Eight Ways to Prevent Entrepreneurial Exhaustion

Man slumped over in front of computer

You won’t help your business by burning out. Photo: Andrés Nieto Porras

All work, no play — at least until you meet your income goals. I used to think this was the surefire way to attain success as an entrepreneur.

Little did I realize, each time I surpassed a milestone, I would push myself even harder until I reached the next level. But one day, my extreme work habits got the best of me and I hit what I like to call the entrepreneurial wall of exhaustion.

It was at that point that I realized all the money in the world couldn’t replace the value of good health, which is priceless. I’ve never been the one to obsess about money, but once I realized how much I could actually generate with my brain, I was hooked — and it became a dangerous habit of going the extra mile to prove a point to myself.

Are you feeling a bit worn these days, but can’t seem to shake the desire to go all in for your business? Here are some ways to prevent the exhaustion bug from sucking the life out of you:

1. Give It a Rest

If you’re on the edge, press pause this instant! Toiling away endlessly won’t do you any good; you’ll just be running in circles.

Meet your current deadlines, and then spend the rest of your day doing absolutely nothing. And no, don’t grab a cup of joe to give you a boost. Your brain needs time to recoup.

Worried that taking a break may add even more to your plate? To be quite honest, it will — but at least you’ll be rested up and better prepared to take on the heavy workload that lies ahead. In fact, there are mornings when I wake up, dive into my task list for the day, and quickly become agitated. That’s usually my sign to give it a rest for a few hours, if not the entire day.

It’s practically impossible to focus on the task at hand, yet alone perform at an optimal level, when all you can think about is how nice it would be to crawl back into your cozy bed or how much you absolutely loathe what you’re working on. (As for the latter, the project probably isn’t that bad; you’re just looking for a way out.) And even though I know I’m putting myself in a tough position for the next few work days by taking a break, nothing beats waking up renewed the next morning and ready to shift into attack mode.

Another benefit of taking a breather: More than likely, you’ll be much more efficient when your brain isn’t exhausted, and able to knock off assignments in record time.

So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed and can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, press pause. The benefits will definitely outweigh the costs –unless of course you’re on the brink of losing the most lucrative deal that’s ever come your way. In that case, grind it out and celebrate the completion of the project with a day off.

2. Set Boundaries

Office hours? What are those?

Something you need unless you want to spend every single hour of every day, including weekends, committed to clients.

While I’m all for you doing whatever it takes to get your business off the ground, there comes a point where you need to step away from operations and give your brain time to decompress. This is by far the most valuable lesson I’ve learned as an entrepreneur, particularly because I’m also a mother and there needs to be some sort of balance.

As much as I adore each and every one of my clients and appreciate their business, I have a life outside of my laptop that means more to me than anything money could buy. And yes, I was once that business owner that went above and beyond the call of duty at the most inopportune times to put a smile on my clients’ faces. But I reached a point where I had to set some boundaries for the sake of my family and my sanity.

The constant emails and text messages at all times of the day and evening just weren’t working out any longer, and I hated stepping away from my children to take a call at times when they expected and deserved my undivided attention. And while I did face some resistance from a few clients, most stayed on board and were very understanding.

The moral of the story: Communicate expectations with clients from inception to avoid any future confusion about your availability. Most importantly, steer clear of those who aren’t willing to adjust.

3. Work Smarter, Not Harder

Simply put, prioritize your tasks and pace yourself.

To date, I haven’t met a single entrepreneur who didn’t have a laundry list of goals, some of which kept them up at night because they just couldn’t find the time to execute them. And while I’m no exception to the rule, I’ve had to learn that I can’t do it all. And neither can you.

But what I can do is work smarter, not harder. For instance, securing higher paying gigs coupled with retainer agreements has enabled me to spend less time working in my business and more time working on my business. And this, too, should be your ultimate goal, as it’s essential for growth.

If you’re new to the world of entrepreneurship, it may take some time to get to the point where you can be more selective about pay rates or which types of clients you’re willing to work with. But by no means should you sell yourself short. Get a part-time job or balance your career with your business if you have to, but don’t get caught in the trap of low-paying clients or you’ll find yourself burning out as quickly as you started.

Know your worth and stick to your guns until the doors of opportunity begin opening for you.

4. Completely Disconnect

I’ve heard it time and time again: “Allison, you’re never available after 6 p.m. or on the weekends.” And you know what; they’re right. I’m not, because my workday is over! I have boundaries, as we discussed earlier, and I stick to them.

On occasion, those major emergencies or last-minute projects make their way onto my calendar, but it’s only if I choose to take on the extra work. (Plus I know that if my clients — with whom I’ve communicated expectations about my availability — contact me after hours, it must be an urgent matter.)

Have I ever missed out on the opportunity to earn a little extra dough? Most definitely. But I know my limits, and I’d much rather sleep well at night and wake up ready to tackle my next project than toss and turn thinking about how I’m going to fit it all in.

My advice: Completely power off your laptop, disable email alerts on your mobile devices, and silence alarms. And no, I’m not trying to deter you from being in sync with business operations; your business is your baby. But your body and mind are your most precious assets and need to be cared for, too, or your business will crumble.

5. Just Say No

I was told by a seasoned entrepreneur that the key to success in this game is taking every opportunity that comes your way and figuring out the rest later. While this approach may have worked like a charm for him, I disagree for several reasons.

For starters, if you continuously over-commit and under-deliver, don’t expect your business to stick around very long. When clients or customers trust you with their own business and hard-earned cash, you need to provide them with a deliverable — either a product or service –that meets or exceeds their expectations.

If you miss the mark, don’t expect them to be a repeat customer — and don’t expect them to spread the word about your business, either, which is hands down the most powerful form of marketing. That’s a double-whammy for you.

Then, there’s the stress factor. During my first year of operations, I thought I was the superwoman of entrepreneurship that could do it all. The quality of my work didn’t suffer — but my health sure did. Little did I know, burning the midnight oils on a regular basis and working like there was no tomorrow would catch up with me in ways much worse than I ever imagined.

Finally, doing so threw my entire schedule out of whack. One of the reasons I’m able to balance so much on a daily basis is the strict schedule I follow. While there’s room for a few surprises here and there, too many in a single week was a recipe for disaster. I was constantly having to move deadlines and scramble to hold up my end of the bargain in my personal life as well.

So when in doubt, just say no. Your body and business will thank you.

6. Delegate

As I’ve said time and time again, no one is better at running your business than you. But the more time you spend on administrative tasks, the less time you spend on core business activities, and the slower your business will grow.

I’m not suggesting that you go on a hiring spree, especially if funds are limited and you’re barely getting by. However, you should begin delegating what tasks you can to independent contractors, slowly but surely.

Why independent contractors in lieu of part- or full-time employees? Well, they’re a much cheaper form of labor, since you don’t have to pay benefits, and it’s easy to cut the cord when you no longer need their services.

Not sure how to get started financially? Have a brainstorming session to determine which tasks would free up the greatest amount of your time without posing a major risk to the organization. Compute the hourly rate needed to bring someone on board to assist with those tasks, and begin allocating a percentage of your earnings until you’ve accumulated enough to move forward.

As for the search process to find the perfect candidates, ask around. You can also put out an ad in the local newspaper, trade magazine, or even Craigslist, or search for candidates on websites designed for freelancers, such as ODesk, Upwork.com, Fiverr or Freelancer.com.

7. Take Off Your Cape

This suggestion goes hand in hand with all the other points I’ve mentioned. But this time around, I want to draw your attention to another important factor: your company’s vision.

If you’re spending so much time trying to be a superhero, ensuring that each and every task is executed properly without soliciting any assistance from others to lighten your load, you’re headed for entrepreneurial exhaustion.

Because of this, some of those times where you take a few moments to unwind should also include some time to reflect on past and current operations to determine if you’re on the right track for growth.

If you’re not, now’s the time to start coming up with solutions to the major issues standing in your way, and determine which implementation strategies are the most practical. But if you try to do this crucial step while in the middle of hectic daily operations, you may rush through the process or be interrupted by some other pressing task.

8. Relax and Release

Balance is the key, but let’s be honest for a moment: Taking a day or two to get your thoughts together won’t always cut it if you’ve already reached the point of no return. Instead, you need an extended vacation to truly leave it all at the office and release any built-up tension.

However, many entrepreneurs know their businesses won’t operate at peak levels if they’re absent for more than a few days. Or they simply can’t afford to take the time off.

At one point, I was faced with both of those dilemmas, so I came up with a solution: a vacation fund.

If you don’t work, you don’t get paid — that’s where the vacation fund comes in. Setting money aside for the purpose enables me to take a week or so off without having to feel guilty about a missed opportunity or spending my time off worrying about money. And whether or not I actually leave the comforts of my own home, I am granted the opportunity to indulge in the little pleasures life has to offer. Besides, I work hard, so I deserve to play just as hard.

You should also consider setting up a fund for sick time so you won’t be forced to work on days where you can barely function. Think of it this way: If you take care of your body, it will take care of you. So take a proactive approach to your time off, lest you be forced to take mandatory, unpaid leave.

Whether your business is a one-man show or a fully staffed operation, employee exhaustion and burnout can bring everything you’ve worked for to a crashing halt. Besides, it’s time to start working to live, not living to work. That’s one of the major perks of being an entrepreneur; don’t let it go to waste.