Burnout is real. Too real, it’s discouraging but you press on.
I have been one of those who started your own business, took responsibility on her shoulder on high, and forgot how to draw the line between work and life. It was close to non-existent but I enjoyed every bit of having to see my diary filled with accomplished to-do lists and done even more than what was plotted.
When you’re an entrepreneur, it can be easy to pour yourself mentally, physically and emotionally into the business to the point that everything can become very blurry – hence, burning out. You’ll never know not until you experience it yourself, but I don’t recommend it.
I had a turning point in my self-care journey, as a founder, not too long ago. I was fresh from all the adrenaline of finally taking my business full-time, sat at a comfortable coffee shop and was on fire. There’s a certain high when you get to be extra productive, it feels like you’re unstoppable and invisible. I would wake up at around 5:30 am to jog or 10:00 am when I have no scheduled route to run, and work non-stop until heading to bed around midnight or even as late as 2:00 am to have my website done after midnight.
Yes, I’m the Ms DIY and I enjoy learning every bit about technology since 6th grade.
But then I had a wake-up call when I met up a colleague for our weekly coffee when she asked why I was responding and sending emails by 3 am, still seen online by midnight and been posting about work on weekends. To make it even worse, she made a comment on how exhausted I looked. And, I was exhausted.
I figured, since I have my bi-monthly spa sessions, I thought it was enough. I had been running and operating like clockwork, all my energy was put in the business. I have forgotten how to take good care of myself and only take breaks when my boyfriend finally imposed a “No laptops, no phones, just Netflix” when we’re together at the end of the day to “spend time.”
Being the workaholic that I am, I’m grateful to have a partner who’s concerned about my health and would want me to have the break I need – although, I must admit, it’s tough. Really tough. Working has become my drug.
It’s strange that I have founded a company (The After Six Club) where mindful leadership is one of our core values. It felt so wrong – even disingenuous to my company’s brand- that I was talking the talk but not walking the walk.
Being a yoga teacher, I’d have to also breathe our practice. It took a whole lot of contemplation and when I reviewed my reasons on why I left the corporate world, I was reminded by the TEDx talk I had when I said “Sleep is (too) important” for me. What sleep? where did sleep go?
The fitness enthusiast that I am, went missing. How was I supposed to grow a business built upon mindful leadership, prioritizing self-care, downtime and happiness at work when I wasn’t practising it myself? It took me time to get off the addiction but I did it, otherwise, and still a work-in-progress.
I’ve enlisted few strategies which have worked for me and gotten me a better handle how to balance work and life:
HEADSPACE “me” time.
I subscribed to the headspace app, a meditation app which has helped me slow down. It can be accessed for free for the first 30 days after which, you can opt-in to subscribe should you wish to do meditation according to your state: prioritization, stress, anxiety, etc. I typically turn it on at night, and I always end up falling asleep. If you’re someone who always has an active mind, this definitely works. Give it a chance.
A “me time” routine.
No phones, no screens allowed first thing when you wake up.
I always have this habit of picking up my phone even right before my two eyes are wide open. Having to look at your phone the moment you wake up on-sets a wave of excitement and possible anxiety, opening your inbox will make you stay-in far more than you’re supposed to stay in bed. Which may also result in hindrance from being productive and self-care.
Soon as you wake up, give yourself the 5-sec rule and do something for yourself, not for the business or anyone else. You’ll thank yourself for self-induced anxiety and be in a better mental state.
My mornings is now composed of: Going to the loo to wash my face and do my business, fix my side of the bed, pour myself a cup of joe, and jot down whatever comes to mind to my sketchpad to re-organize my day and plot out the day’s priority lists. Sometimes, I also savour the moment to reheat my food or cook breakfast.
Being in charge of the morning helps you practice mindfulness; focusing on yourself and commit a few minutes more for yourself before you hop on to the business concerns.
Just before bed, give yourself time to watch something new on Netflix or listen to a podcast on your drive home. Whichever that is not within work scope.
Affirmation & Prioritization.
You are not obliged to respond to every email, right away, every day but you’d have to know and be decisive of which is important. Zooming into what’s important will give you a much more sense of fulfilment, productivity and wins for the business. Forgive yourself if you weren’t able to accomplish everything on the to-do list you’ve written down in the morning. Having to write down your tasks means you’re aware of what needs to be attended to.
Face yourself in the mirror or have your eyes closed, acknowledge that there are things that need to wait and that you’ll be able to face them, one at a time. As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to fall into the trap of negativity especially if you didn’t meet the demands and your personal deadlines.
Be kind to yourself, you’re not a robot.
Say No to allow more Yes!
It can be exciting to meet people every day especially if you’re a business owner who shifted from corporate to a sole proprietor. You’ll miss having colleagues seated close to your desk and people to ask out for lunch. However, as you build your business, it’s also important for you to prioritize which meetings, collaborations and partnerships are worth your time. If they need you, they’ll go to your office and adjust to your schedule (not unless you’re the one who needs to talk to them dearly).
All these non-relevant “could-I-pick-your-brain” sessions should take a back seat if you’ve got a full plate. Don’t allow these distractions eat your time from your business goals. You may also set a particular day and time for meetings, this way, you already have your schedule on a template and you need not worry about what your calendar looks like.
Should you say No to anyone, perhaps offer a solution rather than blocking them.
For example, I’ve been asked to speak on panels and at conferences since launching my business and I’ve said no to all of these requests. On top of saying no, I also tend to suggest another name (depends on what the panel is all about and what the requester needs) who might be a great fit. This way, it’s a win-win situation for both parties.
Focus on one task or theme to do per day.
Working on focus will be difficult, especially in your humble beginnings. You really want to accomplish everything and make the roadmap move faster than a speeding bullet. Newsflash, you’ll never get to.
It’s understandable that founders juggle everything in an entire company’s departments – marketing lead, editorial chief, social media curator, operations, strategic lead etc – it can get overwhelming, you’ll lose focus and end up astray.
One trick I’ve used is to schedule out my days and my schedule. Usually, my Sundays are the quiet time for me to write and be on fire. On Monday’s, it’s all about content planning and meetings that need to happen throughout the week to make developments going.
Often, I spend late nights for self-learning or book reading.
See what works for you. What’s important is to provide yourself with clear goals each day and structure your week.
Show up, Always.
As much as we’re privileged to wake up and start our day whenever time we’d want to start; regardless of the set-up, you should get-up, show up and hustle!
You’re in control of your own schedule and working from home is easy to just keep yourself in, but if you’re someone who’s goal-oriented and go-getter of your dreams. You better not skip a day from showing up from obligations, responsibilities and making things happen.
It’s always better to be prepared rather than stressing on the thought “I should’ve done this yesterday.”
Ask and Delegate.
There’s nothing wrong with sharing a bit of your salary if you’ll be able to function far much better and get to perform a much excellent job on your tasks. There’s nothing wrong with delegating, provided that you know what you’re actually asking for them to do and what the task should accomplish.
As a Type-A person, with trust issues and recovering control freak, I’m awful about delegation or acknowledging when I need help.
It is just recently when I overcame my trust issues and sought help from friends whom my heart feels comfortable working with. Truly, it’s changed my life and perspective in terms of teamwork. I have always been the person who’s into collaboration but when it comes to deliverables, I have this thought that If I can do it, why delegate it? And, the answer just explained itself as I experienced the relief and having to see everyone excel in what they do plus clients feedback showed an excellent response.
I give at least a few minutes in a week to talk to my team, understand where they are and what they may need from you. Alignment is key to clarity.
Walk outside, exercise.
How many steps do you accomplish in a day? accept phone calls while walking or do work while standing every now and then. Sometimes, we forget to go outside and get locked up with the workload. It’s such a small thing but having to reply to one email after another will already tie you up to forever.
Don’t skip lunch, and savour it. Put on your sunglasses, log in some mileage either first thing in the morning or just right when sunset happens. Stop having “working lunches/dinners.”
You deserve a vacation.
Although there are those who keep on preaching that if you love what you do, you will never crave for a vacation. I beg to disagree. As much as we don’t crave for vacation when we love what we do, it’s rightful for us to be elsewhere rather than being stuck in the city or your work desk.
We all need a different scenery to earn a new perspective, ideas and creativity to flourish. It’s okay to put a real “Out of Office” message up, quit Twitter, have late posts on Instagram and just be.
If you can manage, take a few days of rest, whether you’re headed to the beach or going on a day-trip. Starting your own business is an emotional rollercoaster, in ways, you’ll need a breathing space.
It may feel like giving yourself a time off could be hard work but you’ll reap the rewards even far better than taking the workaholic pill. All the hard work should also be rewarded. Money is not the end, but rather a tool to enjoy life.
Never forget yourself.