New York — Burnout has long been a problem for small-business owners who throw themselves into their companies. The struggling economy makes it worse, and the stress of the holiday season can add to the misery.
The signs are clear: exhaustion, irritability, forgetfulness, a feeling of being overwhelmed. Worse, an owner doesn’t seem to find much joy in this business that he or she used to be excited about.
Owners who have suffered from burnout learn that it can be alleviated, even prevented. They get more balance in their lives, learn not to carry their burdens by themselves and to take better care of themselves physically. For example: have a social life, build a support system and get some exercise and a good night’s sleep.
Know the warning signs
Paying attention to yourself and how you’re feeling can help stop burnout early.
“I feel myself getting tired on nights and weekends and that’s my cue to step back,” said Lyn Mettler, founder of Step Ahead Inc., a Charleston, S.C.-based company that creates and manages social media publicity campaigns.
It’s also the point when Mettler starts to take better care of herself. “If I burn out, we’re in real trouble.”
Avi Karnani and Matt Wallert are on the lookout for burnout not only in themselves, but also in the employees of their New York-based startup advisory firm, Churnless.
“The moment I see people being short-tempered with each other,” Wallert said, he knows that burnout has arrived.
Take care of your health
The admonition “a healthy mind in a healthy body” is something small business owners should take to heart.
Simona Paige, who co-owns Gourme Mist, maker of an organic food mister, said exercise, yoga and getting enough sleep have been keys to fighting burnout.
Sleep in particular is something that many entrepreneurs decide they can do without. Paige warned: “If you don’t sleep well, you’re not going to be able to function well.”
Paige said she and her partner, Sherene Costanzo, started burning out about five months ago, when they were both traveling to trade shows while trying to run the Coral Gables, Fla.-based company.
“We were being pulled in a million different directions,” Paige said.
Mettler also exercises and watches her diet, especially her blood sugar level. She finds that poor food choices, especially too much sugar, makes her “crash and burn, only to crave more sugar, followed by another crash.”
Many owners might think, I just don’t have time to worry about all that. But burnout takes away some of the time and energy you need to run your company. Fighting it by taking care of yourself physically can restore that.
Take a break
It’s hard for many small business owners to stop working, even for an hour or two. There’s always something that needs to be done, and it feels like it has to be done right now. But many of those who keep burnout at bay learn to schedule down time.
“I try to wind down at night, go in front of the TV for half an hour before I sleep, or read a book,” Paige said.
The problem for many owners, especially in this kind of economy or if the company is very young, is they find it hard to stop thinking about work. Never going off-duty mentally is a big burnout contributor.
One answer is to be sure you schedule distractions. Make sure you have a social life, whether it’s going out with friends for a quick drink or a movie, or going on a hike.
“The more positive people you have in your environment that you can go to have a beer with on short notice or have lunch with or go for a bike ride, the better,” Wallert said.
Brian Gross, president of Woodland, Hills, Calif.-based BSG PR, a public relations firm, said many owners just forget the important of a maintaining a balance between their work and personal lives.
“It’s really easy to get away from those things, and you realize when you get back into them how important they are,” he said.
Get some support
“It’s really important to be able to go to others during times of burnout and stress, times when you think the world is going to end,” Gross said.
Owners with partners can find it easier to avoid burnout, simply because there’s someone to share the burden.
“We encourage each other and support each other and work as a team,” Paige said.
For sole proprietors, it means making an effort to get some support. Networking groups are an ideal way to quickly build a support system. Gross said friends who are also in business are the ones who help him out.
Wallert and Karkani, who work with other entrepreneurs, say it’s a mistake for an owner to try to carry the burden alone or just put on a good face for the world.
“No one can help you if they don’t know you have a problem,” Wallert said.