The entrepreneur's guide to avoiding personal and professional burnout

Tony Featherstone

As elite business athletes, entrepreneurs need to be fit. Not just physically fit, but mentally, emotionally and financially fit. There is no such thing as being sick, tired or burnt out when your venture is on the line and you have to work to get paid.

Unlike company managers, entrepreneurs can’t take lots of days in lieu, sick leave, stress leave, family leave, holiday leave, long-service leave or a sabbatical. Not unless they’re swimming in cash or the venture has oodles of backup to cover for you.

Career burnout is a huge issue for entrepreneurs – possibly the single most important to understand and combat. Think about it. The venture, at least at the start, relies almost entirely on an entrepreneur who might work 80-hour weeks under extreme stress and financial uncertainty, and with little support.

Stamina, or the ability to maintain peak performance for years, could be the difference between a venture’s success and failure. Between serious wealth and bankruptcy. Or between a kickarse job and a grinding nightmare that digs you an early grave.

Here are six tips for entrepreneurs to avoid personal and professional burnout.

Build an entourage

Every entrepreneur needs a mandatory support crew who can watch his or her back: a good doctor, personal trainer and financial adviser, to start. If funds permit, a nutritionist, life coach and business coach can also make a difference. If money is tight, subscribe to fitness and nutrition apps that provide personalised advice, and a low-cost gym membership.

Getting your health and wealth in order – and maintaining it – is a key foundation for a successful venture.

Avoid time wasters

The most valuable asset for many entrepreneurs is time. Every minute, hour and day is critical when the venture is in warp drive. Yet too many entrepreneurs allow time wasters to hijack part of their day with unnecessary meetings, emails, phone calls or requests for help. They wonder why they work to midnight and on weekends to catch up, and why they feel burnt out.

Be ruthless with time. Ask what meetings are about before agreeing to them. Choose phone conferences over face-to-face meetings for less important catch-ups. Make email replies brief and allocate three short time blocks (morning, noon and night) to reply. Every minute you save is a minute for yourself or the venture – and an investment in avoiding burnout.

Be ruthless with time. Ask what meetings are about before agreeing to them. Choose phone conferences over face-to-face meetings for less important catch-ups.

Outsource or delegate everything

Step one: find an assistant or virtual assistant (if funds are tight) to do all administrative tasks. Use micro-job platforms, such as Freelancer, to outsource work and find some low-cost, offshore helpers (with PhDs) who can do the work of several local staff.

Excel at hiring good people and building systems to help them flourish. Delegate any piece of work that an employee can competently finish. Your upfront investment in outsourcing and delegation will pay off in a bigger venture, more personal time and less burnout.

Have a plan B

Some entrepreneurs suffer debilitating burnout because they stick with a bad idea for too long. Out of pride or stupidity, they refuse to give up on the business, so they work even harder, lose more money and the venture dies a long, slow death, taking them with it.

Smart entrepreneurs know when to cut their losses, redeploy capital to a better idea, and preserve their health. There’s no shame in honest failure, where you gave your best. In fact, learning how to fail quickly, cheaply and ethically is a critical skill for startup entrepreneurs and one of the best ways to avoid burnout.

Smart entrepreneurs know when to cut their losses, redeploy capital to a better idea, and preserve their health. There’s no shame in honest failure, where you gave your best.

Exercise

Don’t fit exercise around work. Instead, fit work around exercise. Plan at least an hour a day of non-negotiable fitness time and make the most of it. Wear a fitness tracker throughout the day to reach your ‘step’ goal and monitor your heart rate.

Watch that diet. Your time and money investment in fitness, particularly if you use a trainer, will pay off many times in increased productivity and less mental and physical fatigue.

Seek professional help if burnout burns for too long

Prolonged personal and professional burnout is too important to treat with snappy tips in this and other lists. Left untreated, it can lead to depression and other potentially dangerous health problems. Talk to your doctor if the highs and lows of your venture are spilling over too much into your personal life and nothing seems to help.

Tony Featherstone

Tony Featherstone is a former managing editor of BRW and Shares magazines.

If you are experiencing depression and/or anxiety or would like to learn more, visit beyondblue.org.au.

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