How to Identify, Prevent and Avoid Burnout at Work
Burnout leers many entrepreneurs and business owners into its trap. But it comes with many negative side effects, ones that can take a bigger toll than just a few days of missed work.
Burnout is very common among entrepreneurs and even among ambitious professionals. I've dealt with burnout many times over the years. As a startup founder with high ambitions, I had many goals that I was determined to reach — but the result often meant I was overworking myself, leading to burnout.
Unfortunately, burnout can often come without any warning. If you are very passionate about your work, like I was, many times you don't even feel like you are working. This results in spending more time on work than is healthy.
Statistics show that entrepreneurs tend to sleep less and work more hours in a day. A Small Business Trends report said that 70% of business owners and self-employed work past their bedtime. Elon Musk says he worked 120 hours a week. Some entrepreneurs work more than 18 hours a day. The result of overworking comes with a huge personal cost — so let's explore how to avoid it.
Burnout doesn't just affect professionals
Spending too much time on any activity is unhealthy. Whether it's professional work or sports, home chores or even video games, overdoing leads to burnout, stress and a compromised immune system. The result can be minor or major health problems, like headaches, fatigue, anxiousness and even putting yourself at a higher risk for cancer. What's more, being exhausted and overworking can result in cloudy judgment resulting in missing out on business or work opportunities, not to mention its effect on family and marriage relationships.
Apart from health and relationship costs, there is the productivity cost as well. A train can't travel fast forever. Eventually, there is a breakdown. For workers, this comes in the form of exhaustion or illness that slows you down or completely halts your work. You may lose many weeks after burnout. Heart health can also be affected.
For these reasons, remote workers and entrepreneurs need to regulate their work so they don't overwork.
How to identify and prevent burnout
From my experience, burnout progresses from an addiction to work, a byproduct of becoming a workaholic. You feel like you have to do something, to get something done. Soon, your mind is blurry and productivity falls, but you can't stop working. Many times you're being just busy and hardly achieving anything at this stage. It is followed by muscle aches and exhaustion. And still, you may not be able to stop working because you've become addicted to it. Many professionals become so addicted to work that they don't feel like taking a vacation and even work on weekends.
The best thing to do is to prevent burnout by limiting the number of hours you work. You can do this by setting work time limits and taking regular breaks during the day and especially at night and weekends, and taking regular vacation time off. By creating a work schedule with regular breaks and holidays, you prevent becoming a work addict which is the precursor to burnout.
If you see signs that you are becoming a work addict (i.e. you have the need to keep working without resting or stopping), the best thing to do is to stop, take a break and just relax.
Depending on the amount of exhaustion, the rest period may be a few hours to days and even several weeks in order for the effects of burnout to go away.
Related: 3 Ways to Avoid Entrepreneur Burnout
Top strategies for preventing burnout
If you need some ideas of where to start in your journey to preventing burnout, here are my suggestions:
- Identify the most important tasks and focus on getting these done first.
- Set goals. Every task should bring you closer to reaching your main goal.
- Differentiate between income-producing activities and non-income-producing activities. Income-producing activities — such as speaking to a potential customer, making cold calls or delivering services — should get high priority. Non-income producing activities include tasks like posting on the company's social media or updating the business website.
- Don't spend time on the computer/tablet/smartphone unnecessarily. Use these devices with purpose, for important tasks that need to get done. Otherwise, avoid them. It's easy to become busy with these devices, with so many activities available online, even business-related. And that uses even more of your energy, which can cause burnout. When you are away from the internet, you can focus on work that is important for your business. Otherwise, you may be keeping yourself busy with unimportant tasks.
- Delegate work that others can do.
- Limit the time you have access to the internet, such as not having WiFi access. A lot of time is spent on the internet, on social media or browsing news or YouTube/movies and these things reduce work-life balance. Not having unlimited access to the internet will ensure a more balanced life.
Burnout affects productivity as well as mental health. It can even have long-term effects on work abilities and professional progress. Therefore, for a healthy balanced life that is stress-free, it's important to prevent burnout by having a relaxed work schedule.
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