Entrepreneurs are a passionate and driven lot. We’re dreamers with determination – and we’re out to prove to ourselves and to others that we can make our dreams a reality. We’re often willing to go to great lengths, and to work incredibly hard, to reach our business goals.
The problem is that all that work, pressure and stress – endured over a long period of time – can lead to burnout. Entrepreneurs, it turns out, are a high-risk group when it comes to burnout, which can strike without warning and make everything feel hard. Burnout can take a heavy toll on both you and your business.
So how do you keep burnout at bay so that it doesn’t derail your efforts? In this post, I’ll share a few coping strategies I’ve learned in order to avoid burnout by managing your energy levels, working better, and shifting your perspective.
Tell-Tale Signs of Entrepreneurial Burnout
Before we begin, how do you know you’re approaching burnout? Here are a few tell-tale signs:
- You’re always exhausted
- It takes a lot less to make you feel stressed and overwhelmed
- You have trouble focusing and thinking clearly
- You’re more easily irritated or frustrated
- You feel uncharacteristically unmotivated
- Your creativity has deserted you
Unearth and Address the Causes of Chronic Stress
Burnout is defined as “a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.” If you’re feeling burnout looming, try to identify specific areas of your work and life that are causing you stress.
Sometimes the causes are buried within our subconscious, so dig deep. Then, tackle the issues head on. Are you worried about finances? Draw up a budget and stick to it. Are you plagued with an impossible customer? Ask yourself if they’re worth the stress and, if not, end the relationship. Eliminating the biggest issues will make everything else seem more manageable.
Look After Yourself
When you’re overextended, it’s easy to neglect yourself. A healthy body is essential for maintaining a healthy mind. To that end:
- Take breaks. Waking up at dawn and working straight through until late evening is not sustainable – at least not long term. Give yourself permission to take breaks and disconnect from work so that you can refuel.
- Get some sleep. Everything seems worse when you’re sleep deprived. If I learned anything from parenting newborns it’s about the magic of a good night sleep or two. If you’re prone to insomnia, consider setting fixed daily times for waking up and going to bed.
- Eat well. It’s easy to resort to junk food when you’re tight on time. But remember: you are what you eat. And there is compelling evidence that what you eat can impact your state of mind. Reduce sugar and carbs that can lead to a crash in energy. Limit caffeine intake if it leads to anxiety. And eat more Omega-3 fatty acids (found, for example, in salmon and eggs) to give your mood a boost. Make sure you have healthy options to grab on the go by stocking your fridge with cut up fruits, veggies and lean protein.
- Work out. It may be the last thing you feel like doing, but working out is a great way to lift your spirits. Build in 30 minutes of some form of exercise into every day.
- Set aside time to relax. Establish a daily ritual of ‘me time’. For some us, the only way to make sure we have time to rest, is to schedule it in.
Do Other Things
Was the promise of a more balanced life part of the allure of entrepreneurship? How’s that working out for you? In reality, many entrepreneurs are plagued with guilt when we’re not working. The truth is that doing something different is a great way to clear your head and refuel. Regularly schedule time for family activities, and catching up with friends. Also, look for a creative outlet to help your brain unwind when you’re too restless or preoccupied to just relax.
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Find your Motivation
- Remember your ‘why’. Burnout can be painful enough to make you crave the stability and predictability of corporate life… and forget why you even started your business in the first place. Reconnect with the reasons that drove you to start out on your own.
- Visualize your future. Bring to focus your vision of your future reality until it becomes real. Focus daily on that image. Keep your eye on the prize.
- Enjoy some of the perks. Was starting your business a lifestyle choice? Take advantage of your flexibility. Find a new coffee shop for your next work session. Or end your day early and surprise the kids or a friend with a fun activity. Or go all out and play hooky… just because you feel like it.
- Celebrate wins. Most of us are terrible at this. We’re so focused on hitting new goals that we don’t properly take stock of the progress we’ve already made. Do it. It will help you keep going.
- Practice gratitude. Make a daily habit of calling out things you’re grateful for. Practicing gratitude helps you hold on to a positive attitude and stay motivated.
When you’re an entrepreneur, you never run out of things to do to bring your business forward. And many of us are so impatient to make our dreams a reality, that we feel immense pressure to get everything done… yesterday!
But running a startup is a marathon, not a sprint. If you want to make it for the long haul, you have to pace yourself and resist the urge to do everything at once.
- Set realistic goals. Setting realistic and time-specific goals will help you set priorities so that you know where you should be focusing.
- Plan your week. Working every weekend is a no-no, but there’s one exception: I spend 15 minutes every Sunday to review my priorities for the week and to schedule the most important ones.
- Focus on your daily top 3. Start every day with a list of the top 3 tasks you need to complete that day.
- Eliminate. Examine your recurring task list. Which tasks are getting you closer to your goals? The others may just be getting you closer to burnout. Pare down your list to your core growth activities.
- Draw boundaries. Curb your people-pleasing tendencies and start saying ‘no’ to unreasonable demands. Set some ground rules for yourself, such as how late you will work or take customer calls.