What to do when things get tough: 5 tried and true remedies
When it comes to graphic design, Victoria Nuttall is a consultant whose talents should have been recognized. She explains that she put in 50–55 hours a week and felt like a “true hero” to the firm since she was producing stuff that nobody else could. “They made me do a lot of training and department expansion without ever asking my opinion on major policy or budget changes. Work hell was the result of a combination of factors, including a toxic relationship with an operator I had trained and a management that didn’t care whether employees badmouthed one another.” In the end, Nuttall just couldn’t cut it.
The story is one you’ve likely heard countless times before. Perhaps the stresses of the corporate world finally got to you, and as a result, you decided to strike out on your own. Dr. Beverly Potter, author of several books on burnout (such as Overcoming work Burnout., How to Renew Enthusiasm for Work), claims that there is no difference between entrepreneurs and 9–5 employees when it comes to burnout (see sidebar below for ordering information). She explains that job burnout is similar to depression in the workplace. “It’s an issue of motivation, wherein you lack the drive to get started or maintain going. It’s brought on by a lack of control, such when you feel that you’re “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.””
Facing burnout herself, Nuttall founded the Baltimore-based multimedia consulting and training firm Renaissance Interactive. Even though she is in charge of her own schedule and workload, she still worries about burnout. Even though she now has money worries instead of office politics worries, Nuttall says, “At least I have a buffer zone away from nasty people, and that counts a lot.”
How to Avoid Burnout as a Business Owner
You may be on the verge of burnout if you’re constantly tired, worried, and experiencing bodily symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, and sore muscles. As a first step, ask yourself the following questions:
How can I get back the joy and satisfaction that I once found in running my own company?
How do I solve my primary issue?
Who can I turn to for assistance in coping with the stresses I’m under constant duress?
While every person is unique, there are commonalities among those who eventually burn out:
1. Lack of self-control or boundaries.
In the early stages of a business, it might be challenging to recognize when it’s time to say “Mark Gorkin, a consultant in Washington, DC, is quoted as saying, “No.” Oftentimes, entrepreneurs work around the clock, as he puts it. For the sake of the company, they believe that this is necessary. According to Gorkin, high goals are typical for entrepreneurs because of the risks they are willing to face. He thinks that’s great “but, there are instances when their anticipations fall well short of reality. At times, they set impossible goals for themselves.” Gorkin suggests practicing “detached concern” as a means of establishing such limits. He says that genuine involvement in people and initiatives is possible through “disinterested care.” “It’s up to you to strike a balance between how much you give and how much you take from others. Unattached care implies rejecting the idea that you must please everyone.”
2. An inability to maintain equilibrium.
Many business owners, Gorkin argues, operate largely on adrenaline and little sleep. Exercise, he says, is key to avoiding burnout. He explains the benefit as “partially just getting away from your work.” “However, regaining a sense of mastery is essential when you are feeling defenseless and overburdened. Running or any other form of exercise can help clear your head and improve your mood. You might feel in charge and in charge of your surroundings when you go for a run because there is a clear starting and stopping point. A real, physical result of your efforts has been achieved.”
Fairfield, Connecticut-based marketing and communications consultant and author of How to Raise a Family and a Career Under One Roof Lisa Roberts says, “When you’re working at home and running your own business, you’re constantly shuffling to accommodate the needs of your clients, your children, and your spouse.” (Bookhaven Press, $15.95, 800-782-7424). Your sense of self gets buried deep among the mess.” However, self-management issues can still lead to burnout for persons who don’t work from home. To paraphrase what she advises, “learn to take the big vision and break it down into individual tasks.” To paraphrase, “If you don’t get on top of it, you’ll get buried underneath.” Nuttall says to take as good care of yourself as you do your company. “Whenever I feel exhausted, I lay down and sleep. “I eat when I’m hungry,” she says. “Is that all you have to remember? When you’re focused on getting things done, you may neglect basic needs like eating and sleeping. I’ve started taking a day off during the week, even in the middle of an extremely busy spate, to go hiking or do something completely nontechnical. A massage is an option for me if I feel the need to de-stress. Now, more than ever, I try to maintain a healthy work-life equilibrium.”
St. Louis-based The Perfect Gift owner Victoria Siegel tries to wrap up for the day and head home by 6 o’clock, and she never works on the weekends. Since “I tend to lose my motivation to stay to this schedule,” Siegel adds, “I make plans with ftiends to either be out of my house or at least entertain them here. “When the workday is over, I lock the door behind me and pretend I’ve just walked out of an office building and am counting the minutes till I can go home,” he said.
3. Disorganization and a lack of focus.
Many business owners fail because they are unable to prioritize their tasks. Siegel elaborates on the reasons it’s so hard for her to choose priorities: “As a business owner, I wear many hats, including those of cashier, receptionist, shipping and receiving clerk, inventory clerk, order clerk, accounts receivable clerk, accounts payable clerk, customer service representative, marketer, sales representative, writer, buyer, janitor, file clerk, data entry clerk, secretary, and purchaser. Once in a while I even get to be the one in charge! There is so much to accomplish that nothing will ever be finished in its entirety.”
Steve Thomson, president of Avenida Travel Services in Irvine, California, is another business owner who has witnessed employees bum Out “In my experience, burnout sets in when an individual refuses to prioritize their tasks by asking fundamental questions like, “Is this essential to the client or my company?” What’s the sense of urgency here? What will happen if I don’t do it now?” The answer to avoiding the problem, according to Thomson, is to “plan your day, every day, before you start.”
4. Tendency toward obsessive perfectionism.
According to Thomson, perfectionists have the highest likelihood of buming out. Individuals who have left our organization as a result of burnout tend to be perfectionists who have difficulty accepting that the world is not flawless.
Perfectionists imagine themselves to be invincible, capable of achieving any goal by any means necessary. It’s possible for them to be anything from “overbearing taskmasters” to “self-sacrificing martyrs,” as Gorkin puts it. A recipe for disaster is putting undue stress on oneself as a firm expands. Perfectionists, if they want to avoid a complete meltdown, must learn to let go of some of the reins. While perfectionists may struggle greatly with the concept of delegation, it may be their last hope for avoiding exhaustion.
5. I’m unmotivated. Potter cites a lack of drive as a hallmark of burnout.
Taking control of your personal life as well as your professional one is essential in the fight against it. When it comes to managing your personal motivation, Potter advises setting “magneric goals that entice you” and rewarding yourself for “little steps” along the way.
Nuttall makes it a priority to attend industry events like trade exhibitions and conferences so that she may stay abreast of developments in her field, expand her professional network, and maintain her enthusiasm for her work. Since going out on his own, Nuttall has made it a priority to expand his knowledge base rather than merely repeat past achievements in his field. And Gorkin concurs. “Learn something new. Master new techniques, “the man explains. “As a personal motto of mine states, “Variety in the day keeps burnout away.”