Since the year began, you've probably seen numerous articles about how to change your business (and life) for the better.
This is all very natural, as starting a new year can give us a “new leaf,” so to speak. The past year is gone! It’s another chance, a new hope. Many people may make the resolution to “be more productive,” with the best intentions. However, there can be a fine line between working smarter and working to the point of getting burnt out.
Business founders can be easily susceptible to burnout, as we’re creating things from scratch and involved from the very beginning. We’re there for the birth, and, in some cases, the death of the business. It’s a lot like parenting in the sense that it can be a full-time job and then some.
Why Is Burnout Common Among Founders?
Hollywood and pop culture may have done a disservice to founders, glamorizing the non-stop entrepreneurial lifestyle. There are also plenty of literature and websites dedicated to “crushing it” and working harder than anyone else around you. After all, you can sleep when you’re dead!
But at the core of burnout is this idea: There is an unsustainable balance of work and life.
A few years ago, I launched the Gentlemint site with my business partner, and we happened to have a bit of luck getting unexpected mainstream press. I mean, a lot of it. We found ourselves giving all sorts of interviews, whether it was audio, TV, email-based or phone interviews with reporters during our lunch breaks.
On top of that, the newfound press meant we had a lot of people trying to use our baby site, and it was groaning under the strain. (It was built in 12 hours, after all.) It was an incredibly exciting time for our business, but it also really wore on both my business partner and myself. We were quickly becoming burnt out with our project.
Take Back Control
It’s been my experience that the biggest contributing factor to burnout is the helpless feeling of being out of control. We were getting the kind of press any founder dreams of. How could I not be ecstatic about the attention? But underneath all the attention was a feeling of helplessness.
I no longer had control over my time, as we were giving interviews and working frantically on the site to keep up with the demand. My energy and attention were also tied up in the site, reading reviews (good and bad), replying to emails, even just obsessing over the traffic numbers. And I hadn’t even began to think about competition yet.
I was spending time, energy and attention on things I couldn’t control. Once I really grasped this concept, I realized I wasn’t being sustainable with my resources, and things would have to change.
This really wasn’t an effort of me taking back control, but rather focusing on the things I could control.
Tricks for Avoiding Burnout
It turns out that for me, avoiding burnout was mostly about grounding myself. Here are a few tricks I learned to keep myself refreshed, even though the work blitzes.
- Create daily rituals. I love rituals. I can’t live without my morning routine of reading and meditation. It centers me, allowing me to take stock of every day, and remember why I do what I do. Rituals can also allow you to do things on autopilot, which may free up your brain’s resources to deal with other problems and ideas.
- Batch email and social media. Email can be the worst. But if you’re running a business, it’s probably a necessary evil. Consider turning off alarms and notifications—on your phone, too—that tell you when you’ve got a new email. Instead, you can check your email every hour (or two or three) and reply to new messages then. Same thing with tweets and Facebook notifications. Otherwise, you can spend your day chasing rabbit trails on Facebook and replying to emails.
- Take care of yourself. No, really. Get seven to nine hours of sleep every night. Get adequate exercise, and eat right. If you do these things, you may see gains in your cognitive abilities, mood and how you look in the mirror. All of these things affect how long you’ll be able to take the grind of running a business.
- Focus more on what you can do every day vs. in burst mode. This can be huge, and may be hard to truly understand. I heard it said best like this: You can accomplish so much more a little every day than you can in intense bursts. For example, instead of giving yourself the goal of writing 10 blog posts a week for the company blog, give yourself the goal of writing 500 words per day. The steady formation of a habit can be much more sustainable over time. This may also give you long-term perspective, which is often lost on founders who are just trying to hang on.
Running a business can be tough. You may have to endure a lot. But if you can frame your mind around the long term, putting your efforts into only the things you can control, you may be able to keep burnout at bay.
Read more articles on work-life balance.
A version of this article was originally published on January 19, 2016.