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Updated: March 27th, 2020
Small business owners and entrepreneurs are especially at risk for experiencing burnout. Hustling, juggling, jockeying, selling, grinding, talking, working… Everything except for sleeping, relaxing or enjoying.
Burnout is not necessarily the result of taking on too much work, or putting in long hours — though both of those things can contribute to it. Most often, burnout is a result of taking on the wrong work, making yourself available to everyone for anything, or simply doing things that you don’t feel like you should be doing.
Feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by work doesn’t mean that you need to make a career change. Burnout affects people who love their jobs, who are good at their jobs, and who should keep those jobs. Addressing work-related burnout probably will not even require you to make massive changes.
It would be great if something as simple as taking a vacation could help you deal with burnout, but for most, a break from work is likely to give you only a momentary respite — most people return to work and quickly find themselves in their pre-vacation state of burnout.
Avoiding burnout will require a little bit of work toward re-aligning your efforts with your desired results. Don’t think of the following advice as yet more stuff that you have to do — but instead, as steps you should take to improve your performance.
Many people are really afraid to use the word ‘No’, even though judicious use of this short word can offer us more protection from burnout than any other thing we can do. We’re not telling you to go out and be selfish or be a jerk or anything like that. What we’re suggesting is that when someone asks you for something, you don’t have to respond like the only correct answer is ‘Yes’.
In many cases, people ask us for help with things that they’re perfectly capable of doing themselves, but this isn’t about encouraging the self-reliance of others. It’s about sticking up for yourself. Every single time you say ‘Yes’, it costs you something. Whether that’s time or opportunity, or sleep, or solitude, or money, or whatever it else it may be, ‘Yes’ is often a word that comes with a cost. Likewise, ‘No’ is a word that can bring you savings — time, energy, motivation, and countless other things.
There are plenty of times that you should help people or respond affirmatively when they ask for something from you, but being willing to say ‘No’ can really help you. There won’t be any huge negative consequences as a result of saying ‘No.’ People will still like you. They’ll still be willing to help you when you need it too. Just be as fair to yourself as you are with others.
What is happening or not happening in your life because you are feeling burned out? How does it feel? Burnout is different for everyone, in some, it increases anxiety, for others, it causes stress eating. For most of us, there will be a range of results. One way to combat burnout is to recognize the effects that it’s having on us and to proactively choose to reprioritize our needs.
We let work be the biggest factor in too many of our decisions, and that’s one of the ways that we come to feel burnt out.
Recognize the effects of burnout, and proactively make plans against them — even at the expense of temporarily pushing work aside. Your workload can take the hit momentarily, and a new happier you will be rejuvenated and more productive.
Job crafting is a technique wherein you redefine your organizational role according to what suits you and helps you be happy in your job. Your core responsibilities may not necessarily change, but you may take on new responsibilities that you like and get enjoyment from. Naturally, this might mean redistributing some of your existing responsibilities throughout the company. This may happen naturally, or it may be something that you need to discuss with your team. In any case, it’s best to be deliberate in the changes you make, as you don’t want your work comfort to come at the necessary expense of someone else’s risk for burnout.
As the owner of a small business, you likely hold the reigns on many of the important decisions that your company makes. That means taking the bad with the good. However, promising research shows that by simply reframing your job to incorporate or lean on some of the tasks which you really do like, your overall job satisfaction will soar.
Love training people? Love organizing office events? Do more of the things you love, and communicate with your team to figure out how you can do less of the things you don’t love.
Not everyone is a writer, but we’re not talking Shakespeare here. Writing is a great way to organize your thoughts. If organizing your thoughts is too much structure to impose, it may even be helpful to just let the words spew forth in an explosive torrent of expletives and raw nerves. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a blog or a journal, public or private, writing has proven stress relief benefits.
Regardless of whether you take any particular approach, not only can the act of writing help you feel more centered and less frayed, it will also give you a historical document to go back and trace key moments in your business. It may also give you insight into what factors tend to stress you out the most. Think of your writing as a map documenting your journey to now.
What did you start your business for? How is it that you now find yourself doing so many things that don’t directly contribute to making an impact? Whether it’s endless paperwork or other day-to-day requirements of executing your business, the solution may be to refocus your efforts on those things that fulfill the purpose for which you started your business.
Do you own a restaurant? Why did you start that restaurant? Are you spending enough time cooking or creating an atmosphere that you love?
Do you own a boutique? How much time are you spending curating and stocking the goods that you want to share with your customers?
What is there that you can do in your organization that will give you real fulfilment? The key is not necessarily to lighten your workload, but to connect your need for meaning and satisfaction to the work that you’re actually doing.
As much as possible, lean on the team of creative, wonderful, talented people that you have assembled and empower them to grow your business. If you’re spending the majority of your time finding opportunities to lead your team to help you create the business of your dreams, you’re much less likely to experience burnout.
Paige Smith is a Content Marketing Writer and Senior Contributing Writer at Funding Circle. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and specializes in writing about the intersection of business, finance, and tech. Paige has written for a number of B2B industry leaders, including fintech companies, small business lenders, and business credit resource sites.