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Beating Business Burnout

By Lynn H. Colwell

5 Remedies for relief when the pressure's on.

If you find yourself exhausted, ridden by anxiety, sufferingphysical problems such as headaches, stomach aches, or soremuscles, it's time to consider whether you're on the vergeof burnout. Start by asking yourself a few questions:

* What must I do to regain the happiness and feelings offulfillment I used to enjoy in my business?

* What is the number-one problem I'm experiencing, and what canI do about it?

* Who can I call on to help get relief from the constant pressuresI'm under? While every individual is different, many people whoeventually burn out share some common traits:

1. Inability to set boundaries. During the start-upphase, it can be especially hard to know when to say"no," according to Mark Gorkin, a Washington, DC,consultant also known as "The Stress Doc."

"Entrepreneurs sometimes work 24 hours a day," hesays. "They feel they have to do that to make the businesswork." Gorkin asserts that entrepreneurs, as risk takers,target very ambitious goals. That's not a bad thing, he says,"but sometimes their expectations are out of whack withreality. They give themselves very difficult tasks which,sometimes, they can't realistically meet."

Developing "detached concern" can help you set thoseboundaries, says Gorkin. "With detached concern, you'regenuinely involved with people and projects," he explains,"but you weigh how much you give and how much you take, orexpect, from yourself and others. Detached concern means not beingall things to all people."

2. Lack of balance. Gorkin points out that manyentrepreneurs get little sleep, working almost around the clock,mostly on adrenaline. He points to exercise as a vital ingredientin burnout prevention. "Partially, it's just getting awayfrom your work that's helpful," he says. "But whenyou're feeling vulnerable and overworked, a sense of control isimportant. Exercise, such as running, can give you a mental lift.If you go for a run, there's a beginning and end point and asense of control. You've accomplished somethingtangible."

Lisa Roberts, a marketing and communications consultant inFairfield, Connecticut, and the author of How to Raise a Familyand a Career Under One Roof (Bookhaven Press, $15.95,800-782-7424), says, "When you're working at home andrunning your own business, you're constantly shuffling toaccommodate the needs of your clients, your children and yourspouse. Your `self' gets buried at the very bottom."

But even people who don't work from home face theself-management problems that can bring on burnout. "Learn totake the big picture and break it into specific tasks," shesays. "If you don't get on top of it, you'll getburied underneath."

Treat yourself as well as you do your business, advises Nuttall."When I'm tired, I rest. When I'm hungry, I stop andeat," she says. "Sound simple? When you're driven bywork, you put off eating and resting to get this one thing done,and the next, and so on. Now, even in the middle of a very busyspate, I will take off one day during the week and go hiking or dosomething totally non-technical. I might get a massage when thingsget stressful. I think a lot more about balancing all aspects ofmyself with work."

Victoria Siegel, owner of The Perfect Gift, a personalizedgift-basket and gifts company in St. Louis, tries to leave her homeoffice by 6 p.m. and avoids working weekends. "Since I tend tolose my determination to stick to this regimen, I make plans withfriends to either be out of my house or at least entertain themhere," says Siegel. "When I'm done working for theday, I close and lock the door and pretend I just left an officebuilding and can't wait to get home."

3. Inability to prioritize. With so much to do, manyentrepreneurs slip when they can't decide what's reallyimportant. Siegel explains why it's so difficult for her toprioritize: "As an entrepreneur, I'm the stock clerk,receptionist, shipping-and-receiving department, inventorydepartment, order department, accounts receivable, accountspayable, customer service person, designer, marketer, saleswoman,writer, buyer, janitor, file clerk, data-entry person, secretaryand purchasing department. Sometimes I get to be the owner, too!There's so much to be done that there's no way anything canever be totally completed."

Another entrepreneur who has seen his employees burn out, SteveThomson, president of Avenida Travel Services in Irvine, Californiasays, "In my opinion, burnout occurs when someone justcontinues wrestling with their to-do list without asking some keyquestions: Is this vital to the client or my company? Is thisurgent? What will happen if I don't do it now?" The key toavoiding the problem, according to Thomson, is to "organizeyour day, every day, before you start."

4. Perfectionistic tendencies. Thomson believesperfectionists are the most likely to burn out. "Among peoplewho've left our company due to burnout, I see a pattern ofperfectionism in their overall approach to life, and that they havetrouble adapting to the fact that this is just not a perfectworld."

Perfectionists believe they are superhumans who can have it alland do it all--perfectly. "They can range from the overbearingtaskmaster to the self-sacrificing martyr," says Gorkin.

Putting constant pressure on yourself day after day whenyou're growing a business is an invitation for disaster. Toprevent total collapse, perfectionists need to learn to give upsome control. Delegating can be exceedingly difficult forperfectionists, but it may be the only way they can avoid totalburnout.

5. Lack of motivation. Potter targets lack of motivationas a symptom of burnout. To fight it, own your life, not just yourbusiness. "Managing your own motivation involves settingmagnetic goals that attract you," says Potter, "andrewarding yourself for small steps on the way to thosegoals."

Nuttall is dedicated to attending conferences and trade shows tokeep up with a quickly evolving industry, widen her circle ofcontacts, and keep her life and business interesting. "Nowthat I work for myself, I pay a lot of attention to learning newthings, not just rehashing the same ground professionally,"says Nuttall.

Gorkin agrees. "Get new training. Learn new skills,"he says. "As I like to say, `Variety in the day keeps burnoutaway.' "

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