If we’re not careful, “the most wonderful time of the the year” can quickly erupt into a joy-wrecking stress volcano. M.J. James (The Burned Out Business Mom’s Podcast) dropped a ton of timely wisdom during our discussion on how to set boundaries and avoid burnout during the holiday season. Check out the interview!
Learn more about MJ’s work at theburnedoutbusinessmom.com ,and check out her new book, Rest & Renew: a 30 Day Journey to Connect with God.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. There’s parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, chestnuts for roasting, caroling, ghost stories, tales of glories, and mistletoeing (if that’s your sort of thing). But if you are self-employed in any capacity – whether you’re running your own business full time or you’re trying to grow a side gig – all of this holiday hustle and bustle can be really stressful if you have a side hustle.So that is why I brought in my friend MJ James, a fellow self-employment sidekick in her own right. She’s a ghost writer, clarity coach, host of the “Burned Out Business Mom’s Podcast,” and she just wrote a book! She’s an author of Rest and Renew: A 30 Day Journey to Connect with God. MJ, thank you for joining me.
I was hoping we could just spend a few minutes. I could pick your brain and tap into your anti-burnout superpowers.
Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me. This is super fun. I’m really glad to be here.
I mean, is it just me, or is this a stressful time of year between the Q4 financial full-court press on the business side, and probably the most jam-packiest time of year on personal family matters, especially if you’re a business owner and you’re juggling both sides of this, or just people in general. You don’t have to own a business. Hopefully we can talk about some good practical advice to help us get through the holidays relatively unscathed.
Absolutely. Yeah. It’s funny because in my feed, my social media feeds, I see two different things emerging, right? You have those business owners that have decided to take this time to completely unplug. They’re just going to finish up what they had small amounts of things. They slowed their business down, they’ve gotten everything done and they’re plugging into family, which is still super stressful and busy at this time of year. Or you have the other ones that are, like, racing to hit those end goals for the final push of the end of the year. And it’s funny because their tactics are a little bit different, their strategy is a little different, but the end result is the same thing. We’re all super busy and racing around whatever that looks like for us. Every single person I talk to is feeling the same thing. Oh, my gosh, it’s so busy. I’m so tired. I don’t know. It’s like 06:00 and I just want to go to bed, but I have, like, 30 more hours of work to get done before 10:00 when I go to sleep. So it’s a really overwhelming time of year, and I don’t know why we do this to ourselves.
We know it’s coming. You see the December mark coming on your calendar. Why are we doing this to ourselves? It’s something we have to be mindful of, and I don’t think enough people take the time to prepare early enough for this time of year, they kind of just race to it, and then before they know it, they’re like, oh, it’s December 15. How does this happen? Yeah, I think being mindful is a thing that we miss as a society, like being intentional with our time.
Yes – intentionality. It does seem like we just get taken over by the season.
And we kind of feel like we have to do these things because they’re traditions and you can’t break a tradition and then you’re also adding and trying out new things, and then they become a new tradition. And now that’s another thing that you have to do every year, and it just keeps building up and you have all these other voices kind of telling you, like, this is how you should be living your life. And you’re like, okay. And you kind of lose sight of what you actually want to do and what you want to make of the time.
Yes, that’s so true. Our family, we have a tradition, right, that we added a couple of years ago when I was super burned out. I was like, smack dab in the middle of it. And I forget it was like one night we were randomly sitting around. Our neighbor had come over because of course, I had to plan the perfect quintessential Christmas evening. And I had a bunch of people over and we were sitting around singing Christmas carols, and I felt none of it. Like I was super not present. I was aware of what was happening around me, but I was so on in my own brain of racing to the next thing, making sure the room looked perfect. Was the music OK. Did everybody have everything to eat, drink? I was not able to enjoy not one moment of it. And a couple of months later, my kids were like, that was one of the best nights ever. But mom, you missed it, right? They knew I was there. I was in the room, but I missed it. I did not plug into that at all. And so that conversation with my kids was a really big eye opener to me that I was on the wrong path.
I never want my kids to be like, “Oh, we had Christmas. But mom was never present, so she really didn’t know what was going on.” And so that year we decided, okay, from now on in November, we’re going to discuss the things that are truly important to our family, and we’re going to protect those things. We’re going to put boundaries in place. We’re going to build a little fence around them and make sure we do those particular things as opposed to everything else that’s going on. So a tradition that we added but also helped us take other traditions off our plate was, what is important to you during this time? As we prepare – we’re Christians – we prepare for the birth of Jesus. As we were preparing for that what is important to this family, our five, and how do we protect those things? And that for us, has really helped us as an entire family slow down.
During this time, I’m hearing the importance of communicating and getting all of that on the table upfront. So it’s not just you balancing everything and managing. You have people, your own family, who’s helping to keep you on track and protect that time and holding you accountable to that. That’s absolutely really good. Bringing the business part of the conversation back, though, being self employed, I love it. I love the flexibility is probably the biggest plus. But on one hand, especially at this stage of my business growth, it’s on me. The success or failure of my business rests on my shoulders, so I can’t just take every day off. I need to make sure that I’m getting the work done, but that pressure can drive me to overwork.
And as easy as it is to take a vacation, it’s also easy to find myself bringing work into my vacation, if I’m being perfectly honest, not spending as much time, whether physically or mentally, with my family during holidays or other kind of personal family times. So, what are some early warning signs to look out for that might indicate that you’re not spending enough time on one thing or another?
And then what are some practical ways to maintain that balance?
Finding balance is different for every single person. Right. But I often think that we don’t pay enough attention to the signs that we are giving ourselves those thought processes that are kind of letting us know, oh, you might be overworking a little bit. Right. When you’re when you’re finding yourself at the end of your day, sitting down on the couch to unplug before bed and you can’t shut your work brain off, you’re probably not in balance. Right. It goes beyond just I just have to jot down this one thing. That’s not what I’m talking about. Sometimes we always forget that one thing. We throw it on the list and we’re fine. But if you jotted down that one thing and your brain is still going with this thing and that thing and then I didn’t do this and I have to get and your brain is going at like 100 miles an hour… Yeah. You’re not in balance.
That’s a really early warning sign that you are not in balance. When you’re sitting down and you have the family gathered around you and your brain is going like that and one of the kids interrupts and your answer to them is kind of quick or short, or you find yourself a few minutes later going, wait, what did they say? I don’t even remember we talked, but I don’t remember what that conversation was. You’re not in balance, right?
So we get these little warning signs, but often we’re too busy to pay attention to them. And learning how to shift your brain so that you can say, oh, wait a second, this is a warning sign that something’s off balance, and how am I going to reframe tomorrow so that I can pull some balance back in? It’s so important to get ahead of it instead of waking up feeling the physical signs of burnout. When you’re stressed out, your body is starting to hurt now you’re aching, your neck hurts, your blood pressure is up, all that wonderful fun stuff that nobody wants to talk about but we all deal with at different times, it’s hard to get ahead of it. If you start to become aware of small moments like that and you can say to yourself, okay, at the end of the day, if I’m happily and easily able to say, my work day ends at 6:00, if by 07:00 I’m able to completely be present, awesome. Then you’re in balance. But if you are not able to plug into that time and you’re finding your brain working overtime on something else, well, then you’re probably heading towards a situation, or you might even be in a situation where things are out of balance and so you want to get ahead of that.
Stop Doing Lists
I’m a list person. I like to make lists, but one of my favorite things is a stop doing list. And Kent Sanders talked about this. He has a podcast, “The Daily Writer.”
A stop doing list is stuff that you are doing during the day that kind of steal your production time or your productivity time. For instance, you probably don’t have to check your email all day long, but most of us do it, or most of us have the alerts on. And so every time something dings, we pull away from what we were working on. We stop that train, we go into our email, we check the email, we get busy doing the email, and then we’re like, oh my gosh, I never veered back to this other thing. And now you’re racing to go back to the other thing that you were trying to do. It pulls your attention if you can put checking email whenever you get an email on a stop doing list and then protect that time and say, okay, I’m going to check the email at the top of every hour and that will give me a good 40 minutes to focus on whatever this thing is.
You will be amazed to see how much more productive you are in that 40 minutes instead of having your attention split between two things. Same thing goes for social media. My social media is on my stop doing list as well. I check it at specific times, or if I’m having a down moment, then I give myself permission to do that. But when I’m working, there’s no checking social media all day long. There’s no checking emails all day long. It steals my productivity time. It changes my thought process, and it takes me longer to get back into the swing of things once I’ve veered off. So if you can start, like, being mindful of the things you need to stop doing, if you stick those, like, on a little stop doing list for yourself, I have it written down. It’s a little sticky on my little Mac. It pops up right on my home screen, right? So if it sits there for me all day long, I’m super mindful about protecting that time.
I love that. I actually heard you mention this on your podcast and I was hoping you’d share this because I think that’s gold. I love Kent. He was actually on the show a while ago, and yes – he’s full of wisdom. But that is wonderful because talking about balance, we just had everything, and we never subtract. We have things that we want to do, but we forget that. It’s like, okay, there’s a trade off. If you want to say yes to this, you have to say no to something else. But we just forget that we can’t do it all, but we like to think that we can, and it only hurts us when we try to push that hard. But I love that: A stop doing list.
I want to shift gears a little bit. I want to learn a little bit more about you. I understand you do a bit of writing as a profession, but you also started offering coaching, specifically clarity coaching. Can you clarify what you do for your clients and how did it become clear that this is something you’re good at? And you wanted to add this as a new business offering?
Sure. I started as a ghostwriter, and it was awesome. I was dealing primarily with female entrepreneurs. Most of them had, you know, children at home. Some of them were home school moms. And it was really funny because we would set aside time to sit and work on, you know, different parts of their project, and I would spend half the time giving them coaching on burnout or finding clarity for things. And one day it occurred to me that I was kind of performing two services for the price of one, and it was ultimately taking longer to complete their ghost writing projects and stuff like that. So I was like, Maybe this is a service. Like, maybe this is a thing that people actually need help with. Because originally it was framed around burnout, but at the core, burnout is a symptom. It’s not the crux of the problem. The crux of the problem is that most people don’t know how to find clarity to avoid burnout or stay out of burnout or keep out of burnout.
I’m always prone to burnout, always. I’m a people pleaser. I’m a perfectionist. I’m a super high achiever. I like to work really hard. I like to create beautiful moments for my family. All of those things cumulate, and if I’m not super intentional and really mindful about what I’m doing, I’m in burnout fast. It happens really quickly. And I think that that is the case for a lot of our society.
The more I have conversations with people, the more I realized that this was something that was plaguing. People I talk to on a daily basis, most of the people I talk to on a daily basis. And I kept asking myself, how can I help with this? How can I help with this? And they would say, well, you changed your whole life. You made it look so easy. You balanced out your whole life. And I was like, okay, number one, not easy, right? It really required me to do a lot of work and to pull my family into that work. So it was not an easy transition at all. But living on the other side of it now, my life is so much more aligned, and I can go to bed every night saying, I feel like I did all right today instead of going to bed thinking, “I’m a terrible mom, I’m a terrible worker, I’m a terrible wife, I’m a terrible daughter. I didn’t have time. I didn’t have time. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what’s going on!” That was my old mantra.
I just started having conversations with people. At first, I was doing it for free, and then a lot of people were like, you should be a coach. You do this so well. This is what you should do. And I was like, okay. So I prayed on it because I’m a very faithful person, asked, you know, God, like, just show me what I’m supposed to do to evolve this. And it evolved into the Burned Out Business Mom, you know, wearing that hat and showing people that that’s who I was, that’s who I’m prone to be, and that these are the steps that I have to take to keep that life in balance. And now I’m able to help other people find clarity around those things as well, for work and life, business, all that fun stuff.
Do you see any recurring themes? What are the three biggest culprits, especially this time of year, that turn the season into a lovely holiday, into a joy leaching stress factory?
I think (lack of) self care is a problem. People hear that word “self care,” and they think “selfish.” But you actually perform your best as a human person, as a father, as a husband, as a wife, as a mother, when you are taking care of yourself, right? You can’t pour from an empty cup, but most of us try to every day. Most of us forget we have to fill that cup up at some point. So selfcare becomes a problem this time of year. When you prioritize all these other things above giving yourself some time, you become depleted really quickly. And then it’s stressful, I think, knowing what your non negotiables are like, setting those boundaries for yourself, not just this time of year, but all times of year, but specifically extra during this time of year, because it is that time where you’re getting those party invites for everything, and you feel like you have.
You really feel like you have to be everywhere. And so knowing what those things are again that you need to protect for yourself and for your family. What’s important to you during this time? Is it the racing around? Is it being at every single party? At the end of the day, your kids are going to remember you being present in the moment. Your family is going to remember you being present in the moment. So those are my big things that I try to hit and advise during this time of year, if that’s helpful.
That’s really helpful. Earlier, you’re talking about just getting rest; turning your brain off at night. I was kind of like, “Wait! That’s when I do my best thinking!” I’m one to crank out thoughts and I’ll write down stuff, but then that turns into scrolling, and watching and “researching,” but really just wasting my time and staring at blue light. And all the while I’m not sleeping right.
We romanticize hustling and working hard and staying up late and then the next day you’re worthless. You’re not operating at 100%. You’re not even operating at 50%. This is why I have a bad coffee addiction. But that just becomes normalized and we forget something as simple as the importance of sleeping well. And we don’t set ourselves up for success for that.
And I know for me, for years and years I was so proud of myself for being a night owl. It was awesome. I was a night owl, but I wasn’t a day person, right? So my kids would get up first thing in the morning and I was cranking, I was tired and I was sluggish. And I didn’t have the mental capacity to take care of all of the things I really needed to do until I don’t know, around eleven or 12:00. My brain would kick in for a little bit, but it was shorter lived. It wasn’t operating in the same mental clarity that I feel like it operates on now when I’m getting sleep. Just that simple. Shift of sleep. I didn’t even add in supplements and stuff like that. It’s just sleep. Once you start to get in the habit of having great sleep, you look back and you’re like, whoa, how did I live so many years like that? Because I feel amazing now and all I did was get better sleep.
That’s something I need to work on. Well, MJ, this has been delightful. Before we go, where can people learn more about you?
Yeah, absolutely. They can check me out at the burnedoutbusinessmom.com or they can follow my podcast, the Burned Out Business Mom’s Podcast. Thank you so much. This was a super blast. I really appreciate you having me on.
Thank you. And have a merry Christmas. Get lots of sleep and don’t burn out!