The startup life isn’t always glamorous. For the startup founder, a daily routine means late nights, early mornings, skipped breakfasts, constant meetings, and long hours in front of a screen. You are caught in between managing your team, overseeing product development, and making sure company processes run smoothly. Being a startup founder requires putting in more effort than the previous day, every day, and with this huge responsibility comes overwhelming stress and eventually, burnout.
What does burnout feel like?
Burnout is a clear result of chronic workplace stress that was not effectively managed. In a 2015 survey, it was found that 72% of entrepreneurs reported mental health concerns. But this comes as no surprise, a simple search of “startup founder burnout” on Twitter brings up a lot of results, clearly most founders are on the edge of their mental health.
Burnouts can show up in these three forms:
Exhaustion: You feel emotionally, mentally, or physically tired. Getting out of bed every morning to do work becomes a drag and each day you are more tired than you were yesterday. You lack the motivation to do things you are passionate about.
Inefficacy: You experience low energy levels and a dip in your productivity. You have difficulty focusing on work and this affects your everyday tasks at work. You might also feel that your work is meaningless and often lack the energy to get anything done.
Cynicism: You become easily irritated, short-tempered, or cynical about work and the people you work with. You also start to emotionally detach yourself from people, and do not engage as much as you used to before.
How can you handle these pressures and avoid burnout?
Stress is real. You might think you can power through anything or juggle a million things by yourself, but you can’t. It helps to be intentional about delegating tasks to your employees and trusting that they have got it handled. You should focus more on reviewing their work, leaving suggestions, and pointing out what they can do better, than taking on the bulk of the work yourself.
Getting an executive assistant is a great idea too. You can delegate some of your routine tasks like replying to emails, scheduling meetings, etc so they can take them off your hands.
2. Company offsites
For some founders, a planned vacation might just be that; plans with no intentions of actually taking one. Company offsites that happen quarterly/yearly could help you unplug from work and take a breather from everything. For retreats like this, it’s important to actually rest, let loose, and connect with your team without worrying about work. You can take out time to try stuff you have been too busy to pursue or do something new. You need to genuinely take out time to recharge.
3. Take breaks
Planned vacations might not work but planned breaks might. So, set reminders throughout your day to take breaks from work. This could be taking a short walk, 10 minutes of light exercise, reading, eating lunch, or even doing nothing. This allows you to slow down for brief intervals during your day.
Power naps during your breaks are great too. While you might not be getting the required 8 hours of sleep, a 20 to 30-minute nap in between your day can increase your productivity, reduce stress levels, and keep you alert throughout the day. And if you work physically in an office, nap pods or rooms are a must-have.
4. Disconnect on weekends
A good way to disconnect from work on weekends is by finding hobbies or things you can distract yourself with. Go to the beach, play games, learn how to cook your favorite meal, go to the cinema, meet up with friends offline, take up hiking, learn to swim, bike around your neighborhood. Find something you will enjoy doing.
Another way to disconnect on weekends is to sleep in. Low energy levels are a usual indicator of burnout, and this could mean that you are getting very little sleep. I recommend trying out this 3-day guide for sleeping in during the weekend to get your energy back up.
5. Talk to someone
Relationships with people who support you are important. It helps to talk about what you are experiencing with someone who cares about you. This could be a friend, partner, family, or a co-founder who understands what you are experiencing. Find a support system or a therapist who can guide you through your burnout.
To help prevent burnout, the CEO of Buffer, Joel Gascoigne recommends, “Get a therapist or coach, even if you don’t feel like you need one or you’ve never done it before. From my experience, it’s better to have those relationships already established than to be at a low point and then be searching for a therapist or coach on top of everything else.”
6. Get some personal time
Try to take some time off for yourself. Cut down on your screen time on days you aren’t working and spend time with your family and friends instead. You should hang out with people who you can have non-work related conversations with and push yourself to indulge in fun activities that don’t have a work undertone to them.
Your personal time could also mean meditation, yoga, self-care, or anything you find refreshing that helps you take the edge off. Something as simple as taking a day off can be beneficial; you can call it a mental health day. Getting personal time like this to yourself can help you create a healthy work-life balance.
Running a company of any kind means insane work hours and a hustle culture. While these tips won’t make you achieve zero burnout in one day, it is a collection of small things you can do to achieve big results in the long term.
If you liked reading this, please share with a startup founder or anyone in your circle who might find this helpful.