Business owner fully-charged

What to do when it feels like it’s all up to you: a business owner’s guide to avoiding burnout

Burnout. It shows up as an unintended short reply, unexplained fatigue, or the inability to function at full capacity.

If you’ve ever faced it, you’re not alone. Research from Capital One shows nearly half of all small business owners struggle with burnout and seven out of ten experience mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion due to the stress of running their businesses.

How do you know if you have burnout? What causes it? And how can you, as a business owner, avoid burnout or recover from it? 

In this article, we’ll take a look at the burnout business owners face and what you can do to overcome this common challenge.

Exhausted entrepreneur at desk

What is burnout?

The World Health Organization defines burnout in their 2023 International Classification of Diseases as a syndrome resulting from unsuccessfully-managed “chronic workplace stress.”

Though not an illness, burnout can lead to serious health problems, broken relationships and even the loss of your business.

Here are just a few of the health-related symptoms that can occur:

  • Pain
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Low energy
  • Lack of focus
  • Changes in appetite
  • Increased alcohol or drug use

Left unchecked, burnout can lead to hypertension, heart disease, obesity, Type II diabetes, arthritis, depression and anxiety disorders.

When it spreads throughout a company, owners and managers struggle with low-functioning employees and missed workdays. Left unchecked, burnout results in costly high turnover rates.

Business owner organizing work

What causes Burnout?

You brought your business from dream to reality. As an early founder, you may have taken on roles in marketing, sales, and product design. You may even have written ad copy or swept the floor at headquarters.

As your business grows, so do the demands on your time, attention, and resources. 

Burnout happens when your resources fall short of those demands, according to researchers Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leiter.

Burnout can also appear as a byproduct of the ongoing stress occurring when basic needs such as sleep, relationships, or job security are at risk or when any of the following work imbalances are present:

  • How much work you have to do
  • How much control you have over your own work
  • Your reward for work completed (e.g., profit, paycheck, recognition)
  • The community, cultures, and values of those you work with
  • Your perception of fairness at work
  • How your work lines up with your values.

So how do you know if you might be experiencing burnout?

Looking for signs of burnout

What are the symptoms of burnout?

The same study found three major signals of burnout: exhaustion, detachment, and feeling ineffective in your position.

Sleep deprivation, 18-hour days, and lack of nutrition and exercise, along with the psychological stressors of starting a business, can leave business owners feeling tired, depleted, and in need of retreat. As you shoulder more responsibilities, it’s easy to overlook all you’ve done and continue to do. Without that feeling of success, it’s harder to stay motivated.

Think you may be on the road to burnout? Look for one or more of these 14 signs:

  • Dreading Monday morning
  • Increased caffeine or alcohol intake
  • Poor sleep
  • Persistent fatigue 
  • Exhaustion
  • A change in eating habits
  • Cynicism about work
  • Negativity at work
  • Irritability
  • Withdrawal 
  • Feeling less connected to coworkers
  • Struggling with focus and productivity
  • Feeling ineffective in your role
  • Being overly critical of your own performance

Note: If you are experiencing anxiety, depression, fatigue, or other ongoing health issues, seek the advice of a qualified professional.

Now that you’ve successfully recognized the signals of burnout, it’s time to pull back, recover, and rediscover the energy and enthusiasm you had when you first started your business.

Business owner organizing work

Setting priorities

Balance is the number one challenge entrepreneurs face, according to a NodeSource survey. Joe McCann, CEO, offers three ways business owners can recover a sustainable work-life balance.

Prioritize: Make a list of all your activities. Decide which are the most important. Then cross out everything else.

Delegate: Which tasks can you assign to someone at home or at work? Do you need someone to walk the dog, prepare a healthy meal, or design meeting presentations?

Schedule: Prioritize personal and family time by adding it to your calendar. Build recovery and reward into your schedule.

However, what if you’re already in the burnout stages? 

Business owner playing guitar

Setting priorities

If you’re already struggling with burnout, it’s not too late. Here are three steps you can take to recover:

Set boundaries

Creating a firm divide between your personal and business life can be a struggle when you’re the owner — especially if you’re working out of a home office.  

  • Set office hours. 
  • Develop a practice of shutting down the office every day. 
  • And spend time in active recovery from work.

Have a plan for active recovery 

Instead of leaving recreation to chance, plan ahead so you don’t find yourself sitting in front of a screen again.

  • Get outside and take a walk
  • Get the sleep you need
  • Go to the gym
  • Visit a local park, beach, or mountain trail 
  • Draw a sketch
  • Pick up a musical instrument 
  • Spend time with people you care about
Business owner with team

Building your team

Instead of leaving recreation to chance, plan ahead so you don’t find yourself sitting in front of a screen again.

Reach out to other business owners, networking groups, and community groups. Find the people and resources available to support you in your community. And build a team you can rely on. 

If you need more support for your business, consider the tawk.to Virtual Assistant service starting at only $7 an hour

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