This article first appeared in The Holland Times.
Entrepreneurs are known for being workaholics. The downside of loving your job is that you run the risk of burnout if you don’t factor in enough time to relax and unwind. And while people often pursue the entrepreneurial path to get away from typical office constraints like set hours and having a boss, the reality is that clients can quickly step in to fill these roles. Depending on the nature of your business, you might be working with clients that need deliverables by a certain date or time, or who require regular meetings to touch base on the progression of your project.
Unlike a standard office job, running your own business means your to-do is endless: beyond your actual work, you’ve got to manage your tax returns, market your business, keep your pipeline filled with leads for new business, send sales emails, deal with customer enquiries, and work on big-picture strategy. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, and that’s why it’s all the more important to find a working rhythm that works for you, and that incorporates sufficient downtime.
1. Work out your boundaries
The first step to avoiding burnout is to decide your boundaries. Are you happy to do the odd bit of work on the weekend, but want evenings free? Or are Saturday and Sunday totally sacred? Maybe you want to be able to take off a full month every year to travel. Being an entrepreneur is supposed to mean you have freedom to live your life as you choose, so make sure you know what your ideal week would look like.
2. Communicate your boundaries
Even if you’re the only person in your company, you’ve still got to clearly communicate your boundaries to clients. If you don’t want people emailing you after 5pm, add an out-of-office that tells people not to expect a reply before a certain time. And if you’d rather keep meetings to a minimum, explain that you’ve only got a 15 minute time slot available to chat, helping clients to prioritise what’s really important. If you’ve got staff, ensure that all bases are covered so that they don’t have to contact you when you’re out of office. Consider a Golden Rules document containing all the relevant information about your company and its systems and processes, or appoint a stand-in to take over when you’re off-duty.
3. Have a digital detox
We live on our phones, especially during the pandemic when all business is conducted virtually. Make sure you take time away from technology to give your eyes and your brain a chance to get some much-needed rest. The idea of a digital sabbath is gaining traction, with people taking 24 hours away from technology from Friday to Saturday evening. If you can’t bear to part from social media for that long, schedule at least one screen-free hour per day. You’ll have more room for creativity, and more space to develop that million dollar idea.
4. Make time for hobbies
It’s great if you love your job, but it’s also important to maintain hobbies outside of work. Have you always loved long bike rides in the country? Or perhaps you’re into cooking? Maybe yoga is your idea of a relaxing evening. Whatever is it, make time for your hobbies. We need downtime to make sure we can work at our best during the week. It can be tempting to skip that swim or that coffee with a friend in favour of finishing up a client project, but downtime is an absolute must if you want to avoid burnout. Aim for hobbies that don’t involve a screen, and by all means, avoid overlapping your hobbies with your work. No reading business books before bed, and no lunches with friends that turn into business meetings.
5. Know when to stop
Sometimes we’re swamped at work, and there’s nothing we can do about it. If that happens, learn to pay attention to your body’s warning signs. Fatigue and a lack of interest in your work that you usually love are key signs that you’re approaching burnout. Burnout can creep up on us when we’re least expecting it, so it’s important to maintain a self-care routine that keeps exhaustion at bay. Even the most simple of healthy habits can fall by the wayside when we’re submerged in work. Get 8 hours of sleep per night, exercise a few times a week, and drink enough water during the day.
It can feel like a burden at the time, especially when you’ve got a to-do list with 273 items stretching out in front of you. But as any person who has personally experienced burnout will tell you, if you push your body too hard, you’ll get so sick that you’re unable to work at all - so take care of yourself before it’s too late.