I remember a critical turning point when I was on the verge of a breakdown while running my internet company. My personal life was in shambles and my business partnership was tense.
I took what I considered a radical move at the time to get back on track. I stepped away from my company for more than a month to write a book. It worked, at least for the next year.
I wondered how other business owners stay motivated when burnout threatens. Here's what I found out:
"Create, create, creation!" says Wendy Diamond, the 30-something chief pet officer of million-dollar business Animal Fair Media Inc., a lifestyle entertainment media company that promotes fairness to animals. "Constantly thinking of new ideas, helping the underdog--this is what keeps me going."
Diamond's creations include her magazine, Animal Fair, featuring celebrities and their rescued pets; the first pet fashion show, Paws for Style, raising money for animal rescue; and the Cesar Five Dog Bone Award for companies that exhibit excellence in pet-friendly products and services. She also created Yappy Hour for singles and their pets, raising more than $200,000 for animal shelters. On top of that, Diamond is set to be a judge on CBS' new primetime TV series, America's Top Dog.
Running a multimedia pet lifestyle company is a nonstop effort for Diamond, who is also chairwoman of the Katrina Pet Memorial Fund. The fund is helping the Louisiana Humane Society in New Orleans raise millions to rebuild the shelter Hurricane Katrina demolished.
Even with inspiring and creative work, Diamond admits that she faces potential burnout every day. However, she says, "No matter what, I just remember twiddling my thumbs in Ohio pondering the question, 'What am I going to do with my life?' I quickly realize I am doing just fine."
Says Diamond, "The high point of my career is getting thank-yous from the littlest shelters, the ones that can't do anything to help me, but I know I have helped people who truly are doing what they can for animals."
The Travail of Travel
For Carol Fitzgerald, 43, president and co-founder of BuzzBack Market Research, a marathon amount of traveling for her multimillion-dollar company nudges her toward burnout.
"Last summer, during the month of July, I was on 22 planes in three weeks visiting customers. Every single one had at least a two-hour delay. My BlackBerry was dead, I was frustrated, and I felt as if I were falling behind," Fitzgerald recalls.
To keep burnout at bay, Fitzgerald takes a two-pronged approach. For business, she attends conferences to gain new perspective. "It helps me think about macro issues vs. the fires I have to put out because BuzzBack is growing so quickly," she says.
On the personal front, she seeks out time for herself, but she also turns to others.
"I do something for someone else," Fitzgerald says. "I help my kids with their homework or participate in a community event where I can't think about work."
Knowing that burnout isn't limited to CEOs, both Diamond and Fitzgerald have strategies to help their employees.
"I let them bring their pets to the office--having animals in the workplace promotes harmony and productivity. Things are always casual at the workplace," Diamond says.
For Fitzgerald, the key is flexibility. On a Friday, half the company's desks are empty.
"Our operations director is running surveys from the beach, our [senior vice president] of business development is having lunch with a friend in Connecticut because he is working from home, and our [senior vice president] of product development is taking a break to tend to his goats in Vermont," Fitzgerald says.
"You can work anywhere, anytime these days. All I care about is that we make our numbers and do an outstanding job to serve clients. Flexibility is critical. It allows employees to think, and it empowers them."