Majority, if not all of us, start our own businesses with the objective of creating some semblance of freedom in our lives. Buzzwords circulate social media promoting the entrepreneurial journey like “money freedom”, “time freedom”, “location freedom” or the ability to be some digital nomad.
This in essence is how marketing works. We take a not-so-sexy idea and make it sexy. While the opportunities for earning potential, location and creating your own schedule are present and possible, reality is that doesn’t happen for quite some time. We’re fed the dream but have no recipe to follow.
Add in all the ups and downs and manic turns of the world over the past few years and there is little to no prediction that can be cited to dictate when those idealized times will come.
Entrepreneurship is fantastic, but it requires a lot of blood, sweat, tears and late nights.
With burnout on the rise in entrepreneurs, especially with inflation and an impending, if not present, recession, here is your guide to tapping into your body and circumvent burnout.
Psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North constructed a 12-stage model of burnout to better depict the varying degrees of burnout. By understanding this model, the signs and symptoms can be easier to catch.
- Compulsion to prove oneself – obsessed with demonstrating one’s worth.
- Working hard – excessive hours and the inability to shutdown.
- Neglecting basic needs – lack of socialization, inability to eat, sleep and focus on core basic needs.
- Displacement of conflicts – Dismissal of problems; panicky, jittery, anxious
- Revision of values – important priorities lose value such as hobbies, friends, family, etc.
- Denial of emerging problems – cynicism and aggression start to become prevalent.
- Withdrawal – Social life diminishes and potential crutches begin such as alcohol, drugs, etc.
- Odd behavioral changes – obvious changes in behavior and/or personality which becomes apparent to friends and family.
- Depersonalization – lack of value of self or others; unable to take note of personal needs.
- Inner emptiness – feeling empty inside.
- Depression – Feeling exhausted, lost, lack of self-identity, future feels dark.
- Burnout syndrome – Mental and physical collapse. Medical attention required.
Burnout can show up differently for everyone but it’s important to notice how your mood and feelings towards work shift. Too often do we become so dependent on our work and careers defining us, that when we don’t hit a goal or a benchmark we deflate completely into a rabbit hole of imposter syndrome and feelings of lack.
The tragic part is that we live in a society that is driven to its core by the hustle. If you’re not grinding day-in and day-out, you’re not “cut out” for this life. That is just one toxic cycle we get played into believing and partaking in.
Between the shaming of working a 9-5 job, to the shaming of not breathing your career all day every day, we have created a perfect breeding ground for entrepreneurial burnout.
As you now are able to take note of the stages and progression of burnout, let’s talk strategies to avoid it at all costs.
Set a Schedule + Goals Daily
If you don’t have a set schedule of what to focus on and when, you are producing too many openings in your day for chaos. One thing that can help navigate your daily structure is by focus on the Top Three Focuses of the day.
Your Top Three should be the three top priorities you need to accomplish or focus on for the day. Anything beyond that is a bonus.
If three priorities a day is too much, have a Top Three for the week.
Point is, we want optimized focus on less. The less we focus on, the greater capacity we have for working to our best ability with little to no ping-ponging back and forth on tasks.
Some ways to schedule out your days are by having themed days (ie. CEO days, client work days, admin days, etc.), or time blocking.
If you choose to time block your days, rely on a timer to keep you on track.
Have a Wellness Routine
You have to find balance in your days and the balance needs to be business:personal.
Whether you have a morning routine, evening routine, or you have some daily ritual, something needs to happen daily that gives you the time and space to focus on your wellbeing.
We can not operate like machines, nor should we have to. In order to produce your best work, you have to be healthy and mentally balanced.
Some key areas that bring on great results are: stretching, working out, eating well, monitoring your sugar intake, reducing caffeine intake, getting outside, reading and speaking with loved ones.
Life is meant to be experienced and you can’t do that operating on an empty tank.
Marie Kondo Your Business
If something about your business is massively draining or just not bringing you joy, eliminate it. This could be a service, a task, an employee, a client, whatever it is, find a way to eliminate it.
We all have tasks we would rather not do, so consider outsourcing. At the end of the day, your business needs to be built for the long-game. If something isn’t right, change it.
When we have areas in our business that drain us, it starts to taint our entire experience and perception of not only what it takes to run a business, but why we started in the first place.
When we have elements in our business that deplete the passion, it starts the wear and tear process that leads to resentment and an overall disinterest in what we are building.
Take time to “clean house” and see what revisions or eliminations can be made.
Separate Your Business from Yourself
The moment you attach your sense of self worth or identity to your business, you’re done for. Having your business be a passion is what one could only hope for, but your business is a separate entity and can not and should not be tied to any aspect of you as a person.
Any success achieved is not a metric of your identity nor is any mistake or perceived failure. Too many entrepreneurs, especially digital entrepreneurs get so caught up in their business being the only definition of themselves.
A like or a follow is extreme validation of who they are as a human. An unfollow is a shot against them and their character.
This attachment and need for external validation is a recipe for burnout disaster. You’ll find yourself in a never ending loop of chasing the social media dopamine high and once that high is broken by a “negative” experience, you dig yourself in a hole and completely recount your abilities.
Treat your business like a child. You are to nurture, care, educate, train and help it grow, but in now way, shape or form is their life an indicator of how good or bad you are. Any opportunity for course correction is a void towards future success.
Set STRONG Boundaries
If you want to avoid burnout, you set boundaries and you lay them in concrete. Set office hours, set communication policies, have pristine contracts, and get comfortable with having uncomfortable conversations.
Without boundaries, you will be walked all over with no one to blame but yourself.
People are only out for their own benefit and it is inevitable to have one or a few clients that operate as such. Having boundaries is your way of teaching your clients how you expect to be approached and treated, and that’s a beautiful thing.
One of the first places you set these boundaries are in a contract and in an expectations guideline. When someone signs on as a client or customer, there needs to be a very detailed and clearly communicated outline of expectations you have of them as a client or customer and what they can and can not expect from you.
*Pro tip: have them initial this.
This acknowledgement will act as a reference point for any miscommunications, disagreements or disputes later on.
Business burnout can be avoided, but you have to pay attention to the signs. Any sensitivities, outbursts, changes in appetite or sleep should be considered initial signs and should be addressed accordingly.
Get ahead of it before it takes you down.