Troubleshoot Tuesday: 3 Signs That You Need to Disengage From Work

Image Description: A close-up of a road sign that means “no entry”. It is a red circle with a white horizontal stripe on it. Inside the stripe is the title “3 Signs That You Need to Disengage from Work”. Below the title is the URLs “” and “” in white.

One reason I decided to write on this topic is as a reminder to myself because I don’t know when to rest. I know when to collapse, when to push myself to exhaustion, when to succumb to sickness, when to grudgingly acknowledge that I need help– but rest? I can go into a lot of reasons why this is so, whether it’s a trauma response, internalized ableism, a learned response to the crushing pressure of competitive capitalism, or my own frenetic brain energy that dominates my body’s gentle signals. But this article isn’t about that. It’s addressed to other workshop facilitators, presenters, and community organizers who also have the same kinds of trouble like me, the types that can notice when a friend is silently grieving or when a community asks for accomplices, but does not notice when they themselves have simply Done. Too. Much.

Here’s to the rest of us.

Sign #1: You’ve forgotten the last time you’ve eaten balanced, regular meals, and had rejuvenating sleep, for seven days in a row. 

This is kind of the basic groundwork needed for most human beings on this planet to function– or so I’m repeatedly told over and over again by relatives, medical professionals, mom-friends, dad-friends, Ancestors, and my cat. Okay, Lukayo, (you ask) but what if you’re a disabled, chronically ill person? Well (I would answer), I too am in a similar situation, and meals and sleep are hard due to my conditions. I would also ask you to think real hard about the fact that if you have a hard time sleeping or eating, should your priority be workshop facilitation, or going to your medical appointments and working on recovery/treatment? Might be time to disengage. Which brings me to…

Sign #2: You keep setting aside what’s important and not urgent for what’s urgent but not important.

This is one of the things I read in the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People that was helpful because it really put into perspective this crisis mentality that I’m in, that there’s a difference between important and urgent. Important is what’s true to your value system, your larger goal and purpose in the world, and how you align your actions with that. Urgent is something that is time-sensitive. Some things are both important and urgent, and definitely should be worked on right away, like a grant application for community-run program that is sorely needed and that you’re emotionally invested in. Some things are neither important nor urgent, like watching Youtube videos that mildly irritate you but you do it because you’re bored.

The tricky thing is the important-not-urgent and the urgent-not-important. The first is something like doing martial arts every day to support your body’s strength and stamina and self-protection, while the second is an angry feedback Tweet on a presentation you did. Do you stop doing this important thing that’s part of how you feel healthy and safe because you’re stuck in a crisis mentality that jumps from one urgent thing to another, regardless of importance? Are you answering every angry or dismissive review of your work personally and spending tons of time and emotional labour crafting perfect paragraphs on people’s Facebook walls? Might be time to disengage.

Sign #3: You keep making more mistakes than you have time to repair them.

Also related to the previous example and Signs #1 and Signs #2, because if you’re not getting a lot of sleep or eating what you need, then, like me, you tend to not check-in with community members when you need to, or forget important slides in your Powerpoint, or double-check that you printed out your notes. Then you’re perpetuating a crisis mentality as you’re trying to put out fires that start and end with you. It starts to get into a cycle, too, where folks become more disappointed with your work, and you try harder by de-prioritizing sleep, food, and the important-not-urgent stuff, which can cause more mistakes, which creates more pressure to repair them and work harder… you get the picture. Time to disengage.

So what should you do? Is the answer to always disengage?

Disengaging from your workshop facilitator life or community organizer role is easier said than done. We’ve got families to feed, medications to pay for, surgeries to fund, and dreams to fulfill. If you can’t fully move back from your work, consider disengaging for a little bit to re-think your priorities and schedule them back into your life, while finding ways to delegate what isn’t important to you or what doesn’t absolutely need your supervision to do. Maybe someone else can aggregate all the social media feedback for you and can come up with a strategic response? Maybe someone else can make that poster for the event or print out your materials? If delegating tasks doesn’t seem feasible, then consider disengaging to weigh outcomes and risk. Is what I’m doing sustainable? Will I burn out and land myself in the hospital, which would take more away from my life than if I just scaled down my work to a workshop per month, one steering committee, and going on social assistance?

This stuff isn’t easy and I don’t have all the answers, mostly because if you’re running workshops and doing community organizing, chances are you’re part of communities that are in constant crisis, and that crisis mentality is catching, even if you’re aware of it, even if you don’t want to be a part of it. I find it easier when I have other folks who are also trying to disengage, regroup, re-prioritize. We can work collectively to remember that rest is a form of resistance (check out for more inspiration along those lines).

What signs do you notice that help you to disengage before you hit burn-out? What are your troubleshooting strategies around doing too much?

If you like what you’ve read and want to support healing work among my Elders, teachers, and communities, please subscribe to my Patreon. Link to the original article here: