We’ve all felt burned out at one point or another — that feeling of total fatigue, both mental and physical, which comes from working ourselves too hard. Soon we’re experiencing symptoms like depression and exhaustion, feeling cynical and adrift. It’s ironic that at the point of burnout, the harder we work on something, the more detached we feel.
Burnout can happen to anyone at any time, but it’s especially common for entrepreneurs: A survey of founders found that about half worked more than 50 hours a week (some as much as 80 hours) and just over 40% reported feeling stressed every day. And amid the COVID-19 pandemic, these numbers are only rising: Nearly half of U.S. employees report feeling burnt out, and one in four said they’re feeling burnout due to the pandemic.
It makes sense that starting a new business often leads to burnout. Entrepreneurs often feel they can never stop working because not working means they’re not doing enough to launch and grow their business. How else can they cover the costs of starting up?
Yet, it’s clear that working too hard for too long can actually hurt your company in the long run.
Here are eight ideas for avoiding burnout when starting a new business
Delegate and divide up responsibility
When starting a new company, it can be tempting to be intimately involved in every aspect of the business. If you want something done right, do it yourself. Right?
Wrong! The startup stage is actually the perfect time to give up responsibility and delegate. If you are a sole proprietor, that can mean passing off bookkeeping to an accountant or hiring a virtual assistant for the task. If you have employees, help prevent burnout in all parties by assigning responsibilities. Studies show that job satisfaction rises as employees gain control and autonomy in their positions.
Don’t micromanage — instead, empower, and see how good it feels to take tasks off your plate.
Set clear expectations
Clearly outline what you expect from your team, and if the occasional late night, early morning or short weekend is to be expected, let them know up front. Additionally, set clear goals and expectations for yourself. The thought that you’ll “Work as hard as you can as long as you can” is a good way to accelerate burnout. By setting a bar to clear for the week or month, you prevent overworking yourself just for work’s sake.
Give people (including yourself) time off
Here’s the most obvious tip of them all: take breaks. Breaks will actually make the time you spend working more productive and meaningful. It’s important to take breaks throughout the day to move around and refresh — just a five-minute walk can improve your mental health and boost creativity.
You should also find time to schedule vacations away from the office that are free of electronic devices. Short vacations can be just as effective in restoring well-being as long vacations, so consider taking shorter, more frequent vacations as opposed to the occasional long one. Your work will thank you for it.
Devote yourself to a “think week”
As we’ve established, time off is crucial for recharging your batteries and stoking creative fires. Go a step further and plan a “Think Week” on your calendar. Bill Gates has become famous for taking these week-long breaks away from work, cutting communication off from his team, family and friends, even civilization. By tuning out and disconnecting completely, Gates plotted the course for Microsoft’s success, and did so without sending a single text message or email to his team.
Create opportunities for growth
Finding new ways for you or your employees to grow and learn can break up the monotony of your days and turn work into play. When it comes to minimizing burnout for your team, helping them understand their path toward bigger and better roles will also benefit you. No one wants to feel as though they’re working a dead-end job, and a roadmap to success will help your employees power through the doldrums of their current role.
Respect people’s personal lives
The phrase “work-life balance” has become a buzzword over the past few years as the line between being on and off the clock blurs. Quite simply, the best way to avoid burning people out is to give them a life outside of work.
There are a few ways to do this: institute flexible scheduling so your team can be on the clock based on when and how they get work done; encourage people to take their paid time off; or create a policy of no work emails or communications after a certain time each night.
Develop and lean on your network
Whether you’re a solopreneur or leading a team, you’ll still need someone who you can bounce ideas off of and vent to outside of your organization. Find a mentor or a peer in your industry through virtual networking events or online forums whom you can lean on when difficult decisions or trying times weigh you down.
Find your outlet
We all have a hobby, activity or routine that brings us happiness whenever we practice it. As entrepreneurs, we often let our outlets fall by the wayside when we need them the most. Even when it feels impossible, carve out the time to utilize your outlet every day, whether it’s going for a run, meditating, writing short stories or volunteering for a good cause. If you give yourself the time to use your outlet effectively, you’ll almost always come back to your work focused and ready to go.
Burnout, like many mental health-related issues, isn’t always an obvious culprit for why you’re feeling dejected and disinterested. The first step to beating burnout is acknowledging its effects. Once you recognize that you’re suffering from it, you can take some of the above steps to address it and come back to your startup with a level head, better than ever.
Originally Feb. 13, 2019.