Starting a new business is hard work. To be successful, you need to be highly motivated, dedicated and driven. The trouble is, this kind of high-intensity commitment takes its toll.
By Sharon Fishburne
Startup founders are some of the most stressed-out, overworked people on the planet. A survey of 500 tech startups undertaken in the UK last year discovered that 25% of founders are slogging away for more than 60 hours per week, and more than 50% said they never switch off from work, even at weekends or holidays.
This obsessive dedication to building a business is fine – for a while. But if you continue to work all hours, you’re likely to hit burnout pretty fast. Here are five ways to avoid burnout in your life.
1. Stop being driven by fear
In the first year, most startup founders are driven by fear. They fear that their idea is not robust; that they won’t be able to get enough customers or clients to survive; that they’re somehow inadequate, and that it’s only a matter of time before someone calls them out as an imposter.
All this is totally normal and natural. But only in the first year. After that, if the business is growing and clearly sustainable, then this attitude is a psychological issue that needs tackling head on. If you’re still being driven by fear then you need to take two simple, practical steps.
First, look closely at your strategy, plans and the data, such as customer and marketing metrics. Look at where you’ve come from and where you are heading. Lift your vision and focus religiously on the long term. Secondly, really think hard about the worst case scenario. What really is the worst thing that can happen? Plan for that and suddenly, things aren’t quite so frightening.
Make a conscious effort to slow everything down
The problem with being tired and stressed out is that it becomes very hard to see things clearly. You think by running around for 80 hours per week you must be being incredibly effective. But you’re not. What you’re doing is creating a vicious circle. You’re tackling short-term goals one after another, giving yourself the feeling of achievement, but never giving yourself the space, peace or time to lift your vision and truly drive the business forward.
For many founders, the other big issue here is the burning need to demonstrate to others just how hard you’re working; the fear that if they see you slowing down they’ll say you can’t hack the pace. The thing to remember is that it’s you that’s carrying all the responsibility for the business, so you need to think smarter, not move faster.
The best way to avoid burnout is to change your attitude to downtime. Rather than thinking of it as being ‘lazy’, you need to see it as work. Downtime is absolutely vital if you’re going to build a successful business long term. Your brain needs to focus on things other than work in order for you to perform truly effectively at work. Schedule in 20 minutes’ break every couple of hours at the very least. And don’t skip weekends or vacations.
In fact, taking more breaks can improve your decision-making capability, according to research from psychologist S.J. Scott.
3. Give back to your local community
One of the best and simplest ways to break up your routine, get some downtime and stop any lingering guilt is to get active in your local community. It doesn’t matter that your business might be tiny. You can still team up with others to donate your time, skills, money (if you have any!), and resources.
Getting out into the community not only reduces your chances of burnout, it also brings you into contact with potential customers, clients, future employees and other like-minded entrepreneurs.
You don’t have to think big to make a difference. Try partnering with another local business and holding a small fundraising event, maybe a yard sale, or a charity walk at the weekend. Donate your time to a charity one evening per week or hook up with your local school and see if you can help by sharing your business experiences with pupils. If you think laterally, there are lots of ways to give back, and avoid burnout at the same time.
This has become a trend for businesses over the last few years, and as HR expert Sophie Henderson writes, “engagement activities are personally rewarding” and lead to higher levels of morale and productivity.
Ultimately though, remember to have fun when building your business. Yes, building a business is serious work. But it’s all too easy to forget the human need to have some fun!
Sharon Fishburne is CEO of The Sharon Fishburne Consultancy.