Seven signs you're on the edge of burnout

Aja Stuart

If anyone knows how to work, it’s an entrepreneur or business owner. Anyone who runs their own show has probably fallen prey to unhealthy work habits. Working though the night, working on weekends, working in the gaps in between other work - I mean, what family and friends?

When you’re riding the wave and the momentum is strong, or you’re trying to dig yourself out of a hole, it can be hard to tear yourself away and get some downtime. But this constant, prolonged stress, exciting though it may be, can leave you burnt out. Nobody wants that.

Here are seven signs you might be heading for burnout.

Fatigue and exhaustion

If you can’t remember the time when you didn’t need five cups of coffee just to get going, you may be experiencing one of the main early warning signs of burnout. Whether your experiencing physical or mental fatigue, it might be time to take a beat and assess if you’re working sustainably.

Lack of focus

Feeling scattered? Forgetting things? Maybe the vitamins aren’t working anymore. A lack of focus often goes hand in hand with the elevated cortisol levels of chronic stress. It can leave you feeling confused and unproductive which can loop back into more stress.

Lack of motivation

You used to be so passionate about your new project. It was going to disrupt the market and change the world! But now every time you think about your to-do list you start dragging your feet and wishing you were somewhere else.


This is a kicker. You’re so exhausted through the day that everything is harder than it should be. All day you dream of your bed, but when you finally get there you’ve never been more alert. Oh, hey there, more stress and exhaustion.

Irritability and cynicism

Has your normally bubbly personality gone the way of Larry David? If it has, it’s time to check in and see if you have any other signs hinting at burnout. This short-temperedness can have a detrimental impact on your relationships too. No fun for anyone.


Anxiety is so common it can be easy to chalk it up as acute stress and attribute it to minor issues. If left unaddressed for too long feelings of general tension and edginess can become more serious issues, such as panic attacks.

Neglecting yourself

Self-care is crucially important as a business owner. It’s so easy to give everything over to getting your enterprise off the ground and then keeping your baby running. You need to be replenishing your body and soul so you’ve got more to give. No one can run on empty.

You may or may not have all of these signs, but just having two or three is enough to warrant a change-up in your work schedule and maybe seek out some help.

What can you do right now? Beyond Blue have some helpful strategies for combating burnout.

  • Take regular breaks, do not work through lunch, and set an alarm to remind you to take a break.
  • Take full holiday leave and plan in advance. This could include things like planning a long weekend after a busy period.
  • Set realistic deadlines and deliver on time.
  • Remember, it’s ok to say no sometimes.
  • Put things for yourself (e.g. an enjoyable activity) on the ‘to do’ list.
  • Technology can blur the boundaries between work and home – set a time when your mobile phone or email is switched off.

Burnout can creep up on anyone. It may not feel easy to take a break, however small. But the rewards are more than worth it.

Aja Stuart

Aja is Sydney-based writer and serial entrepreneur. She regularly writes about small business, entrepreneurship, and health and wellbeing. Her latest entrepreneurial adventure is!

Image: Allan Rotgers, Flickr Creative Commons license