How to Stay Sane While Running Your Own Business. I’ve been doing it for 15+ years.

Photo by Michael McAuliffe on Unsplash

By Eric Sangerma

When you’re an entrepreneur, it’s hard to admit that you’re burning out.

You should count yourself lucky. You’re — presumably — doing what you love, chasing your big dream. There’s no boss breathing down your neck. You can take time off when you need it.

Even when all that’s true, burnout is a real risk for you. And if you don’t address it, it can destroy everything you built. Here’s what you need to do to make sure that doesn’t happen.

1. Find out why you’re burning out. It’s usually more complicated than just working too much.

Gallup reports that 3 out of 4 people experience burnout at least some of the time. More interestingly:

“Gallup’s analysis shows that the number of hours people work each week does matter, with burnout risk increasing significantly when employees exceed 50 hours and climbing even higher after 60 hours. But how people experience their workload has a stronger influence on burnout than hours worked. In fact, engaged employees who have job flexibility tend to work more hours per week than the average employee, while reporting higher wellbeing.”

In other words: burnout isn’t just the result of working long hours. And you can’t fix it by working less.

Conventional wisdom is to take a day off or go on vacation when you feel close to burning out. But I guarantee that won’t help. It might even make things worse if you spend the whole time ruminating about ongoing problems.

The real reasons behind burnout are:

•Lack of control over what is happening to you

•Unclear goals and expectations

•Isolation

•Lack of emotional distance, etc.

•Instead of a three-day weekend, you need clarity and comprehensive changes.

•Always start with understanding yourself.

2. Avoid mindless, repetitive tasks.

If you feel like nothing you do matters, burnout is inevitable. That’s why so-called bullshit jobs have a high burnout rate even if they’re low-pressure.

Most entrepreneurs have a clear sense of purpose… but we also have to deal with tons of paperwork and organizational work. It sucks and it can’t be avoided.

Make sure you understand why you’re doing everything you do. If it doesn’t have a purpose (in the short or the long term), cut it out of your workload.

Do your best to streamline your most boring tasks, mix things up when they start to feel stale, and don’t follow convention.

Remember, you’re the decision-maker here. You have all the flexibility you want.

Avoiding burnout can be as simple as delegating some tasks you hate or canceling useless meetings.

3. Embrace voluntary distractions. Eliminate involuntary ones.

Home life is full of distractions, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, remote workers are generally more productive than those doing the same job at the office.

Working from home can help you prevent burnout, as long as you can choose when you get distracted.

If your workload feels dreary, turn off your computer. Go out for a walk, pet a dog, water some plants. Spend time with people you love. Do all of this intentionally — it’s not a guilty pleasure, it’s a deliberate decision you’re making. Spontaneous breaks can be a lifesaver.

Use your freedom to its full extent. But when you’re working, don’t let involuntary distractions creep in.

Soundproof your door, lock your office, turn the phone off. If your attention starts to wander, reel it back in with a simple mantra (like “go back to work”). Procrastination will lock you in a vicious cycle of burnout-inducing stress, so avoid any possible sources of distraction.

It’s also wise to remove any clutter from your home office, such as empty mugs, etc. Own your space. Your brain will feel less overwhelmed when you’re surrounded by clear surfaces.

4. Guard your free time.

If you’re an entrepreneur, work will eventually start seeping into your free time. You may end up falling for that old motto: “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Please understand: this is bullshit. Work is work. You can have all the passion and dedication in the world, and you still deserve to stop working at the end of the day.

But what if you can’t stop thinking about work? What if you find yourself thinking about it in bed, and then all through the weekend? During family dinners and in the middle of your kid’s birthday party?

If that’s the case for you, you have to take drastic steps. Set up rules that assert your boundaries: for example, never check your notifications after 8 pm. Lock away your laptop when the workday’s done.

In his book, Deep Work, Cal Newport recommends a strict shutdown ritual:

Every night before the workday is done, make sure that every incomplete task has been reviewed. Then create a plan to complete each task. Record that plan. Once you’ve done that, stop thinking about work. “You must then accept the commitment that once your day shuts down, you cannot allow even the smallest incursion of professional concerns into your field of attention.”

You can also distance yourself from your workplace mindset by changing clothes, putting on music, turning off the overhead lights, etc. But if your thoughts still keep returning to the job, you need to work on your mindfulness.

Meditation and journaling can both help you shake off the habit that’s destroying your ability to relax. Therapy is always an option if that’s not enough!

5. Don’t become a hermit.

It’s always been lonely at the top. The shift to working from home only increased the isolation that impacts entrepreneurs.

Don’t let work keep you away from meaningful relationships. Schedule some time off with the people you care about, don’t just leave it to chance. If someone wants to hang out, don’t keep blowing them off. It’ll never be “a good time” to take a break, so why not do it right now?

But you should also cultivate your professional relationships. Talk to people who’re in the same shoes. Share your woes and be generous with your advice.

We live in a dog-eat-dog society that doesn’t value cooperation very highly. But you don’t have to accept that. If you extend a hand to other people in your field, you might find an ally in the neverending fight against burnout.

Understand the Risk and Act Accordingly

The biggest problem with being an entrepreneur is that you can’t just “phone it in”. You have to give your job your full attention. When you’re burned out, it becomes much harder to think creatively. Your business may crash just because you’re too apathetic and distracted.

When you accept this cruel truth, your priorities will change. It’s clearly more important to take care of yourself than complete every task flawlessly.

You can’t avoid burnout by being smart or hardworking or lucky enough. The only way to do it is to maintain strong boundaries between your life and your job, and always seek meaning in what you do.

Never lie to yourself about how you’re doing. And if you’re struggling, ask for help.