The words stress and burnout and are often used interchangeably. “I’m feeling stressed,” and “I’m feeling burned out,” are usually both used to communicate the same thing: that we are doing too much and are paying for it.
While stress and burnout are related, they aren’t the same thing.
Stress is usually short-lived. You might be stressed because of a project you have to finish by tomorrow or because you’re running late for a meeting. You know the feeling: your heart is racing and you’re quick to anger. Burnout is what happens when that stress is felt for a long time. Healthguide.com’s article puts it perfectly when it states, “If excessive stress is like drowning in responsibilities, burnout is being all dried up.”
It turns out that burnout is much more serious than stress.
According to Psychology Today, burnout “is a state of chronic stress that leads to:
- Physical and emotional exhaustion
- Cynicism and detachment
- Feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment”
As you can see, burnout affects it’s suffers on a deeper level than stress. What does burnout look like?
- Chronic fatigue
- Concentration issues
It may be tempting to brush off addressing burnout due to your many responsibilities as a business owner. Addressing burnout takes time away from your business! However, if you’re not sleeping, developing poor health habits, and are heading towards depression, your business is likely suffering as a consequence.
Looking at the list above, burnout is a vicious cycle: you are so stressed, that you can’t sleep, causing you to underperform, which leaves you stressing out even more. Suddenly your concentration is shot. Next thing you know you’re “living” on Bulletproof Coffee and three hours of sleep per night, and have what feels like cotton for a brain.
Luckily, you can stop the vicious cycle of burnout!
So let’s get started.
Here are three areas to focus on when you feel burnout creeping into your life.
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ll always got.” – Henry Ford
Change your Focus
The first and most important step in fixing or avoiding burnout is to cut the fat. Ambitious people tend to take on too many responsibilities. This may seem good for your career on paper, but it’s bad for your body, which means it’s bad for your career in real life. Here’s a great strategy for you ambitious “yes” people: even if you feel you’re operating at an energy level of 10, only take on responsibilities that you could handle at an energy level of 5. That way you have room for natural energy fluctuations and normal life stressors.
Along with being ambitious, many business owners, especially those who are just starting out, are perfectionists. Sometimes perfection is beneficial to your business – like it was for Steve Jobs – but mostly, it’s detrimental.
Seth Godin, prolific author, speaker and thinker, reminds everyone to just “ship.” It’s kind of like Nike’s JUST DO IT™. Not only does perfection hold your business back, but it can contribute to burnout as well. Trying to make something perfect will take you more time and energy than just “shipping” a great product, learning from the experience, and creating an even better version next time.
Perfection also creates a narrow focus. Make sure to step back and look at the big picture. Remember that you aren’t in a 5k, you are in a 26.2 mile marathon and have a long way to go. So keep some energy in reserve for the future.
Body and Mind
Burnout adversely affects your physical and mental states by creating a nasty cycle. Individuals with burnout often suffer from insomnia, leading to further exhaustion, causing them to neglect exercise and turn to carbohydrates and sweets for their energy, which spikes blood sugar levels and makes it hard to fall asleep.
Break that cycle.
Even if you’re tired and running on very little sleep, make a point to exercise, drink plenty of water and eat well. Your body might just thank you with a full night of sleep which will drastically cut down on your burnout.
If you’re sleeping, exercising and eating well, but are still feeling burned out, it could be from something deeper. To figure this out, keep a journal. If it’s thorough, you’ll be able to spot patterns of situations and people who are adding to your burnout.
It could even be a lack of people who are adding to your burnout. If you’re so busy that you’re now suffering from burnout, there’s a good chance that you could stand to hire another employee. Even a part time assistant will do wonders. As The E-Myth by Michael E. Gerber suggests, not bringing on extra help in the form of employees or partners will leave you fried and your business dried. If you are a solopreneur, take a look through your books and set a plan for when you’ll hire your first employee.
After all delegation is one of the most important parts of leadership. If you hoard tasks, your star employees won’t be happy. If you’re not sure what to delegate, start with the tasks you like the least. If you love marketing, but hate keeping track of the books, hire an accountant. Let your skills and interests guide you in this area.
Once you hire someone, not only will they be able to reduce your workload, you’ll finally be able to take a real vacation, complete with unplugging from email and work. If you’re burned out, a working vacation may not do you much good.
It’s important to note that you don’t need to take an exotic vacation to unwind. A burned out brain needs time to recharge, and that can be done anywhere that allows you to unplug. Unplugging might mean different things to different people. For example, my unplugging, is just a different kind of plugged-in: long-term strategic planning style video games are what help my brain re-charge. For someone else, that might mean reading, fishing, or golfing. Figure out what helps you relax and go indulge.
If you can’t hire an employees or freelancer to reduce your workload, there are still strategies to help you eradicate your burnout. Finding mentors is a great approach, especially people who have been in your situation and have built a successful company. Heck, even seek out people who have been in a similar industry and have failed. They’ll have some great insight. Where can you find these mentors? First, tap into your network. There’s a good chance you’ve made a connection along the way who has created a business in the similar industry and faced similar challenges. If not, you can always find and visit a local MeetUp related to your profession. If you have some extra cash to spend on talking to a big wig, you can dial one up using Clarity.fm; a startup by Marc Cuban that connects individuals with top business people – for a hefty price, of course.
Whether you spend hundreds of dollars talking to a mentor or change your routine to get more sleep, one thing is certain: you must find a way to cure your burnout, not just for your sake, but for your business’ sake.
Image courtesy of rana ossama, Flickr Creative Commons