Work-life balance is one of the toughest parts of owning a small business. Why? Because the clock is always-on. Moreover, your company is at the center of your financial universe. To-do lists are endless and the risk of burnout is high. Unfortunately, by the time you’re mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted, the damage is already done.
Making matters worse, according to research from Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D, high-achievers rarely see burnout coming. The key with outsmarting burnout is to prevent it before it has a chance to take you out. Think of self-care as a strategy rather than a “hack.” Here’s what five founders have to say about their own lessons learned.
1. Self-care is more than working out—focus on nurturing your whole self
Rabbi Jacob Rupp, founder at Lift Your Legacy
“Different kinds of self-care should address the different parts of ourselves; mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical. Just going to the gym, if you have unresolved emotional trauma, oftentimes won’t fix the whole picture. Just relaxing in the bath when you have a crisis in your life also won’t make you feel so much better over time.
“So taking into account our whole selves is key to taking care of us, just like recognising a child has to eat, has to go to school, has to learn spiritual concepts, and has to play. There is a lot going on and many different needs within us. So yes, it’s always easy to start taking care of our physical bodies with exercise, sleep, breathing, and good food, but it shouldn’t start and stop there.”
As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to fall into a trap of thinking that you can’t work out. Don’t let this perspective trick you. If you’re not stable and in your best physical alignment, you’ll have a challenging time handling the stressors of your company. Take a walk. Search YouTube for yoga lessons and meditations. Keep fitness equipment at home. Run sprints in your backyard. Keep your energy levels high by staying balanced. Never ignore self-care.
2. Stop pushing yourself—just stop
David Reischer, attorney & CEO at LegalAdvice.com
“The advice I would give a founder that is on the edge of burning out is to immediately step away from work for a bit. Over-working will only make productivity diminish and could have detrimental longer term results to the business.
“It is much better to take a holistic attitude about trying to accomplish tasks over the long run than trying to cram too much work into a short period of time. Immersing oneself into work when in burnout mode is counterproductive.”
You might notice early anxieties in moments of frustrations. If you find your mood becoming sour, walk away. Do what it takes to restore your mind to a state of calm. Some studies say that walking in nature could help. You can also sleep. Focus on resting your brain so that you can come back to work happy and productive.
3. Plan your days with more discipline
Inna Semenyuk, founder at Innavation Labs
“Be aware and careful about how you spend your time: we only have so many hours in a day so it’s important that you prioritise and focus on what’s truly important and what will drive the result. It’s very hard to do in the world of constant distractions and short attention span. Schedule time off to rest, meditate and do what you enjoy doing and what’s good for your creative mind.”
As a small business owner, you have an infinite to-do list. It’s easy to procrastinate exercising, skip meals, and forget to take breaks altogether. As you experiment with different self-care routines, incorporate them into your calendar. These are regular guardrails that are a part of your business. As tempting as it may be, don’t skip your rituals.
4. Keep work out of your mind when you’re taking time off
Matt Ross, co-owner and COO at Rizknows
“I try to keep a clear separation between work and my personal life. In fact, I set aside a certain time period per week (noon on Saturday through Sunday) when I purposely don’t think about work or even open an email.
“I completely shut off from anything work related and instead try to enjoy other activities. I’ve found my social life is much healthier and I now spend a lot more time with family. Plus, I feel a lot more refreshed and positive when I show up to work on Monday.”
Expect this process to take practice and patience, especially if you’re passionate about your business. If you find your mind drifting off, remember that you have the power to shift your attention. Consider taking on new hobbies such as cooking, reading, knitting, or art. Find new activities to occupy your valuable headspace.
5. Never neglect your needs
Sireesha Narumanchi, co-founder at Crowdworknews
“Never neglect yourself. You are the brains of your business, if you are not pumped up, then ultimately your business will suffer. It’s easy to forget yourself when you are working on passion projects, but sometimes it’s important to keep ‘you’ before your business. Take that break, go for a drive, relax. You deserve it.”
The decision to take a break might make you feel guilty. Or you may be feeling exhausted. Your body will let you know when it’s ready for a break. Don’t force yourself to keep working if you’re tired. Make sure that you go to those doctors’ appointments. Find things to do that nourish and care for your brain.
Running your business will never get easier. As you up-level, you’re going to encounter tougher situations. You’re going to need to make bolder moves. Self-care isn’t a buzzword. It’s a must–and needs to be deeply integrated into your core business strategy.
If the statement above reads harsh to you, it’s because small business ownership is tough. You need to be prepared for a reality in which you’re balancing your own needs with the demands of a growing entity. But over time, these challenges will become your new normal. You’ll have fun with them and learn to take them in stride.
So let’s end this blog post with a challenge. Take some time off. Step away from your computer to write down some self-care ideas. Go grab a cup of tea. Rest your eyes. Invite a friend to spend time with you. Prove to yourself that you can conquer your toughest self-care hurdles. You’ll be surprised by how much your business improves when you improve, too.