After hours, days, and seasons of work demands, it’s easy to burn out. The unspoken reality of being a small business owner is that burnout inevitably happens to all of us at some point. Despite our ambition, our drive, our work ethic, and all of the other great things common to entrepreneurs, there’s no amount of preparation that can stave off burnout forever.
So if burnout is a reality, why don’t we ever know what to do when it strikes? For those of us who are accustomed to an insatiable work ethic, burnout can be incredibly difficult to deal with. It can not only impact our productivity, but also our small businesses.
If you feel burnout coming on or if it takes you by surprise and strikes all at once, here’s what you need to do:
1. Be Honest
Never fall into the trap of thinking you’re invincible. You may be productive, hard-working, ambitious, and many other things, but you’re not invincible. No one can sustain high performance all day for days on end. From creating a to-do list at the beginning of the day, to assessing what needs to happen to grow your business, make sure the expectations you set are realistic. When burnout strikes, recognize it for what it is. Fight your first reaction to just “power through” a feeling if it's actually something that has been persisting for a while.
2. Check In With Yourself
Burnout is a helpful mental sign to check in on your physical health. Consuming copious amounts of coffee or sugar? Feeling sluggish and tired? Aching? All of these are things that your go-getter disposition could be minimizing. Take a moment to check in with your body, and then take as long as you need to attend to any problems you find. Your mind can't be at its highest effectiveness if it's spending part of its energy fighting a problem in your body.
3. Take A Break
Step away from your work. Sleep. Spend time with friends. Go to a park. Make time for yourself.
No one can [healthily] sustain a life of limited sleep and 18-hour work days, so don’t try. Don’t just shut down your laptop for a weekend, shut down your brain. If you’re carrying work in the back of your mind at all times, you’ll lose the ability to focus on other things that matter or truly relax. Make the conscious decision to put work aside - at least for a moment - and focus 100% on your family dinner, your Saturday sports game, or the movie you’re watching. You’ll be so much more refreshed when you come back to work later.
4. Attend to Your Personal Life
Are there things in your personal life that you’ve let slip? How long has it been since you’ve talked to your friends? Have you cleaned your home recently? Are your personal finances in order?
Most of us subconsciously bring our personal lives into our work lives, keeping our personal priorities in the back of our minds while trying to think creatively at work. Nothing is more exhausting than having 1,000 priorities all at once. Take an admin day on your personal life, filing away those loose papers or finally unsubscribing from those junk emails. Instead of adding to your personal to-do list, cross a few things off the list. The accomplishment will give you some motivation to be productive in your work and personal settings.
5. Say “Thank You”
Nothing is more motivating than recognizing how many people stand beside you. When you’re struggling, send “thank you” texts or make “thank you” calls to the people who support your business, work with you, or listen to you vent at home. Because an adequate “thank you” includes what you are thankful for, you’ll be forced to consider how far your business has come and what you have accomplished together. The exercise will be a helpful reminder of what makes your work worth it.
Don’t forget to say “thank you” to yourself. Part of burnout could be caused when you’re unsure of what you’ve accomplished. Keep a journal of what you're grateful to yourself for, or (if that’s too cheesy for you), or make a “done” list, documenting what you’ve accomplished in your business. The bottom line: you’ve done a lot, and you’ve earned a “thank you”.
6. Build Momentum with Little Wins
When you do come back to work, start small. Rather than jumping in on the biggest and most challenging task of the day, work on something that you know you can knock out quickly. A quick win. Crossing the first item off of your to-do list will help you gain confidence for larger and larger tasks as you move throughout your day. Soon, you’ll have enough momentum to tackle the work that caused your burnout in the first place.