Burnout: An Ever-Present Risk that Could Damage Your Life

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How to Keep It from Happening

Burnout is a risk that hovers menacingly over the head of every entrepreneur. It can sneak up on you with little or no warning, burrowing silently into your business and your personal life. Psychologists define burnout as physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress. It can leave you feeling empty, incapable and distressed.

“Burnout is insidious,” said Jackie Nagel, president, Synnovatia. “It causes decision fatigue, erodes confidence, drains your energy, infects attitudes, amplifies cynicism, promotes inflexibility and encourages procrastination. Before long, you’re unable to focus on the task at hand. You’re easily disrupted by email and distracted by the simplest of things.”

Consider the experience of one Florida business owner, Piedad Trujillo.

“I have to oversee employee and technician operations, take care of clients and run the business, as well. I’ve been doing this for 11 years now, and at this point in my career, I feel thoroughly burned out. I feel that my passion is dying, and I find it difficult to have patience or tolerance with the staff.”

Arguably, the stressful environment surrounding service businesses makes owners and managers more susceptible to business burnout than most other entrepreneurs.

Here are 10 easy steps you can take now to minimize your chances of contracting burnout or help to banish it if you’re already feeling the symptoms.

Avoid Burnout By recognizing Its Symptoms

“One of the best ways to banish burnout is by recognizing its symptoms,” said health and wellness coach Dr. Sylvie Heyman. “Some of the most common symptoms of burnout are irritability, poor sleep or sleeping too long, forgetfulness, lack of motivation, lethargy, lack of energy, erratic eating behavior, bursts of anger, impatience and feelings of despair and depression.”

Of course, recognizing its symptoms is only a first step in banning business burnout. Once you become aware of the symptoms, it’s crucial to take steps to rid yourself of them.

Schedule a Weekly Personal Check-in

“Take 5-10 minutes at the same time every week for a gut check,” said Joellyn Sargent, CEO of the Claravon Group. “How do you feel about life? Are you accomplishing what you planned? Are you behind and never able to catch up? Do things you used to love fail to excite you?

“If things look dark and gloomy, you could be on the edges of burnout, and you need to step back for some perspective. Think about how you can refocus on your priorities, what you might stop doing or could delegate to someone else to free up energy and keep yourself on track toward your goals.”

Give Yourself and Technology a Rest

“Unplug from technology. When the clock strikes 5 p.m. — or whatever time you have for closing down shop, turn off all your technology,” Nagel said. “Your body and mind need time to renew after a day of demanding work. Give yourself time to rejuvenate your decision-making muscle.”

Before the era of smartphones, leaving your work at work was only natural; taking your work home with you required a conscious effort to do so. Not so today. With almost everyone owning a smartphone, we’re all carrying around an office in our pocket. That’s why you should determine to limit or eliminate your use of this technology after working hours. Turn off that smartphone completely after 8 p.m.

According to Nagel, burnout is completely avoidable, with proper use of the latest advancements in technology.

“Used correctly,” she said, “technology makes your workday more productive and efficient. You’re going to be in business for a long time. It’s up to you to make business burnout a thing of the past.”

Stop Trying to Do Everything at Once

It’s only natural: as a skilled professional, you think you know it all, and you think you can do it all at the same time. But you can’t, so you need to stop trying.

Nagel agreed: “Once the sought-after skill of the ‘80s and ‘90s, researchers are now finding that multitasking is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Although walking and chewing gum is still an acceptable form of multitasking (it’s automatic), responding to email while talking on the phone adds to inefficiency. Plus, it’s just plain embarrassing when you’re asked a question and you’re unable to respond appropriately because your attention is divided.”

Change Your Routine

“Nothing’s more exhausting than monotony,” said Adelaide Lancaster, writing in Entrepreneur magazine. “If your work looks the same each and every day, you’re sure to tire quickly. Change your routine with some rejuvenating work-related tasks such as reading, taking a field trip or meeting with a business colleague.”

Get (and Stay) Active and Healthy

An important part of avoiding burnout is a constant awareness of its often “invisible” symptoms. Sargent agreed: “Burnout can easily manifest itself in an extra hour of TV, a skipped workout, cancelled social plans and another glass of wine.

“If you notice these habits creeping in, force yourself to take a walk, play with a dog or simply stretch. Just do something that requires you to physically move and is not work related. Even a short, active break like a 10-minute walk can do wonders for your mindset. Go shopping, stop at the park and watch a rec ball game or do something you used to enjoy but haven’t done in years. The enjoyment you find in these small steps can spark motivation to do more and take better care of yourself.”

“Always remember that you are the primary breadwinner for your family,” Nagel said. “That’s why your ability to keep yourself healthy is crucial.”

“And remember that recess isn’t just for kids. Take frequent breaks throughout the day; that will refresh your creativity and reboot your brain.”

Stop Trying to Do It all Yourself

“If you want something done right, do it yourself.” You’ve heard that old chestnut many times, maybe even said it yourself. But that’s a philosophy that can help hasten your journey down the road to devastating burnout.

“Failing to understand the importance of delegating is one of the most common and harmful mistakes made by stressed out business owners and managers,” said entrepreneur and consultant Phil Wilkins of Germantown, Tennessee. “You must stick to what you do best and leave the rest to others.”

Even if yours is a relatively small operation, it’s important to learn how to trust others with those tasks that do not demand your personal involvement.

Nagel agreed: “Business owners are notorious for ‘doing it all.’ Hand over suitable tasks to skilled employees or others who support your objectives. That will free your own vision and creativity.”

Stop Being a Perfectionist

At the very core of your fast lube experience and training is the concept of doing things right. It’s only natural, then, to lean toward perfectionism in your work. If the words “good enough” make you cringe, you may be showing early signs of what some psychologists call an epidemic of perfectionist tendencies.

“When people care deeply about their work, they sometimes just don’t know when to stop,” according to many of our experts.

It’s important to understand that “perfect” doesn’t exist. Train yourself to understand that “good enough” often is good enough. In addition, don’t allow your employees to feel you are never satisfied no matter how hard they try.

Listen for Feedback

“What are people around you saying? If you hear increasing complaints or experience growing friction with loved ones, employees or even customers, there’s a good chance it’s you, not them,” Sargent said. “Reflect on what you’re hearing. If there is a common theme, it may be because your attention or focus is lacking. If so, determine why that’s the case and try to become more present. You may need to stop multi-tasking, unwind early to get a good night’s sleep or take a day off if you haven’t had one in a while. That may seem hard to do, but the world really won’t stop if you take a long weekend.”

Make Sure It’s Really Burnout

If none of these suggestions seem to help, you may be dealing with something more serious than burnout. If you’re experiencing some of the symptoms but still feel that your work is being accomplished properly, then it’s probably just a matter of burnout for you to deal with. However, if you’re suffering from feelings of despair and hopelessness, you should consider the possibility that you need professional help.

Short of a more serious problem, burnout is a burden that can be dealt with and relieved. While following these suggestions cannot guarantee complete success, it almost certainly will help.

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