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How to avoid burnout as a business owner

I could tell he didn’t want to sell his company.

My client had supposedly called me to talk about selling. But right away, it was clear that something else was going on.

You see, his business was doing great—it had grown bigger than he’d ever dreamed. The real problem was he was exhausted.

I glanced over at his computer and peeked at his calendar. All-day, every day, he was booked in meetings!

On a hunch, I asked him, “What got you into this business in the first place?”

He got this far off stare and told me about his love for crafting narratives. That’s what his business does—they tell incredible stories for brands that bring complex ideas to life.

But he didn’t do it himself much anymore. Instead, he spent most of his time in meetings discussing things like benefit plans—crap he didn’t care about.

No wonder he was so tired.

This story reveals one of the common culprits behind burnout in business owners: Not spending enough time in your zone of genius.

What is the “zone of genius?”

The zone of genius is a concept that Gay Hendricks made popular in his book, The Big Leap According to Hendricks, everyone has a zone of genius. It’s the area that comes most naturally to you. But it’s also something that you love do, so much that you can find yourself in a state of “flow,” where you don’t notice the time passing.

The more you practice in your zone of genius, the better at it you become. But unlike other stuff you’re pretty good at, in your zone of genius, it’ll be easier for you to stand out among other highly skilled people because you have that innate gift.

Why should you care about your zone of genius?

The short answer is that when you spend a lot of time working in your zone of genius, you’re happier. But there are also other benefits to finding and prioritizing your zone of genius.

When you aren’t spending time doing tasks you don’t like or aren’t good at; you won’t feel so exhausted—physically, mentally, and emotionally. This means you have the energy and clarity to think big-picture, driving even more of your business into your zone of genius. Then, when you feel fulfilled and confident in your zone of genius every day, you win more work!

Spending more time in your zone of genius fills your gas tank. Do you ever feel like you are running on fumes? That’s what happens when you work all day outside your zone of genius.

How to find YOUR zone of genius

It’s not always obvious what your zone of genius is. If you’ve spent years with your head down growing your business, maybe you didn’t pay close attention to what felt “right” to you. But you can figure it out now.

Eliminate the activities you aren’t good at

We can’t be good at everything.

Something that you’re not good at—or something that feels harder for you than other people—is not going to be your zone of genius. The same thing goes for any area where you have limited knowledge.

For me, that thing was scheduling. Anyone who has worked with me for any period knows that I have about a dozen ways to schedule something wrong, and I do them all regularly. So I knew that organization was not my zone of genius.

You might find that you struggle with bookkeeping, website development, graphic design, or something else.

But don’t mistake just being good at something for your zone of genius

A part of your zone of genius is that you’re naturally pretty good at it. But that’s only a part. You also have to love it!

I’m good at creating spreadsheets that help people make clear decisions and understand their business better. But whenever I have a spreadsheet to work on, it falls to the bottom of my list. It’s tedious and draining for me. People will pay me cash money for my spreadsheets—but I don’t want to do them.

People want to pay us for lots of things that we’re good at. But not everything that we’re good at gives us life! We can be good at something and still never want to do it again.

If it always ends up on the bottom of your to-do list, that’s a sign it’s outside your zone of genius.

Remember why you started your business in the first place

Years of working hard to grow our company can make us forget the spark that started it all.

Just like I asked my client at the beginning of this article, ask yourself, “What got you into this business in the first place?” Your answer will help reveal your zone of genius.

Your zone of genius can change over time

A lot of us are good at many different things. So our zone of genius can shift over time as the things we most enjoy change.

Remember how I said that I was good at making spreadsheets but didn’t like doing it? That wasn’t always the case. When I was younger, making a great spreadsheet gave me joy. (It really did!) But now that I’ve done about a million spreadsheets it doesn’t give me joy anymore. It feels tedious and draining.

My zone of genius changed from solving problems with spreadsheets and data to solving problems with people and processes.  So, just because you once loved something doesn’t mean you have to love it forever. Be honest about how you feel now.

Use your zone of genius to assess and learn to delegate

Once you know what your zone of genius is, look at your typical day in your business. How much time do you spend in your zone of genius? How much time do you spend outside that zone? Remember, you might be the best person in your company at doing something, but that doesn’t mean it’s yours to do.

Business owners I work with find that they’re not spending nearly enough time in their zone of genius—and that’s why they feel burnt out.

To fix this, you could change your business model or fire some clients to eliminate any work outside of your zone of genius.

But a better approach is to learn to delegate. You can outsource the activities you don’t like to do, or you’re not good at doing so that you can focus more on your zone of genius.

Easy ways to delegate

Find a way to delegate that feels most comfortable for you. The three most common ways to delegate are to…

  • Hire a virtual assistant part-time to do different types of tasks outside your zone of genius (read my  guide on hiring a VA )
  • Hire an employee to take over a whole part of your business that’s outside your zone of genius (such as sales, marketing, accounting, customer service, or tech support)
  • Hire a freelancer to do creative work outside your zone of genius (like graphic design, writing, social media, or photography)

But…why delegate when you can DIY for free?

Because doing-it-yourself isn’t free, when you add up all the time you spend doing things outside your zone of genius, it usually ends up being a pretty hefty number.

Now, think about how much money you could bring in if you put that time toward growing your business. And think about how much more efficient you’d be in your zone of genius, completing more and more billable work. Don’t forget about how much happier and more fulfilled you’d be when you spend your days in your zone of genius. (Now that, is priceless.)

When we work outside our zone of genius we’re emptying our tank – we can only do it for so long before we run out of gas!

It’s surprising, but outsourcing or delegating can bring in more money than it costs you. Back when I decided to hire a virtual assistant for the first time, I got 20% of my time back. And even if I only put half that toward billable work…I was earning 10% more! Much more than my VA was charging me.

Get back to your zone of genius and doing what you love

If, right now, you feel like my client was at the beginning of this article—exhausted, lost, considering selling your business—take a breath. You don’t have to sell just because you feel burnt out.

There’s usually a way to re-shape your day-to-day to make it more aligned with your zone of genius. It’s possible to make running your business something you love to do again.

A simple place to start is to sign up for our  “5 Days to Get Control of Your Business (and Your Life)  email course. It’s free, and it’s easy to implement even when you’re busy.

By the way, you can get a 5 day plan to get rid of that overwhelmed feeling and get moving again. Learn more here.