As we’ve been exploring how to set up your business to give you the freedom, flexibility and fulfilment that you’re after, we’ve looked at all things business models, systems, outsourcing, financials, and, last week, mindset. This week, I want to take a slightly different approach to look at how you can recognise, prevent and manage burnout as you run your business.
As I shared at the start, I truly believe that running your own business is the very best way in which you can get that freedom, flexibility and fulfilment, but also that it doesn’t come automatically. There is a lot of work that needs to be done to make sure your business gives you what you want. Over all of this hangs the sword of Damocles that is the risk of working too hard, pushing yourself too far, and ending up experiencing burnout.
The last thing you want to do is to end up working harder than you did in your corporate job, which you probably left at least partly for the very reason of wanting to avoid burnout. If you’re stressed and unwell, you won’t be enjoying either the work you’re doing OR your time off (such as it is). And, when you are your business, taking care of yourself is taking care of your business.
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So how can you recognise, and avoid, burnout as an entrepreneur?
How to avoid burnout as an entrepreneur
The first thing to do is to set yourself up for success to begin with. This means all the things we’ve been talking about these past weeks: deciding on the right business model, creating systems and tools, outsourcing routine tasks, getting your financials right, working on your mindset…
On top of these strategies, here are five things to consider to help you avoid burnout…
1. Get clear on your priorities
My first piece of advice will always be: define what ‘success’ means to you. This means getting clear on the big-picture vision of what you want from your business, and your life; it means identifying the practical criteria for what you want your lifestyle to look like; and it means getting super clear on your specific priorities on a day-to-day basis.
A few concrete strategies here:
- Use Pareto’s 80-20 principle to identify the 20% of your work (your clients, your projects, and so on) that is generating 80% of your results
- Review where you’re actually spending your time each day, each week, and see if this aligns with the priorities that you’ve identified
- Examine your to-do list, identify what really is a ‘must-do’, and then translate those tasks into calendar appointments – what’s on the calendar gets done!
- Follow Brian Tracy’s advice to ‘eat that frog’, tackling your most challenging (but also your most impactful) task the first thing you do in the morning
- Set boundaries and learn to say ‘no’ when things crop up that just aren’t a priority for you and your business (or your family)
If you don’t do this work, then you’ll easily get overwhelmed with the endless things that you could or ‘should’ do – with no end in sight.
2. Run your own race
Once you’re clear on what ‘success’ means to you, and you know what you’re working on and why, you will be able to focus on those goals and priorities that you’ve identified. And it’s important that you do just that: focus on your own vision, your own plans.
It’s so easy to get distracted by what other people are doing. You’re bombarded on a daily basis with images and messages on social media, and the pressure is on:
- Glamorous Instagrammers are doing gravity-defying yoga poses on the beach
- ‘Boss babes’ on Facebook are making seven figures every month
- Not to mention all of your friends who are getting a promotion / getting engaged / getting married / having children / staying in some luxury resort, and so on.
If you add all these things up, together they create an impossible amalgamation of every possible goal and achievement.
Stop comparing yourself to what other people are doing, or to where you think you “should” be. You have your vision, you have your goals, and you have your plan: now, keep your head down, stick to the plan, and do what you know you have to do.
3. Learn to switch off
I’m a big fan of work-life integration, however, this doesn’t mean that you should be working all the time. It’s easy to tell yourself (as I did the in the early days), “I work all the time, but I don’t mind, I just love what I do so much…” Yes, it’s amazing that you’re working on creating something that you’re passionate about, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only thing that matters. It’s no good for anyone – you, your business, or your friends and family – if you blur those boundaries so much that you’re ‘always on’.
You need to learn to switch off. This means, for example…
- Literally and physically switch off your computer, turn off the notifications on your phone, and close the door to your home office
- Take breaks throughout the day, at least every 1-1.5 hours, having a proper lunch away from your computer, going outside to get some fresh air…
- Create a routine to help you wind down in the evening – a bath, a book, a cup of chamomile tea – and make sure you’re aiming for a solid 7+ hours of sleep
Take a look at your day, your week, your month, your year – and then work out how you can set some boundaries and carve out ‘me time’, family time, rest time. All the research now says that you need to work less, not more, to be more productive – so even from a purely mercenary business perspective, it’s important to learn to switch off!
4. Notice the red flags
The risk is that you just keep pushing through, thinking, “I can do this!” (and you probably can – until you can’t…). Instead, you need to be vigilant and respond to early signs rather than wait until it’s too late.
I found the 12-stage model of burnout, developed by psychologists Freudenberger and North, very interesting. It starts with ‘milder’ signs that I think a lot of us may identify with and yet find to be ‘normal’ and not associated with burnout:
- The compulsion to prove yourself, relying on external validation and taking on ever bigger responsibilities
- Working harder and not being able to switch off
- Sleeping less, eating poorly
- Neglecting friends, family and hobbies
- Denying that any problems exist
- Feeling cynical and getting frustrated with colleagues
Sound familiar? It’s important to pick up on these signs BEFORE you get to the more serious stages…
- Withdrawal from social life and reliance on drinking or drugs to deal with stress
- Strange changes in your behaviour
- Feeling empty inside
- Medical burnout
If you’re feeling exhausted, lacking motivation, and struggling to focus, then act NOW. You may tell yourself you don’t have time to take a break – but if you don’t slow down now, sooner or later, you’ll be forced to stop altogether.
5. Get support
I’m always talking about the importance of asking for help and surrounding yourself with a supportive community to help you through the ups and downs in your business. This is even more important in the specific context of avoiding burnout.
There are a few different types of support that you need:
- A ‘tribe’ of peers who will encourage you and cheer you on, empathise with your struggles, and help you avoid feelings of loneliness and isolation
- A coach or mentor who will guide you on the business side, helping you identify the right priorities to focus on so that you don’t get overwhelmed with working on anything and everything without seeing results
- Friends and family who aren’t involved in your business and can help distract you from the problems and stress you may be experiencing
If you are already experiencing signs of burnout, then the real support you need may well be from a medical professional.
If you’d like to explore how you can extract yourself from the ‘hustle’ and set up your business in a way that is sustainable and enjoyable for you, then get in touch to book a free consultation with me. We’ll look at where you are today in your business, where you might be able to make some tweaks, and how I can support you in creating more freedom and flexibility in your routine.