What to do when it feels like it’s all up to you: a business owner’s guide to avoiding burnout

Burnout. It shows up as an unintended short reply, unexplained fatigue, or the inability to function at full capacity.

If you’ve ever faced it, you’re not alone. Research from Capital One shows nearly half of all small business owners struggle with burnout and seven out of ten experience mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion due to the stress of running their businesses.

How do you know if you have burnout? What causes it? And how can you, as a business owner, avoid burnout or recover from it?

In this article, we’ll take a look at the burnout business owners face and what you can do to overcome this common challenge.

What is burnout?

The World Health Organization defines burnout in their 2023 International Classification of Diseases as a syndrome resulting from unsuccessfully-managed “chronic workplace stress.”

Though not an illness, burnout can lead to serious health problems, broken relationships and even the loss of your business.

Here are just a few of the health-related symptoms that can occur:

  • Pain
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Low energy
  • Lack of focus
  • Changes in appetite
  • Increased alcohol or drug use

Left unchecked, burnout can lead to hypertension, heart disease, obesity, Type II diabetes, arthritis, depression and anxiety disorders.

When it spreads throughout a company, owners and managers struggle with low-functioning employees and missed workdays. Left unchecked, burnout results in costly high turnover rates.

What causes Burnout?

You brought your business from dream to reality. As an early founder, you may have taken on roles in marketing, sales, and product design. You may even have written ad copy or swept the floor at headquarters.

As your business grows, so do the demands on your time, attention, and resources.

Burnout happens when your resources fall short of those demands, according to researchers Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leiter.

Burnout can also appear as a byproduct of the ongoing stress occurring when basic needs such as sleep, relationships, or job security are at risk or when any of the following work imbalances are present:

  • How much work you have to do
  • How much control you have over your own work
  • Your reward for work completed (e.g., your profit/paycheck)
  • The community, cultures, and values of those you work with
  • Your perception of fairness at work
  • How your work lines up with your values.

So how do you know if you might be experiencing burnout?

What are the symptoms of burnout?

The same study found three major signals of burnout: exhaustion, detachment, and feeling ineffective in your position.

Sleep deprivation, 18-hour days, and lack of nutrition and exercise, along with the psychological stressors of starting a business, can leave business owners feeling tired, depleted, and in need of retreat. As you shoulder more responsibilities, it’s easy to overlook all you’ve done and continue to do. Without that feeling of success, it’s harder to stay motivated.

Think you may be on the road to burnout? Look for one or more of these 14 signs:

  • Dreading Monday morning
  • Increased caffeine or alcohol intake
  • Poor sleep
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Exhaustion
  • A change in eating habits
  • Cynicism about work
  • Negativity at work
  • Irritability
  • Withdrawal
  • Feeling less connected to coworkers
  • Struggling with focus and productivity
  • Feeling ineffective in your role
  • Being overly critical of your own performance

Note: If you are experiencing anxiety, depression, fatigue, or other ongoing health issues, seek the advice of a qualified professional.

Now that you’ve successfully recognized the signals of burnout, it’s time to pull back, recover, and rediscover the energy and enthusiasm you had when you first started your business.

How can you avoid burnout as a business owner?

Balance is the number one challenge entrepreneurs face, according to a NodeSource survey. Joe McCann, CEO, offers three ways business owners can recover a sustainable work-life balance.

Prioritize: Make a list of all your activities. Decide which are the most important. Then cross out everything else.

Delegate: Which tasks can you assign to someone at home or at work? Do you need someone to walk the dog, prepare a healthy meal, or design meeting presentations?

Schedule: Prioritize personal and family time by adding it to your calendar. Build recovery and reward into your schedule.

However, what if you’re already in the burnout stages?

How can you recover from burnout?

If you’re already struggling with burnout, it’s not too late. Here are three steps you can take to recover:

Set boundaries

Creating a firm divide between your personal and business life can be a struggle when you’re the owner — especially if you’re working out of a home office.

  • Set office hours.
  • Develop a practice of shutting down the office every day.
  • And spend time in active recovery from work.

Have a plan for active recovery

Instead of leaving recreation to chance, plan ahead so you don’t find yourself sitting in front of a screen again.

  • Get outside and take a walk
  • Get the sleep you need
  • Go to the gym
  • Visit a local park, beach, or mountain trail
  • Draw a sketch
  • Pick up a musical instrument
  • Spend time with people you care about

Build your team

Why not give yourself more recovery time by adding another member to your support team? See how many of these 221 tasks you can assign to a virtual assistant. Then, consider adding a dedicated VA to your team through the tawk.to monthly subscription service.

It’s never too late to reach out

If you are experiencing burnout, there’s help available.

Reach out to other business owners, networking groups, and community groups. Find the people and resources available to support you in your community. And build a team you can rely on.

If you need more support for your business, consider the tawk.to Virtual Assistant service starting at only $7 an hour.

As a business owner, it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like everything is up to you. This kind of pressure can lead to burnout, which is not only bad for you but also for your business. Here are some tips on how to avoid burnout and maintain a healthy work-life balance:

  1. Delegate: Delegation is a key skill for any business owner. Identify tasks that can be delegated to other team members, and trust them to do the job well. This will help you free up time to focus on the tasks that only you can do.
  2. Set boundaries: It’s important to set boundaries between work and personal life. Make sure to take time off, switch off your work phone and email during your time off. This helps you to recharge and come back refreshed.
  3. Prioritize self-care: Taking care of yourself is essential for avoiding burnout. Make time for exercise, eating healthy meals, getting enough sleep, and engaging in hobbies or activities you enjoy.
  4. Learn to say no: It’s okay to say no to requests that don’t align with your priorities or are outside your capacity. It’s better to decline than to take on too much and risk burnout.
  5. Get support: It’s important to have a support network, whether it’s family, friends, or business colleagues. They can provide encouragement, advice, and a sounding board when needed.
  6. Take breaks: Make sure to take regular breaks throughout the day, even if it’s just a few minutes. This helps you to recharge and stay focused.
  7. Focus on the big picture: Remember why you started your business and focus on your long-term goals. This can help you stay motivated and avoid getting bogged down in the day-to-day details.

By following these tips, you can avoid burnout and maintain a healthy work-life balance as a business owner. Remember to prioritize your well-being and take care of yourself, as this is key to the success of your business.