Three Ways to Avoid Burnout

Three Ways to Avoid Burnout

Running a startup is hard. How do you avoid burnout for you and your team? Article #6 in a series exploring the big questions that entrepreneurs ask as they’re starting up and growing their businesses.

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I don’t know about you, but for me, launching a startup like the Business Breakthrough Network (or my old agency, Fresh Ground) is hard. The hours are long, and the rewards are too few and far-between. You find yourself living “paycheck-by-paycheck” only the paychecks aren’t regular, or don’t come at all at first.

And when I see people like Gary Vee, who seem to have limitless energy and enthusiasm, I can get even more discouraged. I’ll never have as much energy or time as he does, and I worry that because of that, I’ll never be as successful as he is. The feelings of emotional exhaustion, cynicism and ineffectiveness set in. These are the official symptoms of burnout. So how do you fight it?

After all, if you’re reading this, you probably live in the U.S., a country not exactly known for its excellent work-life balance. To get around this, you’ve probably looked at, and maybe even adopted, some personal productivity techniques and systems (see article #3 in this series). Perhaps you adopted the advice of this Entrepreneur article (or other similar suggestions) by

  • cutting out low-value activities,
  • scheduling regular recurring social activities, and
  • finding healthy coping mechanisms for stress.

But then COVID-19 came and shot it all to hell. Or did it? As Kevin Collins writes in Fast Company:

The global pandemic has changed the way we work, blurring what was already a hazy divide between life and work while raising questions around the long-term impacts on our mental wellness. But, we’re now hearing that upwards of 86% of remote workers in the US are actually satisfied with current arrangements; 47% are even “very satisfied,” even if that means “having to work from their bedrooms or closets.” For the first time in perhaps a long time, Americans have control over their day-to-day, including the ability to prioritize the aspects they enjoy and to be mentally present during the moments of their life that matter the most.

I’m still on the fence about the COVID-19 productivity jump. I did get into the groove for a while working from home, especially over the summer, with my kid out of the house or at the neighbors’ (she wears a kid-friendly smart watch just in case I lose track of her). But by the end of the summer I was ready to get back into the office. I was desperate. I am easily distracted, and I take a while to “spin up” and enter the “zone.” Once I’m there, I can manage to stay there, even with small distractions. But I need a good hour to get into my productivity plateau, and sometimes, working from home with a kid nearby, I could never quite get there.

Regardless of the productivity boost COVID-19 may have given some of us, I don’t think any of us benefitted emotionally from the social isolation, the “new normal” of masks everywhere, and the challenge of running risk mental calculations on even the most routine activities in public. By the end of the summer, my physical and emotional batteries were low. I was in the verge of burnout — was not getting the attention it needed, we weren’t growing as fast as we had planned, and I was about to resume my “day job” (more of an evening job, really), teaching at Boston University.

As a “side gig,” it might have been easy to let go. The one thing that brought me back was my team.

We’re All In This Together
Humans have a built-in need to belong. For me, the most powerful motivator for personal success is not letting others down.

Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist most famous for his “Hierarchy of Needs” still taught today in sociology and communication classes. In his hierarchy, feelings of self-esteem are only possible if other much more fundamental needs are satisfied. Those include, in order of importance, physiological needs, safety needs, and belongingness. For a few of us, COVID-19 has stripped away the most fundamental of these. For most of us, our personal safety is put at risk every day. And the real kicker is, in order to feel like we belong, we must put our more fundamental needs at risk, unless we try to satisfy this need with purely online contact, which we’re not very good at, and which aren’t very good for us.

For the time being, however, it may have to suffice. Preventing burnout requires building a solid base for your personal hierarchy of needs. Right now, with your safety needs resting on shaky grounds, my advice is:

  1. Start with your physiological needs: get exercise, eat well, find ways to sleep better
  2. Keep yourself as safe as possible: avoid risky behaviors and activities
  3. Stay connected: virtual connectivity is better than no connectivity

Good luck out there, and stay safe!

How are you avoiding burnout? Let us know in the comments below.


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