Overworking: 4 ways business owners can avoid burnout

One of the things that I believe has helped me to be successful in my business is my passion. I’ve never been someone who wants to do things half-way — if we’re going to do this thing, let’s do it. Because I’m very passionate about the things I’m doing, I am compelled; and I have trouble finding a healthy balance. I can be a bit of an addict, a work-a-holic, and find myself overworking. Give me a project that I think will really move the needle in my business and I can work on it all weekend.


But if I really want to be in this business over the long term, that’s not a dynamic that’s going to work for me. It may seem counter-intuitive, but working all weekend to get a project done is going to kill my business; just as surely as eating everything on the buffet table is going to kill my body.

Having a business that lasts, that’s indestructible, means pacing myself. It means that I can’t consume my time, or energy, or money, or relationships all on this project, or for this year’s results. I need to be able to keep at this — so I need to sustain those resources over a long period of time.

But in the moment, I don’t think about that long-term need. When the work is in front of me, I think about how much I want to get it done, about what a big difference it will make once I’ve done it, about the money I’ll make and the people that will be helped. I want to see the results. I want to finish it. In the moment — facing that pile of work — is NOT a good time for me to decide what my limits are.

I learned this lesson trying to be more healthy with food. If you ask me, standing at the buffet, “How much is enough?” I’ll have a hard time answering. It all looks good. But if I decide ahead of time that I’m only going to eat so many calories per day (that’s what’s healthy for me after all) then I need to make choices, I need to set limits and keep to them.

OverworkedIf I do that with my work I might say, “I’m not working more than one weekend a month and I’m home by 6PM 4 nights a week.” I don’t set those limits because I don’t want to work, I don’t set those limits because there isn’t good work to do, I set those limits because I need things outside of work to sustain a good healthy me.

I need to participate in my life outside of work in order to be at my best. I need healthy relationships with my family and friends to give me perspective. I need them to celebrate my successes with me, and to support me in my defeats. It’s actually the relationships outside of work that give those things real meaning. Setting limits around my work creates space for those relationships; and those relationships mean that I’m a happier healthier person who can do better work when I am working.

So what would it mean to you to go on a “work diet”? How could you decide how much work is enough and how much work is too much? How could you track your work hours and stop when you are “overworking”?

1. Would restricting your work time make you more effective?

When I work with a client to review how they are spending their time, I frequently find some very ineffective habits — ways of working that actually increase the time they are spend. Because they have never tried to work a lot less, they have never had to find a different way to work. Necessity is the mother of invention — if you constrict your work hours you might find new ways to do things, or things you can automate.

2. What would you have to give up, or reduce in order to get there?

Being more efficient is a great first step, but to make big gains you need to find some things that you can stop doing. Things that you can assign to team members, or things that just don’t need to be done at all. Yes, letting go of some of those things is risky — but so is overworking!

3. What support would you need?

If you are going to cut back, you might need some support. Can your current team step up? Can they take on more? Can they take things they are already doing further? What are some specific ways for them to provide you additional support?

4. How would you invest that time that you aren’t spending at work?

It’s a hard truth, but there are some of us who are overworking overselves because we wouldn’t know what to do with that extra time if we had it! Friends? Hobbies? How can they be as compelling as the work I could be getting done? Sure I love my kids, but have you spent much time with kids lately? It can be kind of boring. I mean they are cute, but just how many lego houses can you build?

Cultivating a life outside of work is it’s own kind of work. We need to invest time with people to see if they are going to become real friends. We need to go through at awkward “beginner” phase before we really enjoy a new hobby. The benefits aren’t as immediate as what we would see from one more hour in the office — but if we persist, they are there.

Having a business that’s indestructible means that you have the capacity and reserves to lead that business. Without you, the business is at substantial risk, and overworking yourself will put it at even more risk. Building a better, healthier, more balanced you is a first step to a better, healthier, more balanced business.

Photo Credit: Mad Wraithhiyori13

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