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Business owner burnout is a real thing and if you don’t deal with it – you either severely underperform or fail.
Although it can be incredibly rewarding, building and growing a business can also be draining and utterly exhausting at times. You may feel like you’re permanently stuck on a rollercoaster that goes up and down and runs loop-de-loops without a moment’s notice. Some days you’re inspired; other days, you’re stressed to the max or thrown another curveball by the Universe. To make matters worse, it might just be you dealing with the weight of all this alone, and you tell yourself you can’t afford the luxury of time off during these precious early years.
Run your business like this for too long, and it can quickly lead to burnout—if you don’t have tools in place to prevent it.
What exactly is business owner burnout?
Burnout is a type of sickness, chronic stress, or state of exhaustion that manifests through prolonged, unmanaged stress and neglect of your physical and mental health. It leaves you in a distressed state where you cannot properly function in your day-to-day life.
Although burnout is common throughout workplaces all over the globe and across all industries, business and entrepreneur burnout is prominent and on the rise.
According to the World Health Organization, burnout can leave you feeling negative or cynical towards your work and have a severe impact on your ability to run your business effectively. So pushing yourself too hard and refusing to take any rest will eventually come back to bite you and force you to take the rest your mind and body needs.
Why is burnout in business on the rise?
Research from Bupa has found that around 40% of UK employees in their survey took less than half of their annual holiday entitlement, and the average person is trying to fit more than 17 hours of activity into their day. Meanwhile, research by AXA PPP Healthcare found that 29% of staff in small and medium-sized enterprises work at least 7 hours overtime every week. And you and I both know that the hours we sometimes work as business owners can make these hours look like child’s play.
But why are we doing this to ourselves?
Because we live in a culture that is always on and tells us to do more more more. Work longer hours, reply to that email at 10 PM on a Friday, achieve bigger goals, scale exponentially in two months… And no matter what we do or how much we push ourselves, it can still feel like it’s not enough—especially when your business is in its infancy, and you’re not seeing the growth or results you want.
Warning signs of burnout to watch out for
Here are some key signs of burnout:
Here's how to avoid burnout as an entrepreneur or business owner
Set work hours (and stick to them)
Do you have designated working hours, or are you working around the clock? It can be incredibly helpful to set working hours (e.g., 9-5, 8-6, 5-9) that work for you. What’s important is that you set them and stick to them. When the time comes to go home, you shut your laptop down, turn email notifications off on your phone, and let yourself chill out—without feeling guilty.
A study by Harvard Business Review found that people who are obsessively passionate about their work experience more burnout than those who are harmoniously passionate. The key difference? Business owners who are harmoniously passionate give their all to their work, but they still permit themselves to take breaks and be flexible. Essentially, they have that elusive thing you might be struggling to find called work-life balance.
Define Your Goals
Want to know how to avoid business owner burnout?
Make sure you have clearly defined your goals.
Tyler, tell me something I don’t know, man.
Okay, so you’ve got your goals. But have you split your big goals into smaller, manageable daily, weekly, and monthly goals?
Most business owners skip this step, leaving them feeling like they’re not accomplishing much daily. Your goals will feel much more within reach and tangible if you can see yourself getting closer to them each day. That motivation is valuable and might serve as the boost you need to get yourself through a challenging period in your business.
Celebrate your past success
It’s all too easy for business owners to fall into the trap of looking at how far they still have to climb to the top of the mountain, how steep it looks, and how there’s a storm brewing in the skies above, instead of celebrating how far they’ve already come.
When you approach your business this way, nothing you do will ever be good enough because you’ll always be straight onto the next goal, the next milestone, the next accomplishment.
So, if you want to avoid burnout, sit down regularly (at the end of each day, week, month, and year) and pause to celebrate what you have done. When you go looking for things to celebrate, you’ll find them, and chances are you’ll surprise yourself with how much you’ve actually achieved.
Get better at saying "no"
Every business owner juggles multiple plates at once (usually while trying to ride a unicycle at the same time), receives countless invites and opportunities, and will have lots of people vying for a slice of their time.
I’m not telling you to ignore all of these people or opportunities. There are certain commitments you can’t wiggle out of, like regularly checking in with your team and leading important meetings. However, saying yes to everything is a recipe for disaster. It’s not possible to do everything and be everywhere. You’re just one person. Learning to say no is one of the most important things you can know to avoid burnout.
Think about delegating tasks that need doing, but you don’t enjoy. If it’s something you do enjoy, weigh it up to see if you realistically have the space for it. And if you don’t enjoy it and it doesn’t rank high on the list of priorities, then forget about it already!
If you feel out of control of your day-to-day business operations, you’re going to feel stressed. Similarly, if you can no longer see your desk because it’s buried in paperwork and week-old cups of coffee, you’re going to feel cluttered and overwhelmed on the inside.
To avoid burnout, set aside a few days or a week to get everything in order. Sort out your computer files, clean your desk, create a set of processes and systems that help you manage, and think about hiring an assistant to help you out. Be sure to maintain an organized approach—resist slipping back into messy habits!
Become a pro at managing your time
Time management is key to running a business and preventing burnout. Although you might have a hundred things to do, you don’t need to try and get them all done in a day. This leads to feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and eventually burning out.
I share the Covey Time Management Matrix with all my clients to help them manage their time more effectively. All you do is take your list of tasks and decide which quadrant of the matrix each one falls into. Everything in quadrant 1 is the highest priority and should be tackled first, followed by quadrant 2, then 3, and finally quadrant 4.
Similar to your goals, split these tasks up into smaller, achievable tasks so that you feel like you’re making progress each day.
Figure out what stresses you out and tackle it first
There will inevitably be certain things you have to do that you don’t love to do when you run a business.
And what do we usually do in these situations?
Procrastinate and put said things off for as long as we possibly can.
The problem is, when that day rolls around where you have to tackle them finally, they take way longer than they should and are so much more stressful and painful than they should be.
Build a winning team
What’s funny is that we blindly accept that doing five people’s jobs is all a part of starting and growing a business, at least in the early years. You’re the CEO, you’re the marketer, you’re the accountant, you’re the web developer, and you’re the designer all rolled into one. But it’s only a matter of time before this results in burnout.
So, how do you avoid burnout like this from creeping up?
You make it a priority to build a winning team. Depending on where you are in your business and the budget you’re working with, this can include paid freelancers or employees, interns, and volunteers. It may also include mentors or coaches and even your friends and family.
Even if you can only afford one part-time freelancer right now who manages your website and takes care of all the technical backend updates as and when needed, that’s taking something off your plate. Small acts like this will prevent you from burning out through exhaustion later.
Learn to delegate
I’ve already briefly touched on this, but it deserves a whole point of its own because delegating is a powerful skill that too many business owners are not fully utilizing.
We all have our strengths and weaknesses. You probably have a good sense of what yours are by now. The question is, are you playing to them?
Are you giving yourself enough freedom to put your talents to use, and are you delegating unpleasant, stressful tasks that are not your forte to others who excel at them?
This is the art of delegation. It enables you to focus on your strengths and the things you’re most passionate about, which will lead to you feeling so much more fulfilled and excited on a day-to-day basis.
How to avoid burnout: Look after your body
Looking after yourself is vital if you want to stay healthy and show up as your best self every day for your business.
Aim to exercise for at least 30 minutes each day, whether it’s a quick run before heading to the office, a walk in the park on your lunch break, or treating yourself to a yoga class after work.
Eat regularly, and make sure you’re eating nourishing foods that will provide you with the energy you need to perform at your highest level.
And don’t forget to get enough sleep—good sleep. That means unwinding with a book or a warm shower or bath before you go to sleep, not bingeing on Netflix, or listening to a basketball podcast!
If you find yourself stressed or overwhelmed while working, try meditating for five or ten minutes.
Set aside time for self-care each day
I know it may feel like you cannot afford the luxury of self-care while running and growing your business. But use this as a reward for completing all the tasks you want to check off each day. This is a brilliant habit to get into because it motivates you to get things done and gives you the relaxation you need to avoid burnout.
Along with 30 minutes for exercise, make sure you’re setting aside 30 minutes for self-care. Plot it into your schedule so that it gets done (this is again a part of effective time management). Do whatever feels relaxing for you. Spend time cooking a meal, read a book (not a business book!), treat yourself to a massage, or brew a cup of tea and enjoy it in silence without looking at your phone.
Seek out connections
My final tip on how to avoid burnout is to seek out connections with people who nourish you both personally and professionally. For example, other business owners in the same boat as you can offer advice, or at least be a reassuring source of comfort when you’re going through a tough time. Friends and family won’t always get what’s going on, but you can guarantee other business owners will.
It’s much better to sacrifice a few extra hours in the office each day than work yourself to the bone, burn out, and be forced to rest for weeks or maybe months while you recover. When it comes down to it, preventing burnout is all about being organized and super intentional with your time. Do this, and you’ll notice how your productivity sky-rockets, even when you’re spending less time at work.