Stop, Smell the Roses, and Prevent Startup Burnout

When I started my business, the commute from my bedroom to my office was just three steps. While wearing a bathrobe to work was an undeniable pleasure, there were other aspects of this arrangement that were not so relaxing.

It seemed like my life was lived between my bedroom and my home office — it felt like I didn’t leave the house for weeks at a time. Eventually, cabin fever set in, and because my home life and work were so intertwined, both suffered the consequences.

Getting Off the Startup Treadmill

Whether working from home or not, entrepreneurs know all too well that it can feel like tremendous odds are stacked against them during the early stages of launching a startup. A relentless pace seems like the only thing pushing their ventures to succeed.

While there’s no denying that applying yourself with dedication is a key to success, it’s equally true that if you never give yourself a chance to step back and smell the roses, you, your work, and your relationships will suffer.

There are consequences to overworking yourself that will take a toll on your business. For example, you run the risk of becoming:

  • tired and less effective — 8 hours of work at 100 percent is better than 12 hours at 50 percent.
  • irritated more easily, which impedes your ability to focus.
  • prone to making rash decisions just to “get something over with.”
  • frustrated which makes you a poor leader, which affects your entire team.
  • myopic by trying to force yourself to solve a problem, you might not have the perspective to see the best answer.
  • bored and burnt out due to repetition.
  • stressed and lacking in exercise or healthy food; plus sitting too much negatively impacts your health.
  • a loner; damaging your social relationships with family and friends.

Business Benefits of Stepping Away

There are a few warning signs indicative of being overworked. If you’re constantly feeling tired or stressed, or you come to the conclusion that you’ve cut all of the enjoyable activities from your life, it’s time to force yourself to do something — other than work.

As I mentioned, during the early stages of running my business, work overshadowed pretty much everything else in my life. In fact, I didn’t take a vacation during the company’s first four years. That streak was broken only by my honeymoon — and if I had neglected to attend that, it would have been bad for everyone involved!

When my wife and I returned from our honeymoon, I was somewhat surprised to find that while the messages had piled up, nothing catastrophic had happened. It made me realize that my occasional absence was probably not the end of the world, as I had long suspected it would be. From then on, I found ways to take more holidays and other creative breaks so I could reenergize.

Now, my wife and I take at least two weeks off each year, sometimes consecutively. While this can be a little bit scary, I’ve found that the positives far outweigh the negatives. Stepping away from day-to-day operations of my business has offered several advantages:

  • Relieving stress and tension is good, both mentally and physically.
  • Having fun and feeling energized is contagious, and it will spread to your team.
  • Inspiration and creativity needed to solve a problem often come when you’re not fixated on the issue.
  • Overcoming separation anxiety enables you — and your team — to realize that your team can handle things while you’re away.
  • Gain time to think about a long-term vision.
  • Strengthen social bonds.
  • Breaks can also be useful work motivators if you tell yourself, “If I get three new clients this week, then I’m taking the weekend off to go fishing.”

Maximize Time-Off With These 5 Tips

Here are a few ways you can maximize the positive effects of your breaks:

  1. Set them in stone. Book nonrefundable tickets, and make sure your plans are locked in. By planning ahead, you’ll find yourself more committed to taking a break, more excited about it, and better able to make the most of it.
  2. Cut off communication. Don’t bring your laptop, and don’t check your phone. If you need to be accessible in an emergency, create an emergency email address that your team can use only when they absolutely must. Let other messages pile up in your regular inbox.
  3. Do something that’s actually fun. Digging a drainage ditch may be time away from the office, but it’s not exactly a break…
  4. Combine business with pleasure. Piggyback your breaks on business trips to save time and money.
  5. Make time for short breaks. You don’t always have to set aside two weeks to have fun. Learn to give yourself an afternoon or a long weekend off.

The bottom line is if you work hard, you deserve some time to play. But “playtime” doesn’t just present itself — you have to make time to smell the roses. When you give yourself a break, you’ll find you’re mentally and physically more capable at work, you have stronger connections with family and friends, and you have more life satisfaction.

I know some of you are thinking that you do find satisfaction in your work, and I understand that. But if you find satisfaction in working hard, you’ll find even more satisfaction in taking time off. It could save your life — and your startup.

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