If you’re like most entrepreneurs out there, you don’t get much downtime. ‘Kick back and relax’ is as unfamiliar a saying as ‘Jy krap met ń kort stokkie aan ń groot leeu se bal’ (look that one up, you might want to add it to your phrase repertoire). You eat, sleep and breathe work; everything else comes second in line – kids, partners, friends and even your health.
Our brains are forever switched on, with 84% of business owners working more than 40 hours per week, and 63% of business owners working more than 50 hours per week with only 1 ½ hours of uninterrupted, highly productive time each day (according to The Alternative Board). One and a half hours of uninterrupted work a day, and still working more than 50 hours a week? When you put it like that, anyone would think going into business for yourself is pure lunacy.
But whadda ya know. Here we are, running businesses, like lunatics.
Small business ownership is hard, and sometimes it completely takes over your life. That’s not always a bad thing, with 84% of business owners saying they’d still become a small business owner if they had to do it all over again. Even if you adore what you do, there will be plenty of moments where you’ll wonder what the hell’s the point, why can’t you grow the cajones to fire that horrible client, why don’t you just get a regular job, why’s your hair turning grey so fast, why doesn’t your family recognise you anymore…
Even when you’re not working, your mind wanders back to business – worry after worry, deadline after deadline. You can’t enjoy the little things because your cashflow and your employees and your suppliers have invaded your life in ways you could never have imagined. You might (guiltily) allow yourself a few precious hours or days away from the business grind, only to find yourself obsessively checking emails, researching competition and pretty much working as much as usual. Can’t…shut…off. Need…help. Sound familiar?
With work-related mental health issues and business-owner burnout on the rise, how can we make sure we don’t completely lose our marbles while chasing the entrepreneurial dream?
One surefire way to make sure burnout doesn’t get the better of you is to not let your business seep so deeply into your personal life. If you’re a passionate business owner, giving yourself a break doesn’t come naturally, so you’ll need to open yourself up to doing things a different way, and then practise, practise, practise to get this separation thing right.
Here are 7 practical tips to help you obtain the work/life balance your mind and body need, and steer clear of business-owner burnout for good.
Stop Feeling Guilty
I’ll be the first to admit that until recently, the main reason I wasn’t scheduling any ‘me’ time was the dreaded G word: guilt. I was convinced my employees would wonder where I am and question my work ethic. I worried my colleagues would think I haven’t been doing enough to grow the business. I felt pressure from everyone and everything to be available at all times, like I needed to prove that I was a committed business owner. It was mentally exhausting and wasn’t the way I wanted to live my life.
If you feel the same, it takes a conscious effort – and lots of practise – to get into the mindframe that not only should you put work away, but you deserve to put work away. Always remember what you’ve sacrificed to start and run your business: your personal savings, time with your family, your health and probably lots more to boot.
Know When to Say No
I’m guilty of it, you’re guilty of it, we’re all guilty of being ‘yes’ people. If you’ve ever found yourself up at 2am, working on a project for a client because they forgot to get you the necessary information on time and they neeeeed it done by tomorrow, you’ve said yes when you probably shouldn’t have.
If you’ve taken on a new client because you’re desperate to grow, but you know deep down that the client isn’t a good fit for you and will eventually make you question your entire life, you’ve said yes when you probably shouldn’t have.
Both of the scenarios above usually lead to clients getting used to your ‘yes’ service, and will milk it for more, and more, and more, making it impossible for you to unblur the lines between work and personal time. Rather than have to deal with the messes later on, learn to say no (diplomatically, of course) up front.
Make Evenings Yours
Accept that your business and your personal life are entirely different entities with different interests, and they’ll get along so much better if they spend some healthy time apart (kinda like most relationships). Once you’ve agreed that your business needs to spend the night on the sofa, you’re on the right track.
Turn off your laptop by dinnertime, and I mean off-off. Get stuck into a hobby, or spend quality time with your family. Organise the pantry. Play a boardgame. Tempted to check your emails or post on LinkedIn while lying in bed? Charge your phone in a different room and replace your screen time with a good book (no, your company’s P&L does not count as a novel).
Practise making your evenings 100% ‘me’ time – you’ll be surprised at how much less stress you’ll feel when you hit the pillow every night, and how much more ready you are to take on the world the next day.
Stop and Smell the Roses
When we’re overwhelmed with a to-do list as long as both our arms (and legs), we often forget to enjoy the little things. I live in a gorgeous part of England, but do I notice the cliff-top views of the sea as I hurriedly drive by, or the rolling fields as I rush to the train station? We’re so busy, it’s difficult to have a clear enough mind to let the small joys in.
Give yourself a goal to stop at least two or three times a day to ‘smell the roses’. Observe what’s around you, take a deep breath, feel the sun on your face or the wind on your skin. Notice the fields, or interesting shop fronts, or the eccentricity of the incredibly diverse humans walking by. Give yourself the freedom to enjoy non-work related simplicities.
Flush Out Business Toxicity
Toxic people can ruin an otherwise happy life, both personally and professionally. You may have a toxic client, employee or even a business partner whose behaviours are creating a tornado of negativity and stress. These unhealthy business relationships can creep into your personal life and be a major player in burnout, so if you have a toxic person or two in your business, face the problem head-on.
You may need to ‘fire’ a toxic client, or start a fair process to get a manipulative employee on the right track. If the toxicity is beyond sorting, it may be time to take a giant leap (this is your sanity, after all) and get out of the situation altogether, whether it’s leaving a business partnership, dismissing an employee (fairly, of course) or changing career direction altogether.
Have a Digital Detox
If you find it difficult to put screens down for long enough to feel the benefit, it might be time for a digital detox. Does the thought of a weekend away without wifi give you tremors? Do you check your email on your phone, and then check it again two minutes later, and then two minutes after that (repeat, and repeat again)? Do you think not being connected to your business for two days will make everything fall apart? Those are pretty good signs that you need a detox.
According to this survey, the average smartphone user checks their device 63 times a day, with 86% of smartphone users saying they’ll check their phones while speaking with friends and family. Although these habits aren’t necessarily connected to business ownership, it gives us a glimpse into another area where we’re making screen time more important than it should be, which in turn will make business-y stuff overflow into your personal life.
There are plenty of ways to have a digital detox without giving up screens completely. Start by changing one habit at a time, e.g. only check your email once an hour maximum; don’t do market research on your phone (only on your laptop); create a schedule for social media and stick to it, and don’t allow yourself to drift back to LinkedIn, Instagram or anything else that isn’t necessary. Changing your screen habits slowly will help you to draw a much clearer line between business and home life.
Ask For Help
When every day is a challenge – what with trying to get 126 business tasks done between 9am and 2.30pm, taking this kid to football, that kid to swimming, dealing with a phone call from an impatient client, stopping to buy dinner, cooking said dinner, paying the inbox full of invoices you’ve been neglecting, re-washing the load of laundry that smells of mould, freaking out because your accountant just sent this year’s tax bill, helping with homework, putting an upbeat and motivational business post on social media, cleaning up the cat sick by your bed, and then getting back on your laptop from 8pm until 1 in the morning to do your actual work – it all gets a bit much. You don’t know which way is up, let alone which part of the day should be for work and, and which part is ‘me’ time.
If you’re overwhelmed to the point of not even knowing where to start fixing the balance, it’s probably time to talk it out, and ask for help. You can’t keep on like this – it will inevitably lead to burnout. Sit down and talk through everything with a partner, a good friend or a family member. If you’d rather keep it private, see a counsellor. Find someone you trust who can help you take practical steps to get you into a routine, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
As a business owner, I’m a big fan of outsourcing. If you can make more money working for two hours than it costs to get some sort of laundry service, outsource your damn ironing. Look into meal delivery like Gousto – no, it’s not cheating, it’s smart. And surely your time is more valuable than spending 15+ hours a week reconciling your bank account (that’s what Clic is for).
Do you have any secrets that help you avoid business burnout? Let us know your ‘me time’ tips by commenting below!