly a jet.

Under those circumstances, the pressure can really build. When I start getting irritated with people, I take that as a warning. I don’t start yelling; in fact, I become quiet. People who know me can tell when I’m suddenly not my normal, chipper self. That’s when I need a booster shot — a day or a few minutes spent doing something besides medicine.

I’ve found that having a morning ritual — meditation or some quiet reading time — can set the tone for the whole day. Every morning, I spend a half hour reading the Bible, especially the Book of Proverbs. There’s so much wisdom there. During the day, if I encounter a frustrating situation, I think back to one of the verses that I read that morning. Take Proverbs 16:32, for example: “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”


Ben Carson has been chief of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center since 1984. When he first started in that role, he was just 33 years old — and the youngest U.S. doctor to hold such a position. In 1994, he and his wife, Candy, founded what is now known as the Carson Scholars Fund Inc., a nonprofit organization that offers college scholarships to students with high academic achievement and qualities that have a positive impact on society. Carson holds more than 20 honorary doctorates. His books include “Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story” (Zondervan, 1990), an autobiography, and “Think Big: Unleashing Your Potential for Excellence” (Zondervan, 1992).

Jane Moyer

iQuantic Inc.
San Francisco, California


I don’t practice yoga or meditation. My recharging rituals are more action-oriented: I go away and completely “unplug.” I started doing that back when I was a human-resources manager at Xerox Business Services. At that time, I was also one of the division’s business-excellence managers on the team that won the Baldrige Award in 1997. Our team worked day and night for several years preparing for the Baldrige examination.

To stay fresh and focused, I made sure that I had certain getaway rituals — things that I did each season, year after year. And I continue to do them today. These rituals don’t always last long — perhaps two days or a week — but just a sip of a place can be enough to renew me for a long time.

For example, every October, I spend some time on Cape Cod, in Provincetown, Massachusetts. I rent a cabin that’s two blocks away from the ocean, and I stay there for a week. The cabin has no phone or television. I don’t get in my car, I don’t listen to the radio, and I don’t read newspapers. The sound of the waves is my only outside stimulation. For the first couple of days, I go through withdrawal, but then I adjust. I cook, I read, I walk on the beach. It’s absolutely glorious.


On my way home, when I start thinking about work again, I see things differently. Work seems much less cluttered. One of the amazing things about getting away is that it helps me understand what’s important and what’s not.

Jane Moyer ( was named “role-model manager” at Xerox Business Services in 1996. Last year, she joined iQuantic, a San Francisco-based firm that specializes in compensation and organizational consulting for high-tech and knowledge-based companies.


Craig Burzych

Air-Traffic-Control Specialist
O’Hare International Airport
Chicago, Illinois

Air-traffic controllers run their batteries on high power for long stretches. Every once in a while, you’ve got to break that tension. In the control tower, we use humor to do that. A good laugh works wonders.

During busy times, we’re doing a lot of things at once. We’re watching airplanes through windows and keeping an eye on the radar scopes. We’re scanning the runway and the radius of the airport. We’re exchanging information with pilots over radios. We have maybe 45 minutes of light traffic between rushes. That’s when we unwind.


There are 17 people in the tower. At times, someone will tell a joke or rib someone. Or somebody will key up the microphone on his headset without realizing it. Imagine a controller telling a coworker about an ex-girlfriend or about a vasectomy — and having it broadcast to a hundred pilots! That’s always good for a laugh.

Even so, during my first 10 years in the tower, the stress would really get to me. It finally dawned on me that the job wasn’t going to change — and that I had to. That’s when I started running the Chicago Marathon. When I come home and put on my running shoes to train, I stop thinking about the tower.

Craig Burzych ( has been an air-traffic controller for 13 years. He serves as president of the local chapter of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, and he is a licensed commercial pilot.

Maggie Wilderotter

President, Director, and CEO
Wink Communications Inc.
Alameda, California

I know that it’s time to recharge my batteries whenever I look at my schedule and see that every single minute of the day is booked.

People often say (especially to someone who runs a company), “This is no time for a break!” But that’s precisely when I tell my assistant, “I need a half hour to go on a ‘lion hunt.’ ” When I go on a lion hunt, I’m totally off the charts. That means that my assistant holds all of my calls and rejiggers my schedule, canceling anything that isn’t a priority.

And then I begin my hunt: I prowl through the office, asking people what they’re working on. That gives me a chance to connect with employees whom I don’t usually talk to. Lion hunts are incredibly relaxing because — even if they last just 30 minutes — they take me away from a demanding schedule that requires me to push, push, push. And I always walk away from the experience having learned something: I have a renewed understanding of what we’re doing at my company.

I’ve never burned out on the job, simply because I don’t let myself get to that point. You’ve got to be able to pace yourself and allow time for plenty of breaks. I have three golden rules: Weekends are for my family, not for my work; I take four weeks of vacation each year; and I try to maintain a healthy lifestyle — by sleeping enough, eating well, and exercising often.

Time is a finite resource, and we all place infinite demands on it. I view time as an opportunity, as a chance to make choices about how I spend that resource — because it is our choice. And that’s something that people often forget.

Maggie Wilderotter joined Wink Communications Inc. in early 1997. Previously, she was executive vice president of national operations at AT&T Wireless Services Inc. and CEO of its aviation-communications division. She was also senior vice president at McCaw Cellular Communications Inc., and she spent 12 years in the cable-television industry. Wink, a $1.6 million interactive-television company, provides a complete end-to-end system that allows interactive enhancements to be made while a TV program or a commercial is on the air.

Joe Gibbs

Joe Gibbs Racing
Charlotte, North Carolina

I left football because it was time to do something different. Coaching is one of the greatest jobs that anybody could have. But you reach a point where you’ve climbed that particular mountain enough times, and you need something to refuel the fire.

Getting into another competitive sport like auto racing was a natural transition, something that my sons and I had long talked about doing together as a family business. That was another important reason why I left coaching. I’d spent more time with the Redskins than with my own family. Now I work with my family every day.

Still, racing is an intense business. You can make a lot of money, but you can also lose a lot of money. You get caught up in the work and in the excitement, and it’s easy to go from week to week adding one commitment after another. And then, the next thing you know, you’ve got every day booked.

On my calendar, I mark the days on which I intend to get away with my family. They’re marked with big yellow Xs. For example, we take a four-day weekend each month. And around Christmastime, we spend nine days either skiing or vacationing someplace warm. It’s important to look at what you’re signing yourself up for long term.

During Joe Gibbs’s tenure as coach of the Washington Redskins, from 1981 to 1993, the team went to the Super Bowl four times and won three world championships. In 1991, Gibbs started Joe Gibbs Racing and assembled a NASCAR team that has won numerous races, including the Daytona 500.

Christina Maslach

Professor of Psychology
The University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, California

I hear lots of people in organizations complain that their job never ends: “I’m here until 8 PM, 9 PM, 10 PM. I’m never home.” Whenever I ask them why they do it, they say that if they didn’t, then coworkers would see them as not doing their fair share — and call them a wimp.

But when you work long hours, you burn out. And often, there’s no real reason for it. People assume that their workplace has a “norm” when it really doesn’t. So a companywide ignorance develops. Since people don’t talk about how they’re struggling, everyone thinks that everyone else is handling things fine. Companies with employee burnout have major communication work to do.

But what about individuals? We can each do something to ensure that we get some relief. I build certain rituals into my weekly and monthly calendar. That’s the only way to make sure that I do things that I enjoy and that energize me. You must learn to fence off certain parts of your life, to protect those chunks of time, and to decide for yourself how you’re going to use them. Because if you don’t, then someone else will.

Ritualizing an activity by adding it to your calendar helps ensure that you do it. It’s also important to notice what you say to yourself about how you’re handling your time. People often say, “I don’t have the time,” when what they mean is that they’ve told themselves that they need to be available in case something else comes up. You have to make taking care of yourself a priority.

Christina Maslach ( is a pioneer in research relating to job burnout and the creator of the Maslach Burnout Inventory. Her books include “Burnout: The Cost of Caring” (Prentice-Hall, 1982) and “The Truth About Burnout: How Organizations Cause Personal Stress and What to Do About It” (Jossey-Bass, 1997), which she coauthored with Michael Leiter.

Frank Sesno

Senior Vice President and Washington Bureau Chief
Washington, DC

I know people who go for a walk at lunchtime, or who swim every day, or who meditate in the office. I’m not one of those people. You can’t get away from the news; it’s history in the making. And I’ve got a front-row seat. It gets crazy around here. Working in a newsroom is like working in an emergency room: You’re likely to have a major disaster at any moment.

Spending time with my kids (who are 16, 12, and 10) helps me face another day of news. Lately, I’ve been reading the Harry Potter books with my daughter. I want to be the best dad possible — and to do the best job at work that I can. But there are times when you can’t do both. You have to be able to recognize those times and make tough choices.

In 1988, CNN asked me to be its primary political reporter on all news pertaining to Michael Dukakis and his presidential campaign. At the time, my older son was three, and my wife and I had just had our second child. I was already on the road a lot, and the Dukakis coverage would have taken me away from home even more. One night, I called my wife while she was tucking our three-year-old son into bed. She said to him, “Let’s say good night to Daddy, even though he’s not here.” My son said, “I hate Daddy. I don’t want him to go away again forever.” Those were his exact words.

That woke me up. When CNN asked, “Can you go on the road with Dukakis?” I said, “Sorry, I just can’t do that.”

Frank Sesno supervises CNN’s largest news-gathering team and is responsible for the Washington bureau’s daily operations, as well as for the editorial direction of CNN’s coverage of the White House, Congress, the Pentagon, the U.S. State Department, and all general DC-area news. He also serves as coanchor of CNN Newsday, which airs weekdays at noon. He has reported on such major news events as presidential and economic summit meetings, Middle East peace talks, the impeachment trial of President Clinton, and the 50th anniversary of D Day at Normandy.

Christopher Williams

Founder, chairman, and CEO
The Williams Capital Group LP
New York, New York

Sometimes, the most relaxing thing that you can do is to give yourself time to get your work done. One of the greatest sources of stress is not being able to complete anything. I’ve found that it helps to set very clear boundaries.

In my case, that’s easier said than done. I have the ultimate open-door policy: I sit right in the middle of the trading floor. It’s the only way that I can keep abreast of what’s going on. Since I don’t have an office door that I can shut, I have to do other things to ensure that my energy and time don’t get drained. For one thing, I make sure that people interrupt me only when it’s absolutely necessary. Don’t get me wrong: I’m on the floor in part because I want to be accessible. The key is to make sure that no one bothers me with aspects of the business that someone else should take care of. Unless a colleague makes it clear that interrupting me is necessary, I don’t stop what I’m doing.

I also set aside one day every two or three weeks to clear the decks. On my regrouping days, my assistant knows not to book me for any meetings. Finally, I try to work better, not later. I used to work until 2 AM, regularly. When you work that late, you begin the next day tired and behind. You start making mistakes. You get sloppy. So I don’t work that late anymore.

Christopher Williams founded the Williams Capital Group LP, a boutique investment bank, in 1994 as a spin-off of a division that he had formed at Jefferies & Co., a Los Angeles-based investment bank. Last year, this firm comanaged 34 underwritings, totaling $35 billion — up from 8 transactions, totaling $4 billion, in 1998.

Jeff Gordon

Hendrick Motorsports — no. 24 Dupont Team
Charlotte, North Carolina

I have a long season. It starts mid-February, and it runs until late November. I do about 34 400- to 500-mile races, and each one is usually a three-day event. That doesn’t even include the things that my team does for sponsors — commercials, photo shoots, special appearances — all of which can be very draining. In some ways, that kind of work can be much harder than racing cars. But without our sponsors, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.

So I’ve had to learn to say no a lot. I never want to say no, especially to our sponsors. But if I didn’t learn to say no, I wasn’t going to be able to do my job. And my job is what got me the sponsors in the first place. I try to make sure that I have a full day off each week — one day that’s totally mine. On that day, my wife and I go to the beach or to the movies, or I get in the pool and do absolutely nothing.

Having that day is important if I’m going to be able to concentrate when I’m back in the car. Racing cars is intense work. It uses every muscle in your body. Even your eye sockets get sore, because of the G-force that takes you around the corners. You spend four hours in a car that’s between 120 and 140 degrees inside, and you sweat out every fluid in your body. When you’re out there doing 190 miles per hour, you’d better be able to focus. Because either you focus, or you hit something really hard.

Jeff Gordon won seven NASCAR races last year, becoming the first driver to win more races than any other driver for five consecutive years. He is a three-time winner of the Winston Cup, and in 1997, at age 25, he became the youngest driver ever to win the Daytona 500. Learn more about Gordon on the Web (

Carisa Bianchi

President and CEO, San Francisco Office
San Francisco, California

I worked on the Energizer Bunny campaign. And let me tell you, that little creature’s very similar to advertising executives: We keep going and going.

That’s why I try to set an example in my office. I draw a clear line between my work life and my personal life, and I expect my coworkers to do the same. Otherwise, we’ll all burn out.

Everyone needs to leave work behind sometimes. I never work on airplanes — no computer, no phone, no nothing. For most businesspeople, airplanes are their favorite place to work. But people in my office know not to expect anything from me when I’m flying. It’s a hard-and-fast rule: Once I’m on the plane, my time is my time. I read books and magazines, and I listen to music — things that I don’t usually have time to do.

You can always find reasons to work. There will always be one more thing to do. But when people don’t take time out, they stop being productive. They stop being happy, and that affects the morale of everyone around them.

Carisa Bianchi ( has worked at the advertising firms Benton & Bowles and Doyle Dane Bernbach. In 1989, she joined Chiat/Day Los Angeles, where she worked for eight years. Under Bianchi’s leadership, the Energizer Bunny campaign became one of the most famous advertising campaigns in the United States. In 1998, she became managing director of the TBWA/Chiat/Day San Francisco office, and in 1999 she was named that office’s president and CEO.

Bix Norman

Executive Vice President,
Manufacturing and Information Technology
Herman Miller Inc.
Zeeland, Michigan

I don’t worry about burnout, because I manage my schedule so that I never get drained. I make sure that I focus only on what’s important. I’ll pick three aspects of a particular project to give my attention to. Luckily, I’ve been good at identifying the few things that make a big difference.

I’ve become good at delegating and at filtering out excess “noise”: I don’t answer phone calls that have nothing to do with what I’m working on, I stopped using voice mail 6 or 7 years ago, and I don’t use a cell-phone at all. You need to know yourself and how you work best. I’m most effective when I’m relaxed. So I make sure that I get enough rest. I work 9 AM to 4 PM, and I never work on weekends.

I know people for whom work is their life, their sole interest. But I think that it’s very important to do things outside of work that you enjoy. I enjoy photographing landscapes and taking close-up nature shots. It refreshes me and helps me stay focused. And photography exercises a set of creative muscles in my brain that don’t necessarily get worked out in business — the ones that develop your intuitive mind, which can be critical for on-the-job decision making. So, if you need a way to recharge regularly, my advice is to find a hobby.

Bix Norman ( has been with Herman Miller Inc. for more than 20 years. Most recently, he has led the company’s rapid adoption and development of new technology, and has taken over manufacturing responsibilities.

Karen Chakmakian

iPass Inc.
Mountain View, California

Sometimes you have to disconnect in a major way – from everything. In 1996, my husband and I started a company in Silicon Valley, and it consumed us for the next few years. When we’d grown to a certain point, I was ready for a long break. I wanted to travel.

My husband wasn’t quite ready to do that, so I took off with a friend. We backpacked through Nepal and visited places that I’d never even heard of. I traveled for four months. But my plan is to take a whole year off. I’m in the middle of that now. I’m going to visit my family, do some snowboarding, and go to Latin America.

The pull to return to work is strong, though. My husband is now running another startup, and I sometimes feel left out. I was so passionate about the company that we started together. But there came a time when I knew that I had to stop. I was leading a really unhealthy life.

On my travels, I brought nothing remotely Silicon Valley – no computer, no cell-phone, no pager. I began to view the world and my life very differently. After seeing how simple other people’s lives were, I realized that I’d lost all perspective on what the real world was like.

In the future, I want to keep some balance in my life. I don’t want to forget about my non-work-related passions. In Katmandu, I learned how to play guitar, and I’m continuing to take lessons. When you’re working, it’s so easy to put everything on hold, month after month. But you need to make sure that what’s important to you is a part of your everyday life.

Karen Chakmakian ( cofounded iPass Inc. with her husband, Chris Moore. The company’s technology became a standard for global Internet roaming and corporate remote-access solutions. Before starting iPass, Chakmakian was a consultant to various Internet companies and worked in the semiconductor industry.