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Business & Economics Personal Success

At Your Best

How to Get Time, Energy, and Priorities Working in Your Favor

by (author) Carey Nieuwhof

The Crown Publishing Group
Initial publish date
Sep 2021
Personal Success, Stress Management, Personal Growth
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2021
    List Price

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“A perceptive and practical book about why our calendars so rarely reflect our priorities and what we can do to regain control.”—ADAM GRANT

“Carey’s book will help you reorganize your life. And then you can share a copy with someone you care about.”—SETH GODIN

You deserve to stop living at an unsustainable pace. An influential podcaster and thought leader shows you how.

Overwhelmed. Overcommitted. Overworked. That’s the false script an inordinate number of people adopt to be successful. Does this sound familiar:

● Slammed is normal.
● Distractions are everywhere.
● Life gets reduced to going through the motions.

Tired of living that way? At Your Best gives you the strategies you need to win at work and at home by living in a way today that will help you thrive tomorrow.

Influential podcast host and thought leader Carey Nieuwhof understands the challenges of constant pressure. After a season of burnout almost took him out, he discovered how to get time, energy, and priorities working in his favor. This approach freed up more than one thousand productive hours a year for him and can do the same for you.

At Your Best will help you
● replace chronic exhaustion with deep productivity
● break the pattern of overpromising and never accomplishing enough
● clarify what matters most by restructuring your day
● master the art of saying no, without losing friends or influence
● discover why vacations and sabbaticals don’t really solve your problems
● develop a personalized plan to recapture each day so you can break free from the trap of endless to-dos

Start thriving at work and at home as you discover how to be at your best.

About the author

Contributor Notes

Carey Nieuwhof is a bestselling author, speaker, former attorney, and he hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts. His podcast, blog, and online content for leaders are accessed over 1.5 million times each month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth. Carey and his wife, Toni, live north of Toronto.

Excerpt: At Your Best: How to Get Time, Energy, and Priorities Working in Your Favor (by (author) Carey Nieuwhof)

Chapter 1

Build a Life You Don’t Want to Escape From

Why Most of Us Secretly Resent the Life and Career We’ve So Carefully Built

What we call our despair is often only the painful eagerness of unfed hope. —George Eliot, Middlemarch


A decade and a half ago, life seemed to be way more than what I had signed up for and could handle. The organization I was leading had grown bigger than I ever expected it to, and the pressures of leading a staff, handling growth, being married for over a decade, and raising two young sons were more than I had bargained for.

After I pulled into the driveway at home one evening, I sat in the car, the sun having disappeared just long enough that it was neither day nor night. It was gray. I was listening to the radio but not really listening. In my mind, I was grappling with whether I had the energy to walk through the door.

I’m guessing dinner won’t be ready. Everything’s probably running behind again.

The moment I walk in and decide to lie down on the couch to recharge, not only will I get the eye roll from Toni (“Carey, how can you be this tired again, and can’t you see I need your help?”), but I’ll also have two kids who bounce over to me, wanting to play.

Homework isn’t done—that’s for sure. The last thing I feel like doing is helping with homework. Especially math.

Then I wondered, Has anyone seen me yet? I haven’t seen anyone pass by the front window.

Maybe I should put the car in reverse and head back to work.


As soon as my mind went there, I realized that was no solution. There were just as many issues to deal with at the office—probably more. So, nope, not work.

Maybe swing by Andrew’s place?

Wait. I haven’t texted him in . . . oh man, a month, six weeks. That won’t work.

How is any of this going to get any better? How can I get out of this?

I need to escape.

I can’t tell you how many times in that season I wanted to get away. Maybe not escape for real, as in quit my job, take a massive pay cut, destroy my career, and make my wife think (again) that she had made a horrible mistake, but break free in some way. Like a five-year-old who decides he’s had enough of his family, packs a spare T-shirt and bandanna in a backpack, and storms off down the street.

The weird thing was that, in my case, everything was going exceptionally well, at least from the outside looking in. I had married my college sweetheart, and we had two healthy sons. Careerwise, I had moved from radio to law to, of all things, pastoring a local church (yes, I know, a career path most high school guidance counselors highly recommend). What I thought would be an eighteen-month assignment in small rural churches ended up turning into decades with the same people in a Toronto-area multisite congregation. By the end of my first decade there, we had become the fastest-growing church in our denomination and one of the larger ones in the country.

So . . . success, right? Well, on many fronts, yes. Except inside me the pressure kept intensifying. I didn’t really know how to lead a growing team. I pretended I did, but my strategy of making it up as I went along was wearing thin (mostly on other people).

I was also overrun by the number of people who were by then attending our church. Memorizing names (which at one point I had been really good at) had become an exercise in futility as my brain constantly tripped into overload.

“So good to see you here. You must be new? What’s your name again?”

“It’s Dave. Same name as last week and when we met the week before.”

“Right . . . Dave.”

Yes, that actually happened, and who wants a pastor who doesn’t remember your name?

My formula for handling growth was as simple as it was stupid: more people equals more hours. As a result, I was cheating sleep, which made me feel simultaneously comatose and irritable most days. I had no insight into how to lead anything bigger, if the growth continued, other than to work harder, which I was beginning to sense would send me over some kind of cliff to an early demise. I’d had quite a bit of optimism earlier in my leadership, but recently I’d started to wonder, Am I enough?

My inability to keep up at work also meant I was starting to fail at home. My family rarely got the best of me. Something as small as stepping on a Lego piece in bare feet could lead to a meltdown that lasted all day.

These are just a few snapshots of my life at the time. It all felt so unsustainable. If things got any more complicated or any busier, I was going to go the way of a cheese puff in a windstorm.

Worse, I wasn’t even forty yet. Please don’t tell me there are decades more of this ahead!

Which leads us back to the escape thing. It wasn’t a hammock in Fiji that I kept thinking about or an alternate life in some new city with better coffee shops. No, I wanted to escape to a warehouse.

Unlike my current day job, the warehouse offered so many attractive features. Managing cardboard boxes would be much simpler than managing the challenges of leadership. Unloading a pallet had so much more appeal than having yet another person unload on me in my office. And the best thing about working in a warehouse is that when you stack boxes, they stay stacked. This being in stark contrast to people, who never seem to do what you want them to do.

It’s not like any part of my life was something I didn’t want or hadn’t helped craft. Yes, life is unpredictable, and no, I couldn’t have forecast the details, but I had signed up for all of it, except, of course, for the stress. It’s like the life I had so carefully built turned on me, betrayed me. It was nothing like it was supposed to be.


Out of Time, Little Energy, Not Getting Nearly Enough Done

When I was living a life I wanted to escape from, I felt like I never had enough time to get done what really mattered, let alone everything else that was stacked up for me to tackle. My energy level was perpetually low, as though I were toggling between autopilot and the zombie universe. Sometimes it seemed like I was one bad day away from deflating completely. And as far as my priorities went, it was as though I had almost no control over my life, because what I wanted to do got hijacked by other people and commitments on a daily—no, hourly—basis.

I didn’t want to screw my life up, but I had a sinking feeling that’s precisely what I was doing. I was overwhelmed, overcommitted, and overworked doing exactly what I thought I wanted to do with my life. Equally disheartening was the reality that my dreams were getting squeezed out in the process. I had always wanted to write a book. Prior to age forty, I had typed exactly zero words in pursuit of that dream. My family wasn’t hitting our financial goals. To make it worse, I had no hobbies, I never found time to exercise, and I quietly resented people who made the time to enjoy life. I was barely surviving.

Many people are overwhelmed, overcommitted, and overworked doing exactly what they thought they wanted to do with their lives.

Eventually it all caught up with me. In 2006, not only did my unsustainable pace crush me—it also nearly killed me. I slid headlong into burnout. I spent months with my passion gone, my energy sapped, and my hope barely flickering. It wasn’t the end, but it definitely felt like it. I was numb. It’s like my body went on strike and said, “Enough with the craziness.”

If you don’t declare a finish line to your work, your body will.

On that note, any idea what chronic stress might be doing to your body? Sure, maybe you haven’t burned out. But if you don’t think that stress costs you anything, you might want to think again.


The Price of Stress

Stress—which is medically defined as “any intrinsic or extrinsic stimulus that evokes a biological response”—can apparently do some real damage. The American Psychological Association noted that the impact of stress can include headaches, chronic pain, shortness of breath, and full-on panic attacks. Stress has also been linked to heartburn, acid reflux, bloating, nausea, indigestion, the loss of sexual desire, lower sperm count, lower sperm motility, and the inability to conceive. In addition, stress can adversely affect memory function, slow your reaction time, and create behavioral and mood disorders.


Stress can also impair communication between your immune system and your HPA axis—a complex, multiorgan feedback system that regulates stress hormones, including cortisol. No, I hadn’t heard of that either until I looked it up, but apparently, stress raises your cortisol levels, which in turn can spawn a host of physical and mental health issues, like chronic fatigue, diabetes, obesity, depression, and autoimmune disorders. Research also links stress to cardiovascular problems as life threatening as heart attacks and strokes.

This, surprisingly, is only a partial list of the damage stress can do, but need we say more? I didn’t think so.

Editorial Reviews

“The results we get are largely determined by the systems in our lives. The wrong system makes results harder to get. The right system makes it easier, almost effortless, to achieve the right results. This is brilliantly illustrated in Carey Nieuwhof’s new book, At Your Best.”—Greg McKeown, New York Times bestselling author of Effortless and Essentialism and the host of the What’s Essential podcast

“Carey Nieuwhof offers a powerful recipe for thriving: do what you do best, at the times when you’re at your best, while making sure other people’s priorities don’t get in the way. An important guide for anyone feeling burned out by their ‘successful’ career.”—Cal Newport, New York Times bestselling author of A World Without Email and Deep Work
“Clear, concise, and highly practical, the strategies Carey Nieuwhof outlines will help you accomplish far more in far less time at work and at home.”—Nir Eyal, bestselling author of Indistractable

“Carey Nieuwhof makes a convincing case that burnout is not an inevitable consequence of trying to accomplish big things. Then he shows how to manage your time and energy with a new approach that’s at once more productive and more fulfilling. Read this book to live in a way today that will help you thrive tomorrow.”—Daniel H. Pink, New York Times bestselling author of When, Drive, and To Sell Is Human
“Carey Nieuwhof is about to make a lot of workplaces and leaders healthier with the strategies in At Your Best. If you’re ready to get your life and leadership back, this book is for you.”—Patrick Lencioni, founder of the Table Group and bestselling author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and The Advantage
At Your Best is the consummate guide for how to lead yourself well. I can’t recommend it highly enough.”—Nona Jones, head of faith-based partnerships for Facebook and bestselling author of Success from the Inside Out and
“With raw transparency and game-changing leadership insights, Carey will empower you to assess your own situation and create a more balanced, intentional, and effective strategy for your life and leadership. Grab a copy for you and everyone on your team.”—Craig Groeschel, pastor of Life.Church and New York Times bestselling author

“In At Your Best, Carey Nieuwhof offers some of the best strategies I’ve seen to combat the fatigue, numbness, and overwhelm that mark far too much of life and leadership today. If you’re done with being tired and want to accomplish more, this book is exactly what you need.”—Andy Stanley, founder and senior pastor of North Point Ministries

“Life balance is impossible to find, but Carey certainly outlines in At Your Best a route and a way for all of us, no matter where we are leading, to create margin, live on purpose, rest, and succeed.”—Annie F. Downs, New York Times bestselling author of That Sounds Fun
"At Your Best" is loved for its practical approach to helping readers apply principles to managing stress, reducing distractions, and adopting sustainable habits into your work and personal life. This book recognizes the high rate of burnout that many people are experiencing and offers solutions to restructure your schedule, find healthy habits, and refocus your energy in a more productive and sustainable way. -Business Insider

Other titles by Carey Nieuwhof