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How to avoid or escape entrepreneurial burnout

Work-Life Balance

9 min read

As an entrepreneur, you likely spend every day taking care of your business. But are you doing everything you can to take care of yourself? The work of owning a company is tireless, but you keep at it because it’s your dream in progress. At EMyth, many business owners come to us because they’re burnt out—they’ve hit a wall, they’re in over their head, they’re stuck. Sound familiar? Whether you’re constantly putting out fires and trapped in the day to day, or are afraid that you’re the only one in the company who can provide your customers with the ideal experience, you’re at major risk of burning out. So what can you do to avoid that exhausting descent—to pivot away from the overwhelm and create a business you love leading and a life you love living?

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In the past decade, with demands for your time and attention higher than ever in a fast-paced digital world, discussions surrounding mental health and burnout are much more common. And these conversations are worth having. Burnout—a mental, physical and emotional state of exhaustion caused by prolonged stress—can strike at any point in an entrepreneur’s career, from the early days running a startup, to a tenure of decades in a family company. With so much pressure to succeed, business owners all too frequently push aside their wellbeing in service of what can keep their company going: They don’t leave time for their lives outside of work to recharge or go on vacation. But we’re committed to the belief that your business should serve your life, and a big part of that is finding time for pause. Not only will this serve your wellbeing, it’ll serve your business as well. Here are some tips for how to avoid burnout, so you can show up stronger and more focused.

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Recognize the signs of burnout

Exhaustion is all too common with intensely dedicated entrepreneurs. In order to avoid or recover from this type of burnout, it’s important to know what it actually looks like. The symptoms can vary from person to person, but burnout most commonly manifests in feelings of hopelessness—an unwavering and all-consuming idea that things will never get better. It takes an exceptionally creative and motivated person to lead a business, but it’s often this same type of person who is prone to mood swings, self-criticality and frustration. You’ve been a driven person all your life, but perhaps you’ve begun to lose motivation or feel depressed, overreact, make careless mistakes, forget important details, lose focus—the list goes on. These are all major indicators that you’re burnt out. 

Take a vacation—a real vacation

Get out of town—seriously! One of the most important things you can do for yourself is to take a vacation and let yourself recharge. Not all small business owners have the luxury of a standard five-day workweek, but by taking extended, scheduled time off away from your place of business, you’re less likely to be tempted by jumping in and getting caught up. Sometimes it takes a day or two to even get used to not being at work—be generous with yourself while you unwind. 

But this is all much easier said than done. In order to ease your mind while you’re away, it’s all about planning ahead so that your vacation can actually feel like a vacation. Set up your team for success while you’re away by designating a point person who will eventually serve as your proxy. By delegating tasks to your people in order of priority, what needs to get done will get done. Once you know the dates when you’ll be away, send out a context email so that there’s plenty of notice, and schedule meetings before and/or after your away dates to review what needs to get done. Then, set up that vacation responder message in your email that’s been collecting dust and truly unplug—mute notifications and log out. And in case of an emergency, determine with your team what that would look like where they’d really need to reach out. But with a little luck and proactive planning, that won’t be needed.

Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from. 

Seth Godin, Entrepreneur and Author


Be prepared for whatever comes your way

As a business coach, it’s never easy to hear about some of the most difficult periods of a business owner’s journey—and working through them is often why many people come to us when they do. It’s not unheard of for entrepreneurs to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). So, whether you’ve experienced a major financial blow, an unprecedented time of crisis (2020, we’re looking at you) or other life-changing event, it’s important to recognize and reflect on what you’ve endured. Without giving yourself the time and space to reflect, the weight of these burdens can pile up. And without having a crisis management plan in place, it can be difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But with the foresight to be prepared, you can have faith in knowing you can take care of your team and your customers, and manage whatever comes next.  

But even if there is no one major event that set you on the path towards burning yourself out, the extreme stress of running a business without strong systems in place can slowly wear you down, manifesting in physical symptoms of insomnia, loss of or increase in appetite, muscle tension, loss of focus, a weakened immune system, high blood pressure and even worse if it goes unchecked for too long. Systems are key to relieving this undo stress.

Manage your time in order to physically recharge

Frequently we hear about inundated business owners who are so caught up in their daily work that they don’t even find the time to eat lunch. While it can seem like a way to make more time for yourself, skipping meals will immediately impact your mood and performance. Your strategy for time management should prioritize you just as much as your work. Schedule time for your meals. Always make time to eat a balanced breakfast, step away from your desk for lunch, and take breaks for quick energy boosts throughout the day. Try coupling your midday meal with your EMyth Hour, back to back, so that it can flow seamlessly into your Strategic Work without distraction. And while we’ll never say no to a cup of coffee, it’s best to avoid too much caffeine or sugary drinks that’ll send you crashing. Keep a reusable water bottle on hand to stay hydrated. 

The key to maintaining a healthy work-life balance is managing your time and learning how to say no. So, once you’re home for dinner—unplug. You’ve done enough for the day. Use your down time to recharge, and aim to get six to eight hours of sleep a night.

Stay active and monitor your health

Whether you’re sitting at your desk for hours a day or you’re onsite for a physically demanding task, give yourself breaks—getting up to stretch improves blood flow to increase energy, plus prevents cramping or even more serious injuries. Consider how much you’re on your computer or phone, and take breaks to limit screen time and let your eyes—and your mind—rest. 

Sometimes, the most creative brainstorming comes from moving our bodies. When it’s time to think about the big picture and craft your vision, one of the best things you can do is take a walk—let your mind wander while your body wanders too. But exercise is also a great way to get your mind off of work. Biking, yoga, jogging, rowing—whatever your preference may be, the time and space to be physically active is just as beneficial for your mind.  

If you’re feeling worn down—physically, mentally or both—don’t wait to address your symptoms because you’re too busy. If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, reach out to a therapist to discuss how to manage these feelings. Keep up with regular doctor appointments and stay proactive so that small issues now don’t become large issues later.

Connect with the ones you love

There’s truly nothing like spending time with your loved ones to remember why you’re doing what you do. Your spouse, your kids, parents, siblings, extended relatives—are the ones you strive to support, who inspire you to keep going are there to support you and help you enjoy life. Especially if you run a family business, time dedicated to stepping fully away from work allows for healthy boundaries, strong communication and plain old relaxation. Good friends help you decompress and get your mind off of work, or talk out any feelings of anxiety and offer advice. Being with the people you love is the best way to emotionally recharge and remember what’s most important in life: No matter what, you’re there for each other. Connecting with family and friends is perhaps the most significant reminder that your business is meant to serve your life, and not the other way around.

Celebrate holidays and milestones

We know that the holidays may not be the calmest time of the year. Especially if you have a seasonal business, it might seem nearly impossible to step away to spend time with family and friends. But these are the moments when it’s most important to do so: Not only can you celebrate the holiday—you can also step back and celebrate where you find yourself and the progress you’ve made. You can clear your mind and make space to envision what comes next, whether by crafting an annual plan or gaining clarity on your purpose. And the holidays are a perfect touchstone for you to reflect on your company values and how you instill them in your business—it’s when you can connect with your team, show them you appreciate them, and make sure that they too can spend time with their family and friends. Because in the end, that’s what it’s all about, whether you’re an entrepreneur or not.

You began your small business because you love what you do; you want to provide the best possible experience for your team and your customers, and provide for you. But that can’t happen until you provide the best possible experience for yourself. By escaping the burnout that plagues small business owners, or avoiding it altogether, you can build a business you love leading and a life you love living. And if you need help, we’re here for you.

Tricia Huebner

Written by Tricia Huebner

Tricia Huebner is EMyth's VP of Coaching Emeritus. As one of the leading experts in all facets of the EMyth Approach, her 20 years of experience at EMyth included leadership roles in program development, coaching, coach training and marketing. Tricia’s commitment to helping business owners came from her own upbringing in a family of small business owners. In her time as a speaker and trainer, she addressed business audiences throughout the U.S., and internationally in Canada, Europe and Africa. Throughout her career, Tricia designed programs for the Small Business Administration and consulted with Fortune 1000 companies, and personally coached more than 200 small and mid-sized businesses, helping owners create businesses they love leading and lives they love living. She retired from EMyth in 2022 to pursue her own business within the wine industry.