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How to Spot Burnout & 4 Ways to Prevent it from Ruining Your Business

7-minute read

Man sitting at desk in front of a laptop with his dead in his hands, looking distraught.
Allison Grinberg-Funes

Allison Grinberg-Funes

5 February 2020

Have you ever been working so hard that one day, all of a sudden, you hit a wall? Poof--there goes all your energy and motivation.

You could be burnt out.

Burnout isn't just for C-suite executives at Fortune 500 companies. According to Entrepreneur Magazine, over 50% of founders experience burnout. That means that if you're eating lunch with three of your friends who all own businesses, two of you are burnt out. That's a large percentage.

Let's be honest, if you're a small business or self-employed, you can't afford to be burnt out, because being burnt out means either not delivering quality work, or not working at all. Either isn't really an option for most folks.

So how do you prevent burnout? Well, first, you have to know what to look out for. Here's how burnout tends to impact people and how you can spot it.

The Impact on your Mood

Mood change is a burnout symptom that may seem frivolous. After all, life happens and you react to it--right? With business being as busy as it is and you only being one person to take on such a large workload, it's only natural that you'd experience changes in mood. Maybe. But maybe not.

If you find yourself feeling more aggressive, irritated, or intolerant then it may be time to look at why you're becoming more and more impatient with work. Sometimes burnout can cause you to act motivated by these feelings and in a way that isn't like you.

If you've ever reacted unfavorably with a friend, we can only imagine how acting out due to burnout could come off in a professional setting with your customers or vendors. And if you're burnt out, it's important to have processes and protections in place to help you make up for any mistakes you may make. If you're overtired from burn out, it's very possible that you could make a mistake. Or maybe an accident happens on a jobsite that never would've happened if you weren't so overwhelmed. We can't predict these kinds of things from happening, but this is why business insurance comes in handy.

These changes don't need to necessarily be erratic for them to be noticeable. Instead of feeling reactive, you may feel as if you're apathetic and not interested in anything anymore. Kieran Tie, a content strategist and freelance writer, wrote his story about his period of burnout and mentioned how he went from feeling "highly productive and motivated, to feeling exhausted and doubting every decision I made."

This feeling isn't uncommon in people experiencing burnout. In fact, the old adage "burning the candle at both ends" definitely comes to mind here. If you're overworked to the point where you have nothing left to give, you get to the bottom of the wick pretty quickly.

Megan O'Connor, CEO of a tech company, says, "The first time I realized I was burnt out was when I had to sit down and do simple tasks like payroll and accounting and I just cried...I didn't even care about my company anymore, I couldn't do anything functional all day."

Not caring is a dangerous risk for business owners. Many of us love the work that we do, and it's a benefit, since we spend a lot of time with our work and building, growing, and maintaining our business. It would bring us much less satisfaction for our efforts, if we didn't care so much.

But even if you love the work you do, if you experience a huge shift in your mood, you may not be motivated to move forward with necessary tasks.

The Impact on your Mind

The reason you don't feel very motivated may be related to your brain chemistry. Work-related stress is normal, but burnout occurs when you've got extended periods of time feeling too stressed and too tired. Our mind sends signals to our body and our hormone levels can actually change.

Cortisol is a stress hormone impacted by burnout. Small amounts may be motivating but an ongoing high amount being produced by your body can cause long term harm. But confusingly enough, an ongoing low amount isn't safe for you either.

While that can be confusing, what you need to know is that stress can cause an upwards or downwards spike in your hormone levels and this can impact your body. Your symptoms can range from:

  • mood swings
  • increased thirst
  • muscle weakness
  • weight loss
  • fatigue
  • dizziness

None of this seems fun, but with all the time we have to spend working on our business, what can we do to treat and prevent burnout?

4 Ways to Prevent & Treat Burnout

As a business owner, it's more dangerous to forge ahead and risk physical or mental injury from burnout, then it is to treat the problem. The faster you begin to treat burnout, the quicker you'll be able to begin making positive strides in your business.

Of course, there's no quick fix to treat burnout. It's an ongoing process and if you haven't already, you should consult your doctor. Here are four approaches you can take to treat burnout:

Take a Break

This is arguably the most important part of treating burnout. We know that taking a break is way easier said than done when you're a business owner.

When we say "take a break," we don't necessarily mean for weeks or months at a time. If you can afford to take a vacation or even time away from work for a set amount of time, that would be helpful to helping treat your burnout.

If not, you could make it a point to take a regular break from work, whether that means each day at lunchtime, shutting down your computer by a certain time nightly, or not accepting any new projects on the weekends.

Many times, we get burnt out because we spend so much time working without giving ourselves any respite. Tiffany Da Silva, Founder of Flowjo, makes a good point when she says, "Don't feel guilty about it. You spent months thinking about other people which caused the burnout, now you have to spend time putting yourself first to get out of it."

Make a commitment to yourself to take some time away from work. This doesn't need to be a fancy vacation to the Caribbean--it can be an evening binge-watching television or going to dinner with a friend.

Set Boundaries and Input Systems

While breaks are important, in order to treat burnout, you need to set a boundary with yourself and make them consistent.

One break will not be enough to stave off burnout from coming back with a vengeance. Make a point to schedule your work and personal activities each week. You don't need to stick to the schedule by the minute--but honor the time you put aside for yourself to relax and not be working.

It's not only important for you to be setting boundaries for yourself, but also for your employees or folks that you outsource other work to. If you have employees, let them know the procedure for how to handle common situations when you are not working. If you are confident in their abilities to handle the workload and will not be accepting phone calls or emails after a certain time, then definitely set that expectation with them.

The same goes for collaboration with the people you outsource work to.

Another way to decrease burnout is to set up systems to help you work. Greg Hamlyn, a business coach, recommends inputting systems that take care of the minor things that take up too much of your time, so you can spend your energy on more important things.

Adjusting to the boundaries that you set for yourself and those you work with won't be easy, and either will be the process of finding new systems that will work best for you. But in the end, they'll lead to a decrease in your burnout.

Delegate or Outsource

We mentioned outsourcing above. Is hiring another person or company to do a portion of your work something that you've considered before? If not, it may be a good time to consider outsourcing. While it may seem like it could cost you an unreasonable amount of money, that isn't the case; it could absolutely end up paying off in the long-run.

If you're hoping to keep things within your company and you have employees, another way to treat burnout is to lighten the load of the work that's on your shoulders. It's always a good idea to have employees on your team that you can trust your work with.

Find Community

When you're a business owner, community is essential to your sanity. We're not suggesting a weekly support group for business owners (though that doesn't sound so bad!) but having a small group of folks you can go to to discuss challenges or to simply vent about your struggles is important.

Brittany Berger, Founder of Work Brighter, said that when addressing burnout, to get a feeling of control, it's important to recognize you need a support team, even if they aren't your coworkers.

When I was beginning to feel burnt out in my freelance writing business, I had a community of mentors and folks that had similar challenges I was facing. Luckily a few of these peers became friends and to this day, are part of a community I trust to give me straight forward feedback if I come to them with challenges I'm facing in my work.

If you think that you or a colleague may be experiencing burnout, the best thing to do is to address the problem head on. The more time you spend ignoring the problem, the bigger it'll become, and it's likely you won't be efficient in getting as much done during this time, either.

Take a break, lean on your community (but set boundaries as needed), and when you're feeling refreshed, take your business tasks slowly. As you're ramping up again, be mindful of how you spend your energy. If you need any advice on how to address certain obstacles, head over to Simply U to read what we suggest.

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Allison Grinberg-Funes

Written by

Allison Grinberg-Funes

I’ve told stories since I learned to talk and written since I could hold a pen. As a small business owner myself - I'm a freelance writer and yoga teacher - I love contributing to the entrepreneurship community in different ways (including writing for Simply Business!). When I’m not drafting articles for SB, I can be found on my yoga mat, perusing an indie bookstore, and writing (with my cat nearby of course).

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