Three ways to manage stress, burnout and the pressure of running a business
Burnout is one of the most common afflictions that U.K. founders experience. In fact, it’s not just entrepreneurs who suffer, as a recent Gallop poll found that nearly two-thirds of full-time workers are dealing with burnout at some point while at work. Between 2019 and 2020, there were an estimated 828,000 workers affected by work-related stress, depression or anxiety. So, not only is looking after your mental health important for overall wellbeing, it’s good business sense, too.
The problem is: we’re more switched on than ever before. Constantly checking our phones. Answering emails. Scrolling through Instagram. Replying to WhatsApp messages. We’re suffering with constant digital overload – which, when left untreated, leads to burn out and increased anxiety. The boundary between work and personal life has become so blurred – not helped by a global pandemic and national lockdowns, where we’re trapped inside and bored – meaning, as a society, we’ve forgotten how to rest.
This, obviously, leads to problems such as founder fatigue, increased feelings of stress and the danger of burnout, as you’re never getting the distance needed from your working day. If you’re looking to get the most out of your career, without burning out, here are my three tips on how to avoid founder fatigue and maximise your productivity, without compromising your mental health:
1. Plan the week ahead on a Sunday night
Productivity is something you plan for – it doesn’t happen by chance. I take an hour every Sunday to plan my week ahead – it’s important if you’re an entrepreneur working across different projects or businesses that you dedicate your time accordingly. I look at the balance of different projects I’m working on, making sure I’m not spreading myself too thin on any one thing.
“Avoiding burnout is about taking control of your time and making work, work for you”
It might be helpful to colour-code your diary, so you can get a visual representation on how your time is being spent. Avoiding burnout is about taking control of your time and making work, work for you – so factor in everything you’d like to do in your week, including workouts, self-care and social activities.
2. Make your down time non-negotiable
The main reason we burn out is not having enough down time. Time off is as important as time on – it’s your time to recharge, get perspective, come up with fresh ideas and feel excited and inspired for the week ahead. If you don’t give yourself time off, you can’t bring your best self to work.
Make time to yourself non-negotiable – block out the time in your diary and don’t forget the importance of fun. That will look different for everyone – it might be a dance class, a long walk with the dog or a Zoom cookery class – but fun is an important part of everyone’s working life. Forget FOMO, focus on JFTI – ‘Just For The Joy Of It’.
Try to get out into nature every day – or at least leave the house! – ideally without your phone. If we spend too much time with our phones in our hands, we end up feeling suffocated by work and technology. Work is something you should enjoy and look forward to, so creating a physical boundary between work is important to reconnect with that enjoyment factor. I’d recommend always blocking out a lunch break in your calendar and try to have one day a week where you have no meetings or calls at all.
3. Plan your time efficiently
Productivity and avoiding burnout are about understanding your personal working style and how you personally work best. When you’re your own boss, you have to really be your own boss – that means taking monthly reviews of your efficiency and progress. Get interested in your working habits, understanding how to be most productive with your time and skill set.
For me, that means breaking my working day into 40-minute chunks of time – I find I lose focus after that time – and taking regular 10-minute work breaks, without screens. I’m a morning person, so my energy is always best then and I’ll do the most pressing or creative tasks then, saving my admin and more mindless tasks for the afternoon. You need to find how to work best for you – and when you’re your most productive and energetic self. Corporate conditioning has a lot to answer for, including our perception of what a ‘normal’ way of working is – be careful not to internalise nine-to-five culture and presenteeism. If you’re your own boss, you can make your time work for you - including working unconventional hours.
My final piece of advice is to do a weekly digital detox, ideally 24 hours without your phone and laptop. We’ve really lost the art of rest – and we need to remember how to truly relax, without digital distractions and ‘urgent’ work matters. Monday will come. Give yourself Saturday. Breathe. Walk. Read. Remember that stress is a feeling – one that you’re capable of managing if you give yourself the right tools and mental space.
Angelica Malin is an award-winning entrepreneur, editor in chief of About Time magazine and author of new book She Made It, published by Kogan Page and available for £14.99.