In 2012 burnout hit me like an unsuspecting right hook from Floyd Mayweather.
“You can’t sustain this.”
“You need to take a break.”
“Eventually, you will burnout.”
Those were things that were told to me again and again in 2009 as I embarked on a business that operated 365 days out of the year. My inexperienced and naive self scoffed at the thought that my youthful invincibility would be tested.
Boy, was I wrong.
Burnout was never something I felt coming. I felt stress and pressure, sure, but those didn’t inhibit my ability to do creative work. Yes, they added a tinge of difficulty, but they certainly weren’t insurmountable.
But in 2012, burnout hit me like an unsuspecting right hook from Floyd Money Mayweather. Out of no where I felt like my creative spark was gone. I felt like I couldn’t come up with any new or interesting ideas. And I wanted absolutely nothing to do with my camera or my laptop thanks to filming more than 1,500 daily videos from 2009 to 2012. It’s now three years later, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’m only now feeling like I’ve overcome the disdain for my video camera.
I don’t bring up this topic so you’ll pity me. I also hope I don’t sound like a drama queen. I bring this topic up because I feel that many business owners, creative folks, and entrepreneurs are going to get blindsided by the evil bitch that is burnout, and I want to help you try to avoid that.
The other evening I had a discussion with friends who were both feeling burned out. I could see it on them, like a dingy, dirty, wet trench coat. They looked weighed down and tired.
I want to share a bit of context about these friends. They have two businesses they’re running. One business is established, is a well-oiled machine, and is profitable, but takes multiple hours every day to keep going. Their second business is a brand new business that they’ve been working on for months, but is just starting to see the light of day. The second business has a lot of technical details involved, customer support issues, and is all-around a bigger project.
As a group of us sat chatting in a circle on the floor of our living room, I could see it in their faces. A familiar look that I remember all too well. In most scenarios, I try to hold back a bit on being brutally honest (it gets me in trouble sometimes) but this time I recognized my former self in them and I wanted to get really honest about that.
What I shared with them (and what I’d like to impart upon you) is that burnout is not something you can simply work through.
There’s a difference between working long hours to get the job done and overworking yourself to the point of no return (that last one is burnout).
Avoid burnout by attacking it early
As soon as you see the signs of burnout, you have to attack it. And the best way to attack it? Take breaks. I know that sounds incredibly counterintuitive, but I honestly feel burnout is like an infection. The longer you ignore it and just let it fester, the worse it is going to get and the harder it is going to get rid of.
If you start to feel burnout creeping in, you have to take a step back. That doesn’t mean taking a week off to go to the Bahamas, but it does mean establishing time away from your work.
Set a schedule for yourself
Your schedule could be a specific time, like the hours between 9 to 5 (especially if you work from home). Or it could only be a certain number of hours per day (and you stop, no matter what, when those hours are up). The important part is just that you create a schedule and then stick to it. I’d recommend starting with one schedule, trying it out for a week, and seeing how it feels.
It could also be very helpful for you to keep a journal of how you’re feeling. This might sound a bit “woo woo,” but if doing something that’s a bit “woo woo” helps you avoid an epic meltdown, then I think it’s worth doing. If you’re going to try a new schedule for a week, write in the journal every morning and evening. You don’t have to write a novel, just write a few sentences of how you’re feeling.
If you’re going to try journalling, I’d recommend doing it for a week with your current schedule and then another week with a schedule that allows you some breaks. After those two weeks, read through and see the differences between them. You may still have a feeling of overwhelm, but it might not be as daunting and you may not feel as stressed out.
Burnout doesn’t go away with success
In 2012, I pivoted my IWearYourShirt business to a new model and it was going well enough. I wasn’t swimming in money, Scrooge McDuck style, but things were looking a bit better. Looking back now, I can see that even the shift in my business didn’t help get rid of the burnout. Surprisingly, it actually seemed to continue to get worse.
We tend to think money is going to fix all our problems. But if you have problems before money comes along, and the problems don’t get solved, they’re only going to get worse with the stresses that get brought on by money (more customers to deal with, more employees, higher output of work, more pressure, etc).
Success is simply a byproduct of hard work. Success doesn’t fix problems. It doesn’t heal wounds. It’s merely an outcome.
Ask for help and then take it
The first part of asking for help is difficult. Trust me, I once waited eight entire months to send someone an email who I completely believed could help me out. Pride is a dangerous beast. But it’s the second part that comes along with asking for help that can really cause complications: actually taking the advice you get and doing something with it.
You aren’t doing yourself any favors if you muster up the courage to ask for help and then remain set in your old ways. Whatever you were doing up until the point of asking for help was leading to burnout, so it’s time to make a change. You certainly don’t have to take someone’s full advice, but maybe there’s one small thing you can start doing right away. That one thing might lead to another, which leads to another, etc.
Asking for help is important, but actually doing something with that help might be even more important.
For folks who own their own businesses, burnout is very likely to rear its ugly head at some point or another. You might not be dealing with burnout right now, and in that case, it’s my hope that this article gives you some semblance of preparation when you start to see some signs of it.
I don’t think we as entrepreneurs talk enough about the dangers of overworking ourselves or the negative feelings that can come with running our businesses, feelings like burnout. I hope this article reminds you that your business is not the only thing in your world. If you don’t take time and attention to care for yourself as you continue to follow your dreams, all the success you’re working so hard to achieve won’t be worth what you had to sacrifice to get it.
Take care of yourself and your business will follow.