Eight steps for avoiding the burnout trap
By Ty Freyvogel
For entrepreneurs, burnout is an occupational hazard. In fact, I would go so far as to say that burnout will happen at some point in your career. After all, you are most likely a workaholic. If you follow your natural inclination, you might never leave the office! The truth, of course, is that you love your work; entrepreneurs thrive when they can think on their toes and wrap themselves around the creative processes that lead to economic success. But too much unrelenting hard work comes with a price.
Here's the irony: when things are going too well and your decisions become too easy and the results too predictable, that's when you may find yourself plagued by utter exhaustion and indifference. Suddenly your efforts, successes, and those inevitable disappointments you've faced (and rest assured, there will be bumps in the road) pile up on you and you not only want a break, you want OUT for good. That's burnout.
Interestingly, experts disagree on what causes burnout. Is it years upon years of too much stress? Is it a lack of challenge? Is it an inability to maintain a healthy balance? Is it, as I just mentioned, the inevitable result of success? In my opinion, burnout can be caused by a combination of all of these factors. It depends on the individual.
Whether you are a 22-year-old whiz kid in the wake of your first big idea or a seasoned veteran of 40 with a bread crumb trail of successful (or not so much) companies behind you, burnout is an issue that you should be not only aware of, but also prepared to face. By taking the right steps right now you can safeguard yourself from this pitfall that puts all entrepreneurs and their future endeavors at risk.
Below are a few tactics I have relied upon during my career to avoid burnout. I would have folded a long time ago had it not been for the ideology I had to develop about where my work belonged in my life. While it's great to be dedicated to the work you love, you have to set limits. When you reach the top of that mountain you spent years scaling, it would be a pity to fall off because you didn't take the time to look down and see the lovely view.
Read on to discover some of my own tips for dancing around the burnout trap:
- Don't make every lunch a business lunch.
Entrepreneurs tend to "do lunch," not have lunch. That's understandable. The mid-day meal is the perfect time to woo new clients, shore up relationships with existing ones, or just sit alone in a pub with a legal pad scribbling down new ideas. But do this every day of the week and you'll start wondering if there is life outside the business sphere. At least once a week, set aside one lunch that is strictly a dining experience, no work allowed. Not every lunch with colleagues has to be business, and your coworkers will appreciate a break as much as you.
- Exercise. No, really!
So many of us go to the gym or take a jog about once a week or so and call it our routine. (Who hasn't exaggerated on their doctor's questionnaire?) Don't delude yourself that you are so busy it doesn't matter how physically active (or inactive) you are. You need to respect your body because it is the vehicle that takes you to all of your meetings! But seriously, aside from keeping you in shape, exercise is one of the best stress busters out there, and after a great workout you almost always sleep better. So quit working till dusk and take a twilight jog with your dog instead. (He misses you too!)
- Know when it's time to take a break.
Ever notice how your body seems to know when it's time to quit working before you do? Our bodies all have natural timetables that determine whether we are morning people or midnight people, nappers or insomniacs. These individual innate tendencies need to mesh with our work patterns. For example, if you tend to work best in bulk-time (working for three days nonstop on a particular project), that's fine. Go with it. But also realize it's perfectly okay to take a day off on day four, even if day four doesn't happen to fall on a Sunday or Christmas. You deserve a break from time to time and your body will demand one of you if you don't honor it.
- Make time for vacations.
Take your vacation days. They're there for you to enjoy so you don't suffer a meltdown! And insist that your employees take theirs as well. Many times workers see the boss burning the candle at both ends and think, "I shouldn't be taking breaks if she isn't." You will find that you and your colleagues work much better when they are well rested and get to relax from time to time. If you're thinking, "Fryvogel, you've taken leave of your senses - entrepreneurs can't take vacations!" - well, I agree up to a point. It's true that getting away for a two-week tropical cruise isn't possible when you're in the intense start-up phase. But you can take a four-day weekend here and there to recharge your batteries - and believe me, you'll regret it if you don't.
- Learn to say NO and mean it.
If your status as an entrepreneur makes people approach you for favors, remember that refusing requests doesn't have to mean burning bridges. You are successful and talented, but that doesn't mean that you aren't entitled to do whatever the heck you feel like in your coveted free time. As I became more successful I began spending more and more time doing favors for people, like helping someone get into college for instance. Before you know it those little favors you are doing here and there will start tying up your whole day. It's okay to say no. Here's my four-step plan on how to do it:
- Affirm the importance of their request: "I know how you feel. I've been there."
- Suggest alternative solutions.
- Encourage them to choose one of the alternative solutions.
- Reinforce your empathy: "Glad I could help."
Be nice, but be true to yourself before you commit your entire calendar to other people.
- Put your family first.
Your family is the most important thing in the world. Period. If you have one, cherish it. If the world were going to end tomorrow, would you want to spend your last night with your company or your family? That's what I thought. Love them and make them a priority by enjoying dinner with them at least one night a week, taking your kids to the park to play, and keeping a weekly date night with your spouse. And if you don't have a spouse and children, substitute the word "friends" for family. The people we love are our family in a very real sense. Don't neglect them. Remember that your family is all you really have, and they are the reason you are working so hard. So take some time to show them how much you appreciate them. Create a balance between work, family, and recreation. A motto I always follow is, "Work hard, play hard, and love hard."
- Get in touch with your spirituality.
Finding a spiritual outlet can often be, for many, the key to peace in a hectic world. If you don't already go to a church, a temple, or some other place of worship, think about checking one out. You will not only become closer to the Source of the Universe, but you will likely meet good, optimistic people to fellowship with (and maybe even network with . . . you are a businessperson at heart, after all). If organized religion is not for you, there are other avenues for spiritual development. Try setting aside time every day to pray, meditate, or practice yoga or Tai Chi. Paradoxically, it may help you stay calm and grounded and at the same time, provide the energy and inspiration you need to help your career and company soar.
- Always use your time wisely!
As a new entrepreneur, time will be of the essence. You'll quickly find that there aren't enough hours in the day to accomplish everything that needs to get done. Take a note from Alan Lakein
, a personal time management expert, and always take a moment to figure out what the best use of your time is right now. A great way to do this is to rank your tasks in order of their importance. Each day determine your top three priorities and work on them as much as possible in the appropriate order. If one project becomes too overwhelming, mix it up and switch to the next task so you never become too engrossed in one tedious activity for too long.
Lists have always helped me prioritize. I make lists for everything! I can't start my day without first writing down three things that I must accomplish during that given day. Organization will be key when you start a business. So if you know it is going to be a problem from the beginning, you should find someone who knows how you work so that they can organize your business life. If you realize that a task is too big for you alone, start delegating some of the responsibility. That's why you have your staff, for support.
Finally - Know that sometimes burnout means it's time to move on.
Don't assume that burnout means you haven't balanced your life well enough. If you are living well and your work still leaves you discouraged and unsatisfied, it could signify that you are ready for something new. If so, that's great. Your role as an entrepreneur within each company usually follows a natural arc, and once you have done all you can do, it's okay to pass the torch and aim for a new goal. You'll know it's time to move on when you run out of fresh ideas. You will find that your excitement and passion return to you when you seek new inspiration.
Remember that your job is only your career, not your entire life. If you devote your complete energy to your work, you will have built an empire, true, but can you really enjoy the harvest if you remain toiling in the field? All work and no play makes Jack not only a dull boy, but a burned out one as well. Your career is very important and it's a big part of who you are - but it's not all you are. There are so many other things to enjoy during the short time we're on earth. Savor it all! The best advice I could ever give a fellow entrepreneur: Like your work, love your life!
About the author: Ty Freyvogel is also the founder of EntrepreneursLab.com and author of It's Not Your Smarts, It's Your Schmooze and Seize the Century!, as well as an advice guru at EntrepreneursLab.com. Ty is a dynamic public speaker, who is renowned for his lively and informative speeches that never fail to leave audiences inspired, as well as entertained. He can be reached at Ty@MakingSenseofYourBusiness.com
Sally Glick, CMO, Principal, Marketer of the Year in 2003 and AAM Hall of Famer in 2007, will lead a lively discussion of the constantly expanding roles of marketing and the professional marketers that drive this initiative in accounting firms of all sizes.