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How to Avoid Occupational Burnout

Take a timeout. Have a life outside your business. Here's what to do if you're headed toward workaholism.

Burnout is an occupational hazard for entrepreneurs. It's easy to get so consumed by the business that you forget to have a life.

Entrepreneurial spirit is a good thing, but not when it turns into obsession. Eventually, excessive work, worry and long hours will take a toll on your body and soul.

Either way, when you burn the candle at both ends, sooner or later your flame flickers out. That flame--your passion for the business--is one of your most valuable assets. Once extinguished, it's hard to reignite. That's why it's up to you to protect it.

How do you know if you're headed for burnout? You're at risk, if:

  • You often cancel social activities because "something came up at work."
  • You rarely take vacation.
  • Although you profess to love golf or gardening or whatever, you seldom do it anymore.
  • When someone asks you how you are, you respond by telling them about your newest product or problem at work.
  • Even when off duty, you constantly check your e-mail and cell phone.

If that sounds like you, you need a timeout.

How to Avoid Burnout
The best way to avoid burnout is to achieve a work-life balance. Make a point of pursuing interests outside of business. Dedicate time every week to things that bring you pleasure, whether that means spending more time with family, starting a fitness program, resuming your favorite sport or engaging in volunteer work that's meaningful to you.

Having a rich leisure life is a healthy solution. Physically and emotionally, it's a great stress reducer. In addition, there are steps you can take to protect your "flame" at work. As an added bonus, these are healthy for the business, too:

  • Set goals and priorities. Practice good time management. Don't fritter away the day on trivial tasks; do your most important projects first.
  • Delegate. Hand off smaller projects and focus on the big issues. If something prevents you from delegating, address it. (For example, if you pay the bills because you have a problem trusting others, set up a two-person payables system that requires dual signatures.) Delegating helps employees grow.
  • Take on exciting, new projects that drive the business forward. Enrich your entrepreneurial spirit by growing in new directions.
  • Keep learning. Read new business books, join a peer advisory group or attend a seminar. Do things that keep your mind active and your enthusiasm high.


Bouncing Back
What if it's already too late and you've lost your spark? Don't fight it or ignore it. Don't minimize its importance. The best thing you can do is take some time off and figure out how to regroup. You may come back renewed or decide it's time for a change.

One entrepreneur I know became so overwhelmed he jumped on his boat and literally sailed away. Ultimately, he concluded that it was time to sell his company. If your business makes you that unhappy, then that's the healthy thing to do. Better yet, never let the situation get so dire.

Burnout is Contagious
If the boss is miserable, you can bet your employees are miserable, too. No matter how you try to mask it, your people will be able to read you. And when that happens, morale will plummet--and right behind it, productivity. For a small business, an owner's burnout can have huge, sometimes fatal, repercussions.

You have an obligation to your employees to take care of yourself. As their leader, you set the pace. That's yet another reason to protect yourself against burnout by seeking balance in your life.

There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and being a workaholic is one prime example. And the irony of it all: You'll be more productive in business when you invest in your life outside it.

 

Ray Silverstein is the president of PRO: President's Resource Organization , a network of peer advisory boards for small business owners. He is author of two books: The Best Secrets of Great Small Businesses and the new Small Business Survival Guide: How to Survive (and Thrive) in Tough Times . He can be reached at 1-800-818-0150 or ray@propres.com .

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