How do you prevent burnout on the entrepreneurial roller coaster? I’m Sam Tackeff. I’m a business operations and marketing consultant and a wellness professional.
Running and scaling a business, either as a sole entrepreneur or as a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, requires persistence, dedication, and a lot of energy. By actively managing our inputs, we can build up our strength on the path of entrepreneurship without feeling the need to quit or fire yourself as boss.
So, what are some of these concrete things you can do to prevent burnout? Three key areas that I encourage every entrepreneur to focus on are lifelong learning, the “no” list, and self-care.
So let’s start with that first focus area: lifelong learning. This is just like it sounds. The top performers in every field spend at least 10 hours per week on learning, and many spend much more. This goes beyond your area of work expertise.
Commit to learning new things every day. Learning is one of the core principles that keeps us motivated to do a better job, both in the workplace and for entrepreneurs. On this note, if you aren’t passionate about the mission of your business and you don’t really care about learning about it, you should probably find a new one.
I make it a goal to learn at least one new thing every day. I keep a running quarterly list of new courses I want to take, certifications that I’m working towards, and books that I want to read.
Related: 10 Myths About Entrepreneurs
The second tip: focus on personal development, which is the biggest bang for your buck.
As both a personal practice and for high-value tasks with clients, take some time every day to learn and improve on productivity, business, and lifestyle skills. To take action here, I recommend picking up “Eat That Frog.,” a book by Brian Tracy, my all-time favorite self-improvement author. I actually keep it in my bag at all times and read a few pages when I need a little pick-me-up.
Take Personal Time
The third tip: non-work related projects, or adventures, with a family member or friend. How many of our relationships are interrupted consistently by the siren song of social media alerts? A great way to reconnect with the people you care about most is learning something together.
This goes for your relationships with your significant others, with your kids, or your friends. And you can really tailor these to the person you care about, maybe you start with a series of documentaries on Netflix you work through together, or up your game and commit to hiking all of New Hampshire’s 48 tallest peaks together.
Related: Tips for Young Entrepreneurs
The “No” List
On to the second focus area: let’s switch gears here. The “no” list. The key is simple. Stop doing things that don’t serve you and your goals.
The first tip I have: delegate or die. I stole that from Chalene Johnson, but I think it’s great. This is a big one. As entrepreneurs, we have a habit of taking on far too many things, and often the consequences are burnout, and frankly, poor work.
The more you delegate, the more time and mental energy you’ll have to focus on the work you do best. This doesn’t mean you’ll have to hire a full-time team, but the process is as simple as starting with a list of things you could have an assistant team member or an intern take over.
Related: 4 Simple Steps to Delegate Better
Another way to identify tasks that you can delegate is a simple smiley system. When I track my tasks, as I finish them, I put a smiley face on the tasks I enjoy doing, and a frowny face on the ones that were a struggle. This is a very simple method, but at the end of the week or month, I’ll assess these frowny face tasks and either delegate them or find a way to just cut them out of my workflow. They’re not worth my energy.
Cut the Fluff
The second tip: cut the fluff. If you do anything, do this. How many times in your workday have you stopped in the middle of a project to start reading a random article, check your mail, or chat with a coworker? Humans are notoriously poor multi-taskers, and distractions can easily make tasks take even hours longer than they need to. Higher performers in life are religious about focusing on tasks that matter, and then only committing to work when they work.
There are several strategies that I recommend to help you better focus on your work. One is to adopt a better personal project management workflow that limits work in progress. I personally use a kanban board with sticky notes, and pull one note—one task—into my “currently doing”, finish it, and then move it into “done”.
Another thing that I have struggled with personally and have had to do is to remove social media chat notifications as well as mail notification, and turn off devices in order to get things done.
The third tip: remove negative people from your life. This is really a lifestyle goal, but can be helpful in the workplace as well. Be it ending your relationship with a vendor who is a source of constant frustration, or on the other side of the coin, firing those difficult clients who usually end up taking most of your time with the littlest reward and keep you from doing your best work. You know who these people are. These people tend to have similar traits to keep an eye out for.
In marketing, we often call these negative personas that we use when building out sales or marketing strategy. While it’s important to understand what type of person we want to work with, it’s just as important to understand what kind of person we attract, but should avoid.
And finally, the third focus area: self care. This is one of my favorite focus areas to work on with clients. I actually teach an entire course on the topic. Everyone needs some help in this department. Self care is one of those things that we notoriously drop off when we get busy, stressed, or hyper-focused on the business.
I like to remind people that there is a reason why the airlines tell you to put your air mask on in an emergency before helping others out. It’s the same concept in business: in order to be our best selves and to help others, we must support ourselves first.
Improve Sleep Habits
So what are some of the biggest bangs for your buck here? The first tip: Improve your sleep habits. You are not your best self if you are tired and cannot use your most important asset in business: your brain. Start by making an effort to improve your sleeping environment. Track your bedtime and your waking hours. If need be, give yourself a bedtime.
The second tip is to practice gratitude, and while gratitude has become a bit of an Oprah buzzword these days, the principle is an important one.
How often do we ignore our accomplishments and take for granted the work that we’ve completed? This can be extended into the workplace as part of a regular retrospective process, and just asking “what worked well? “what didn’t work so well? and “what can I improve?” At home, it can be writing out a short list in a notebook by your bed of the things that just made you smile during the day.
When working with clients, I find that this is an activity that’s kind of a sticking point. It’s a little woo-woo, but it’s a powerful practice to self-reflect, and can make real differences in even in the bottom line of your business.
The third tip, and a personal favorite, is meditation. I’m on a 355-day streak so far! Be it guided, solitude, walking meditation, or going to a meditation class, we can all benefit from this quiet time to work with our minds. Meditation is practiced all over the world and by top business people in every field.
It doesn’t have to be this mystical experience. It can be really as simple as sitting quietly for five minutes before an important meeting or call, or taking a walk around the block.
I’m personally partial to the app Headspace, (they’re not paying me!) which gamifies the process to encourage streaks and habit forming. You can get the first 10 days free and listen to them as many times as you’d like. It’s helped so many of my clients really make a habit out of meditation practice and they see immediate changes.
Service to Others
Finally, one last tip here. I want you to consider being of service to others in as many ways as possible.
Oftentimes, when we build our business and focus on serving our customers, we forget about our neighbors, the community, and the world at large. Giving back is a great way to be thankful for the success that we have, and can also provide us with that powerful “why” that every successful person needs to thrive. This “why” can even keep you going when you don’t feel like showing up for work.
How do you put these things into practice? A sound strategy is to choose to focus on only one to three of these areas. Pick one of these tips, clearly write out your goals, and commit them to habit. Every quarter, you can choose different areas of focus, cut the ones that didn’t work, (that’s important) and try new things as you go along.
I wish you the best of luck with your business, and keep on striving to be your best self.
About Sam Tackeff
Sam Tackeff is a business operations and marketing consultant for startups, solopreneurs, and small businesses. She specializes in productivity and designing smart systems to help businesses grow.
Sam is a Jill of all trades, and has been an early stage team member at startups including Square, Tasted Menu, GoPapaya, and Boston Business Women. She led Globalization at Runkeeper, a global company with 50 million users world-wide, recently acquired by Asics.
She’s also a passionate wellness professional: ASCM certified personal trainer, RRCA certified running coach, and health coach. She speaks on a variety of wellness topics, conducts corporate wellness audits and designs corporate wellness programs, and teaches an e-course on Self Care for entrepreneurs.