Entrepreneurship isn’t easy. Being a startup founder usually means being a one-man band multi-tasking everything, at least in the beginning.
And when you’re the one ultimately responsible for the soul of your company - it’s easy to become obsessed.
Your company is breathing when you are and sleeping when you are. Essentially, you’re responsible for all things planning, marketing, operational activities, and execution.There’s a lot to do and not enough time.
Juggling too many hats can be bad for your startup. And distributing tasks is next to impossible when you can’t afford to hire people in the first place.
So, what happens all too often is startup founders try to do everything themselves, only for it all to come crashing down.
The curse of burnout is real.
Whether you’re a freelancer or a startup founder, stress can kill your motivation and make you lose your hunger. The hunger that got you to start in the first place.
If some of those symptoms sound familiar, then you might have come close to experiencing a burnout.
Getting into a rut happens to everyone now and then. Though, if that feeling persists - that’s when you should be careful.
And if that’s the case, this guide is for you as we’ll be looking at some of the ways you can avoid burnout as a startup founder and stay on your course.
Avoid impostor syndrome
Impostor syndrome is a psychological concept in which an individual starts to doubt their accomplishments and skills, with a deep-rooted fear of being exposed as a “fraud.”
You have the confidence in your skills and are getting by, but when it comes to calling yourself an expert or something even more serious - a startup founder, you start to second guess yourself.
This is fairly common among freelancers, entrepreneurs, and just about everyone.
At its core, this symptom is holding you back at work. But on the bright side, you’re not alone. In fact, about 70 percent of the U.S. population experienced what’s known as impostor syndrome.
But that doesn’t make it any less dangerous.
Once you second guess yourself, you might already be on the path to your downfall. If you still want to like your work at the end of the day and get things done - you can’t afford to lose precious time and energy.
The next time you find yourself doubting your work and procrastinating is when you want to fight back against the impostor syndrome.
Here’s how to do it:
Set a timer. If you’re the type of a person who gets more done when racing against the clock, consider the Pomodoro Technique. This time management technique is a simple approach that advocates working under timed intervals. You set a timer for 25 minutes, get as much done as you can, take a break for 5 minutes and then resume. After doing this 4 times, you take a break for 15-30 minutes and then continue the cycle. It seems simple on paper but changing up your work schedule can affect your productivity levels.
Change up your work environment. Similarly, people work differently based on their surroundings. Changing your surroundings also has the added benefit of reducing stress. If you associate working from home to staying up all night and overworking yourself, consider switching places. Do you prefer some background noise or complete silence? Open windows or natural lights? There are a lot of variables when deciding on a work environment. But as long as you switch places, your happiness and creativity might change accordingly. For some, a coffee shop with just the right amount of background noise boosts creativity - what about you?
Stop comparing yourself to others. Finally, this is something all entrepreneurs are guilty of doing at least once. This mixed with being a perfectionist can lead to a whole lot of stress and fatigue. As a startup founder, you’re likely to be doing a little bit of everything. And most likely, you’ll excel at certain things and less at others. This is natural, it happens to everyone. But what’s important is that you end the habit of comparison analysis. When doing this, you’re essentially comparing your lows to someone else’s highs. Focus on yourself instead.
Work smarter not harder
It’s now about how many hours you put in, but about how much you can get done within those hours.
In most cases, inefficiency stems from poor priority and time management. Having a serious vision and the means to get there is crucial for your startup’s success.
You want your hard work to pay off. To do this, you need to make sure that what you’re working on is worth the time and it’s at the top of your priorities. Once you list down your goals and tasks, make sure your approach methodology is correct.
Being efficient is about doing things the right way.
Being effective is about doing the right things.
Ideally, you should be focusing on both. That is to say, you should be focusing on getting the right things done in the best way possible.
Time is money.
And as a startup founder, you might not have a lot of both. So, instead, try to focus on business areas you can optimize to boost your overall productivity.
Consider automating some parts of your business to save time and money in the long run. Or, if possible, you can outsource some parts of your business to a virtual assistant so you can focus on more important things.
It’s easy to overwork yourself if you’re taking everything head on. Try to focus on what’s more important for you and your business.
And here is where the 80/20 rule (aka the Pareto principle) comes in. The rule simply states that 80% of your results come in from just 20% of your efforts. Essentially, 20% of your actions make up for the 80% of your success (whether it be profits, happiness, or something else).
While the numbers may not always be 80/20, the principle behind the ratio is the same. Focus on the clients and the business activities that bring you the most success.
Look out for your mental health
Finally, if you truly don’t want to burn out while working on your startup, you should also set some time aside for your mental health.
There is a stigma in the startup world that almost no one talks about. But just because you’re hungry for success and you’re passionate about your startup - you shouldn’t sacrifice your mental health.
[Related Article - Breaking the Stigma: Mental Illness in Startups]
People have the misconception that if you’re overworking yourself and locking yourself away from the rest of the world then you’re on the right track as a startup founder. While in reality, this does more harm than good.
Did you know that mental illness pathologies are expected to exceed an expenditure of up to 6 trillion USD a year by 2030?
We don’t talk about mental health enough because people have the deep-rooted fear of seeking out help.
In the crazy startup culture where competition pushes people, seeking out help can be seen as shameful. It’s seen as a weakness and eventually leads to burnout.
Startup founders are notorious for wanting to take responsibility for everything. While this might be sustainable at first, eventually, you’ll probably want to ease your workload. Something as simple as outsourcing some of your work or even hiring someone can make your work less stressful.
In most cases, obsessing over a project leads to neglecting your mental health. That is not to say you should work less or assure you there won’t be any stress or anxiety in your role as a startup founder. But rather, you should be ready and recognize the above symptoms when they appear.
When you do recognize them, you should be ready and know how to deal with them. Remember, there is no shame in taking a break or two to prioritize your mental health. Take a walk, focus on a hobby, exercise, and once you’re refreshed - you can go back to your startup, it’s not going anywhere.
All in all, running a startup is no easy task. The road ahead will most likely involve long hours, some stress, and a bit of risk. But you already knew that.
Chances are, if you’re starting your own company, you’re passionate about a certain topic. So, if you don’t want to burn out, and lose your love for your startup, it’s important you stay healthy both physically and mentally.
It’s easy to stray from your original path and lose the passion that got you there in the first place
And if you’re overworking yourself, you can lose sight of your goals and get caught up in tasks that make little to no difference in the long run.
So, to prevent this, it’s essential you look after yourself and adopt a work approach that works the best for you. Many founders have the tendency to always be at work. If not physically, at least mentally. This mentality can be harmful and just slow you down.
If you feel that you’re getting stuck in a rut, don’t be afraid to take a break.
Relax, your startup isn’t going anywhere. And if you’re not careful, you might lose interest altogether.
Your mental health comes first. Because, at the end of the day, if you’re not taking care of yourself, how can you take care of your business?
Uwe Dreissigacker is the founder of online invoicing software InvoiceBerry and also offers free invoice templates to businesses. Small businesses and sole traders can create, send and manage their invoices, quotes and credit notes with the tool. In his free time, Uwe travels the world and enjoys experiencing different cultures.