Sometime in the middle of 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) added ‘burnout’ to its handbook of International Classification of Diseases or the ICD-11 as an occupational phenomenon. Chronic workplace stress, endless to-do lists, constant feelings of fatigue. Entrepreneurs who are working on ideas to build and/or grow something from scratch are very well acquainted with these terms and feelings. As an organisation grows, there is an increasing number of decisions to be made and departments to be led. It only grows from that point on and the workload never ceases to exist.
This workload gets trickier to combat in the case of an entrepreneur because you are solely responsible for the organisation’s operations as well as strategic health. In the midst of this, it is easy to forget about one’s own health! It doesn’t help that the idea of overworking and hustling has been glamorised to the extent of detriment. It’s not new that the hustle culture has its cons. As entrepreneurs, we need to put in extra effort and time, but establishing healthy habits to prevent burnout is equally important, in the long run!
Here are a few steps one can take to safeguard against the abyss of burnout:
1. Be protective of your routine and time
If you want to make the best of your time and establish healthy boundaries between working hours and non-working hours, you have to be extremely protective of your routine and time. Having a routine cuts your anxieties in half. How? Think of it this way: there are plenty of uncertainties in the act of running a business. If your routine will be unpredictable as well, you may not end up accomplishing much.
Here is a hack: Start your day with the thing that is on top of your priority list and that requires your creative inputs. If you start your day by doing something monotonous and uninspiring like responding to emails and texts, you will lose out on the best hours of your day.
Use the wee hours of the morning to set your schedule for the day, or better yet, make a checklist the night before. This simple exercise can help prevent a crisis of decision fatigue. You should know your breaking point and take a pause when you reach it during the day.
2. Identify the triggers of your stress
The most prominent symptom of burnout is stress. While some levels of positive stress can serve the purpose of pushing you to perform, too much stress over a prolonged period can push you to exhaustion. It is imperative that you identify the triggers and activities that exacerbate your stress and anxieties. If there are particular instances or meetings that cause you panic or stress, you can work to pluck out and eliminate the cause of the stress in that specific situation. If you can keep stress at bay, the battle is half won!
“I have a theory that burnout is about resentment. And you beat it by knowing what it is you’re giving up that makes you resentful.” – Marissa Mayer
3. Meditate and exercise to create mind space
The time you spend meditating and/or working out will help keep you away from the screens and the workplace in general. There are additional benefits of meditation and yoga, including stress alleviation. Yoga is also said to develop and strengthen your counter-stress response system called the parasympathetic nervous system.
Drawing from the idea of the creation of mind space without distractions and noise, you should set aside some time each day when you can unplug. In this age of hyperconnectivity, you can get overwhelmed attending all the phone calls, and parading from one meeting to another. Take a break every day when you have a little time to yourself so your mind can rest. This is also the time you can set aside time for quiet reflection and try to live mindfully.
5. Build a great team
This is easier said than done, but if you put together a dream team, you can count on them to shoulder part of the overall responsibility and decision-making. They can focus on specific departments and look at things from a vantage point that you may not have, being the boss. You can delegate work to good workers and managers – work smarter, not harder!
6. Redefine self-care
As an entrepreneur who is hustling hard to kick projects off the ground and experimenting every step of the way, it is important to define your idea of self-care and then treat yourself to it. It could be meditation or working out for some as discussed before, or reading a book or watching TV or cinema for others. Work-life balance is key.
“In dealing with those who are undergoing great suffering, if you feel burnout setting in, if you feel demoralized and exhaust, it is best for the sake of everyone, to withdraw and restore yourself. The point is to have a long term perspective.” – Dalai Lama
When they talk about how giving feels good, they aren’t exaggerating. But how can giving back to society help you prevent burnout? It is the same principle – when you give your time instead of money, you are choosing to connect with the real world. For instance, if you volunteer at a dog shelter, you are coming in contact with helpless dogs – and such experiences can help put things in perspective. You could be teaching underprivileged kids or at a community college, mentor young people, spend time at an old age home or community clinic. Volunteering is truly a way of getting unalloyed, unconditional happiness.
Part of why involvement in an activity that doesn’t reap monetary benefits is beneficial is because it is believed that we can easily fall prey to converting every hobby or recreational activity into a capitalistic pursuit. And that is only an invitation for more stress. When you are involved in a pursuit without any strings attached and without expecting anything in return, you are able to enjoy the process for what it is.
Burnout can be easily avoided if you know where to draw the lines. Even so, the passion of an entrepreneurial spirit is hard to beat. Make sure you strike the right balance.