The stereotype of a business owner is the ever optimistic ball of energy who’s working hard, playing hard and enjoying life; and I meet a fair number of business owners who fit that stereotype. Over the last couple of years though I’ve noticed that a growing number of the folks I’m meeting fit in a different category. They are still optimistic and full of ideas, but their energy is more muted, sometimes edgy. As I talk to them I notice that they’ve been fighting and clawing to get their business going for a number of years, and though they don’t really think about it—they’re tired—maybe even exhausted. On the outside they’ve still got the positive, optimistic vibe going, but on the inside all is not well. The long fight to build a business is accumulating toward exhaustion and even burnout.
Burnout is a human reaction to stress and activity that continues without a break for a long time. It builds up as we focus more and more of our time, energy and attention on our business to the detriment of our social support network, physical and mental health. If you feel exhausted, start to hate your business, and begin to feel less capable at work, you are showing signs of burnout.
But business owners (as a group) can hold out longer than worker bees in the fight against burnout. Our natural optimism and passion for our business often masks the discouragement and despair. So we keep on going without treating the underlying issues that are affecting our ability to work effectively.
Here’s 7 signs that you might be headed for burnout.
1. You get less than 7 hours sleep on a regular basis
MIT’s Sloan Managment Review identifies regular sleep as the best antidote for a fatigued or stressed-out workforce. Research also indicates that it compromises our ability to make complex decisions, make memories, and focus. If that’s not enough to convince you, people who regularly sleep less than 6.5 hours a night put themselves at a higher risk of mortality.
If you want to perform at a high level prioritize good sleep.
2. You keep putting off important items on your to-do list
(like writing a proposal, or finishing client work) and instead get obsessed with more trivial matters (like Twitter).
During my college years my dorm room was never cleaner than during finals week! By the end of a quarter my stress level was high, I had been burning the candle at both ends for a few months and studying for finals just overwhelmed me.
I see business owners in that same situation when they’ve got a big proposal, or client project looming, but they are stressed and overwhelmed—so they just can’t get started on that project. Instead they work on their social media strategy, try to get to “inbox zero” or daydream about a new service offering.
Turns out that procrastination is a common response to stress and exhaustion! but it’s also not a preferred leadership strategy!
3.You are snappy and difficult to your team and your family.
“The number one cause of problems that negatively impact relationships is not sex, money or infidelity, but stress from our jobs”, says Jeannie Assimos, Chief of Advice, eharmony. That same stress also affects our relationships with co-workers. Are you yelling more than you like? Do you feel like you want to fire your whole staff? The problem might not be them, it might be you.
In my case abusing caffeine makes this affect much worse. I get more impatient and edgy the more coffee I drink (so I stopped drinking coffee).
Good relationships with family and friends can be a tremendous help to coping with stress and burnout, but the closer we edge toward burnout the less able we are to get that support as our burnout erodes the health of our relationships.
Time away from work with family and friends is a key element in preventing burnout.
4. You aren’t taking care of basic “Maintenece” issues and it’s affecting your health. (When was your last physical?)
One of the best cures for burnout and feeling overwhelmed is self-care, but when we’re overachieving and burning the candle at both ends we ignore our health, both physical and mental. “I don’t have time to be sick” means you don’t have time to even do the preventative things you know you need to do, physicals, dental cleanings, exercise, and healthy eating all fall by the wayside when we’re over-invested in our “doing”.
Taking time every day for a short walk, for pleasure reading, for coffee with a friend (who doesn’t care about your business) isn’t wasting time, it’s taking care of your business’ most important asset, you.
Putting off these kinds of self care activities is one of the quickest routes to burnout. Working all the time kills creativity and ultimately productivity.
5. You get sick a lot.
The other thing that happened usually right after finals week is that I got sick. At some point all the stress and running around catch up with you as a business owner too, and the result is similar. If you won’t stop and get rest by choice your body forces you to do it.
When we’re stressed, the immune system’s ability to fight off antigens is reduced. That is why we are more susceptible to infections.
If you are sick, you can’t lead your business. Prioritizing your health *is* building your business.
6. You are just tired all the time.
OK, as we age we are tired a lot. Maybe you’ve got young kids (or teenagers) that are impacting your ability to sleep, but this tired goes beyond that. This is a kind of “bone tired” where simple things like lifting a pencil or getting up out of your chair seem to require Herculean efforts.
Whether it’s physical exhaustion, stress related fatigue, or depression, that tired means you body is trying to tell you something. You can only ignore it for so long.
When we feel tired our body is telling us we need rest.
7. When you do have “downtime” you don’t know what to do, so you end up watching TV, or scrolling through social media.
When the leisure time we give ourselves isn’t restorative that’s a real danger sign. I see folks who try to get more rest for themselves, but they don’t know how to rest, their friends feel distant (because they haven’t called in a while), they don’t have a book to read… So they pull out their laptop and get back to work! Wanting to be “productive” is fine, but resting is productive. Your rest enables your work.
We get out of the habit of resting then when we have a chance we don’t know what to do.
So how many of these symptoms do you exhibit? Even just a few of these symptoms indicate a need for more breaks, time off and rest. A long weekend, or even just some daily self-care can go a long way to getting you back on track.
These symptoms likely didn’t just start yesterday. If you’ve been experiencing this for a while I’d like to help. I’ve created a 5 day email course designed to help you to take the first steps toward getting back to a better, more positive and lively you. I’m not going to solve all your problems in 5 days — but my goal is to teach some basic concepts for dealing with your team, your work and your personality that will buy you some margin so that you have room to make some positive first steps. It’s a pretty low bar, click the link and let me send you a week’s worth of emails. It might make all the difference…