Burnout became an especially painful issue during the pandemic when the majority of people worked from home, finding it difficult to draw the line between work and private life. However, entrepreneur burnout has been less discussed, despite evidence that entrepreneurs are at a higher risk of burning out.
It may seem that as the boss, you are more in control of your time and work duties. Feeling stressed? Take a day off. Don’t feel like doing something? Give the task to someone else. But in reality, the responsibility of leading a company weighs heavy on many company owners.
In addition, when you’re passionate about growing your business, it can be tricky to notice the symptoms of burnout. It may take long months or even years of putting yourself through survival mode before you notice that your body or mind has raised a white flag.
The tips compiled here will help you avoid entrepreneur burnout and tackle already existing burnout symptoms, like exhaustion, sleep problems, irritability, weakened immune system, and others. However, if you feel that these have already become serious issues, it’s a good idea to consult a doctor or a psychotherapist in addition to following these tips.
1. Find a Reliable Business Partner
There’s a reason why most startups nowadays have at least two or three people on the founding team. Starting and growing a business is a challenging endeavor and can become a gargantuan task if you sign up to do it alone. Even if it may seem doable at first, new responsibilities, needs, and issues will arise as your company grows.
If you’re lucky, you already have a trustworthy partner to share the highs and lows of managing a business. If you’re going at it solo but would like to find a business partner, look for someone who:
- you trust and, ideally, have already worked with, either as colleagues or co-founders;
- has a complementary skillset and temper;
- has similar work habits and ethics;
- will be equally invested in the business, both financially, practically, and emotionally.
Rihards Piks, the co-founder of on-demand supplement fulfillment service Supliful, shares that he and his business partner Martins were childhood friends and had already worked on several business ideas together before Supliful. Their close-knit partnership played a crucial role when their previous business was facing bankruptcy: “When we decided to take out personal loans to save our business from going under, we both took an equal share of the risk – and an equal share of the loan. Neither Martins nor I became a tag-along co-founder.”
2. Set Your Priorities as Soon as Possible
When starting your business, the list of tasks and plans seems endless, and it’s clear as day that it’s not humanly possible to attend to all of them. That’s why priority setting is so important when you’re a company owner. In other words, take small but focused steps in the right direction.
If your company is still at a very early stage, prioritize the tasks that help you create a Minimum Viable Product or MVP to kick your business off and start attracting customers. An MVP is the most basic version of your business idea that can operate. Gather the first clients, and get valuable feedback.
If you’re leading an already established business, think about slowly transferring operational tasks to others, keeping the focus on company goals and other crucial aspects of your business.
Jonna Piira, the founder of Kali, worked on too many projects until she was forced to take some time off due to an unfortunate fall down the stairs. That’s when she realized she was experiencing entrepreneur burnout and decided to take a critical look at her list of priorities: “I reviewed everything that I was doing. I listed all of my commitments from most fulfilling to least. I then reviewed how much time each commitment was taking each week. Then I cut out the items at the bottom of my list.”
3. Delegate Instead of Micromanaging
First-time founders are at the highest risk of entrepreneur burnout simply because they operate in high uncertainty and thus, feel they have to be responsible for every aspect of the business and control everything. More experienced business owners know that it’s impossible—and unnecessary—to participate in every process and decision within the company.
Instead of trying to control everything, follow these tactics:
- Hire great people and trust them to fulfill their responsibilities.
- Remember the list of your priorities and focus on them instead of constantly checking your team’s performance.
- If necessary, schedule weekly or monthly meetings with different teams and employees to stay in the loop about the most critical processes.
- Delegate straightforward manual tasks to freelancers (e.g., from platforms like Fiverr or Upwork).
- Prepare documentation to streamline how processes run within the company (more on this in the next section).
Toms Panders, co-founder and CEO of ad tech startup Setupad, said: “Prior to launching Setupad, I had spent almost 10 years in the advertising industry, so I felt that I knew how to do things the right way and wanted to participate in every decision made within the company. However, as the company was quickly growing, I realized that I must release the reins and trust my team if I want to stay sane and avoid burning out. I also realized that micromanaging is an overhead cost. I prefer to invest in improving the hiring process and education.”
4. Document Processes and Guidelines
To avoid having to participate in every process within the company, it’s a smart move to streamline your company’s standard operating procedures (SOPs) as soon as possible. These are the documented processes specific to your industry or type of work and describe the steps necessary to complete tasks according to industry regulations.
SOPs are crucial for running a smooth business operation and for onboarding new employees as swiftly as possible. Following such step-by-step documentation, anyone can complete tasks and lead basic projects.
When starting a small business, it may seem that SOPs aren’t necessary, but as your company grows, you’ll see that such documentation saves your valuable time that you’d have to spend mentoring instead of tending to other business goals. Now, this is not to say that SOPs substitute all human interaction during onboarding and delegating tasks, but they are a huge help and time-saver.
5. Use Apps That Save Time and Automate Tasks
Automation can help your business scale without you having to be involved in the mundane and repetitive part of it. Whenever you feel like you’re spending too much time doing something manually, check if there isn’t an app to do it for you! Chances are, there’s already existing technology that will solve your problem and automate processes without requiring much effort and time from you or your team, while you focus on creating value for your clients.
For example, there’s no need to manage and assign tasks manually and control who’s responsible for what when there are so many great project management apps out there. Why create attendance shifts and issue invoices manually when effective time management tools can do it for you? Many of these tools offer free trials, so you can test them out before committing to a purchase.
Julia Gifford, co-founder of PR and content marketing agency Truesix shared with us: “I can’t emphasize how much time and nerves I saved when I switched from manually creating invoices in Google Docs to using invoicing software. It seemed inconsequential at first, which is why it took so long to make the switch. But it’s the little things that are done automatically that really ended up making a difference – like setting the date, due date, calculating totals, calculating VAT. It has made invoicing so much faster, not to mention with significantly fewer errors. Now I don’t dread this task every month like I used to, and am a much happier person for it.”
6. Nourish Your Life Outside of Work
Here’s a universal truth that many entrepreneurs have learned the hard way: it’s rarely only work that causes entrepreneur burnout. Usually, it’s a combination of different external factors, lifestyle aspects, and personality traits.
For one, the health of your mind is directly linked to the health of your body. Neglecting physical activities, eating unhealthy food, sleeping too little, smoking, and drinking too much—all these contribute to burnout.
If you experience stress, it’s crucial to learn to deal with it healthily, whether it’s through meditation, sports, massage, or something else that relaxes you. In addition, make sure you take sufficient breaks and exercise or at least take a walk also during work hours.
Armands Broks, the founder of fintech company TWINO, shares how he experienced burnout back in 2017: “I had to turn my company around and basically start from scratch. As burnout wasn’t a widely discussed topic back then, I went through it all alone. This experience taught me that to maintain mental health, all areas of life need to be in balance. You cannot focus only on work, neglecting your body or your emotions. If you cannot hold that balance, getting burned out is only a matter of time.”
That said, many passionate and ambitious entrepreneurs and especially startup founders find it hard to slow down and stop working when they still feel they could do so much. Armands Broks told us, “One of the difficult decisions I had to make was handing over the reins of my business to another person. I delegated my operational responsibilities, deciding to focus only on business strategy and growth agenda.”
Learning from his struggles, Armands has emphasized his company’s employee wellbeing strategy, placing even greater emphasis on mental health. For example, employees are allowed to take some days off for the sake of their mental health or simply resting.
Watch Out for Entrepreneur Burnout
Entrepreneur burnout can creep up on people who are ambitious and excited about what they do. In addition, entrepreneur burnout doesn’t happen only when things aren’t going well. Many company founders running successful businesses can be just as susceptible to this modern plague.
On the bright side, experiencing burnout often teaches a valuable lesson and forces people to switch to more balanced and healthy lifestyles. If you feel burned out now right now, follow these tips and hang in there! Chances are, you’ll come out of this stronger, calmer, and with a new set of priorities.
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