Every startup begins with passion and ambition but maintaining that energy can drain you. In the years it takes to build a successful business, many entrepreneurs fold under the weight of that pressure. What does burnout feel like? What causes it? Most importantly, how do you fix it? We have some advice on how to recognize and prevent startup burnout.
The toll of burnout
Burnout is closely linked to stress, and many of the physical and emotional symptoms overlap. For some, it may feel like constant tension in your body. You could have headaches, illness, high blood pressure or stomach pains. When describing burnout, people often mention feeling drained, exhausted, and overwhelmed. Emotionally, you may feel distant or distracted. If you already struggle with anxiety, depression or another mental illness, that may be exacerbated.
Burnout takes a toll on workers from every industry – it’s hard to remain productive in this state. For those building a business, overcoming it can feel impossible. No matter how much energy you put in, there’s always a never-ending pile of work to tackle. If you don’t physically step away, you could spend all day thinking about your job. This is a fast track to facing burnout from your startup.
What causes startup burnout?
- A lack of work and personal boundaries
- Slow business growth
- Pressure to overwork
- Managing every task by yourself, especially if you lack experience
- Failures – even small ones
- Poor work-life balance, and no time away from your startup
- Balancing work with family and other personal obligations
- Unexpected changes or issues with the company
- The pressure of managing finances
- Trying to build up your image and brand
Strategies for preventing burnout
To learn about beating burnout, we decided to reach out to those who had experienced it themselves. These entrepreneurs all experienced feelings of burnout as they were building their companies, but they were able to persist regardless.
Every person has their own established technique, and hopefully, at least one will resonate with you.
Check your resentment at the door
Caitlin Donovan knows burnout well – she’s a “Burnout Expert” who specifically coaches struggling employees. She runs a burnout podcast, has published an e-book and speaks about the topic.
She’s also written a profile for Lioness discussing her personal experience overcoming startup burnout. One piece of advice she had for other entrepreneurs was to recognize resentment before it builds up and leads to burnout.
“Keeping a resentment journal is an amazing way to know where you need to put up boundaries and a great way to figure out who to hire first when you’re in the beginning stages of business building. Look over your resentment list. Is it about the financials? Hire a CFO or a bookkeeper. Is it about social media? Hire a social media manager. There’s often advice to focus on what you love, on your zone of genius, which is lovely, but not reasonable for a startup. By paying attention to resentments right from the get-go, you’ll be building boundaries in automatically as you go.”
Build your support system
Francine E. Love is a law firm owner who works specifically with new businesses and startups. Since a new business is filled with uncertainty, any setback can leave you wondering if you made the wrong decision. To prevent startup burnout, she highlights the importance of a support network.
“One of the best strategies to prevent burnout is to find a group of like-minded entrepreneurs who you can turn to for inspiration, advice and support. The ability to pick up the phone and call another woman who is leading a firm, who is also dedicated to its success in the same passionate way you are, can help so much. I was at a low point two years ago in my own practice. I called a member of my tribe and asked her to go to breakfast with me that week. It changed me. I felt inspired; believed in; confident enough to take the next step. You must protect your mindset at all costs.”
Dr. Jessica Edwards, DO, owner of Zara Medical Aesthetics, echoed this sentiment as she discussed mentorship.
“It is so important to have someone who has been in your shoes to lean on to discuss ideas,” she wrote. “Oftentimes, if you do not have a mentor, it is easy to try and reinvent the wheel. This can make you feel like you are going in circles and not getting anywhere. Through mentorship, you can also develop a network, which can also help to grow your business.”
Take a break and take care of yourself
As part of her Masters program, Hyre CEO Eropa Stein focused on burnout and negative stress in the workplace. When she founded her company, she needed to work in every single “department” – sales, customer services, operations and marketing. The constant back and forth would be draining for anyone.
To manage her burnout, she makes the time for reflection and self-care.
“I schedule a 30-minute break once a day, regardless of what I’m doing,” she said. “Taking time for yourself and serving your needs is vital. Ironically, doing nothing for half an hour except for serving your needs can quadruple your productivity in the long-term.”
Set firm boundaries between work and home
Amie Devero is an executive coach who works with high-growth startups. Many of her clients are women entrepreneurs who feel completely overwhelmed as they try to accomplish as much as they can in one day. This burnout only intensifies if the client is also a parent.
“Women CEOs often work late into the night, sacrificing valued time with family, children or partners. They forego the most important things in their lives – their health, fitness or hobbies – in service of the attempt to complete all there is do,” she wrote. “Mothers try to do everything, often at the same time. Children’s bedtime is combined with a Bluetooth call, and mom is typing an urgent email while toddlers roam the office. Doing this means women are constantly struggling to focus on everything, but focus is, by definition, on ONE thing. It is largely all of this that creates burnout.”
According to Devero, preventing burnout means accepting you can’t and won’t complete everything today.
“Even on the day you die, there will still be items on your list. That insight allows for real freedom. Knowing that the task of doing everything is, by definition, futile, allows my clients to leave things undone at the end of the day without feeling they have failed,” she said.
Key changes to make
To help establish work-life balance, Devero offered some recommendations:
- Declare a beginning and ending time for work, such as 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Make that law.
- Share the start and end times with your family and your team.
- Create an end-of-day ritual to trigger your brain that the workday is over, like shutting off your laptop, turning off your Slack channel on your phone, taking your dog for a walk or reading to your children.
- Have a specific location for work and try not to use it for anything else. If you’re stuck with the kitchen table, then clear it off at the end of the workday.
- If possible, arrange alternative childcare with a family member or nanny to make time for work.
- Schedule everything you need to do on your calendar, even if you can’t touch the task until next month.
- Follow that calendar exactly.
Do you have a secret strategy for beating burnout? Share it with other entrepreneurs below.