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Avoiding Burnout: 7 Small Business Owners Share Their Coping Strategies

By Jessica Elliott Reviewed By Mike Lucas
By Jessica Elliott
By Jessica Elliott Reviewed By Mike Lucas

Business owner burnout doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it builds up, almost silently, and reduces your productivity and joy. 

Get a grip on your professional life and wellbeing using these 9 tips from small business owners for preventing and managing burnout.

A person with a great big smile works with a laptop outdoors.

1. Recognize the Signs of Business Owner Burnout

Burnout prevention starts by understanding yourself, your stress triggers and common entrepreneur burnout signs. 

Self-awareness means you understand when something is “off” with yourself. You may feel rundown or irritable and can’t seem to catch up. 

Meanwhile, chronic stress can lead to burnout. If you wake up worried about the same thing every day, there’s a good chance of fizzling out.

Learn how to avoid burnout by paying attention to signals, such as:

  • Sleep issues: Being unable to fall asleep or stay asleep.
  • Fatigue: Feeling tired during times when you’re usually alert.
  • Irritability: Getting abnormally upset or annoyed with family, friends or employees.
  • Anxiety: Feeling on edge or worried, even when work is going well.
  • Detachment: An emptiness resides where you used to be filled with passion. 
  • Poor performance: Taking longer to complete daily tasks or increased procrastination.
  • Lack of decisiveness: Being unable to make a decision or take action.
  • Sadness: Feeling down or lacking joy when doing typical work activities. 

2. Focus on Work-Life Harmony Over Balance

The term work-life balance gets tossed around a lot. However, few small business owners achieve this elusive goal regularly.

Instead, there are some weeks where work overwhelms your life, and you have no choice except to labor longer hours and forgo household chores or your social life. 

During other weeks, you may need to put work on the back burner to handle family situations. When one side is more heavily weighted than the other, it creates an imbalance. 

A focus on finding balance can result in guilt or other negative feelings. In contrast, harmony refers to how well your professional and personal life co-exist. 

Achieve harmony by:

  • Using a value-based time management system: Prioritize tasks that give you a sense of accomplishment and make you happy. 
  • Being present in the moment: Engage fully with the task at hand, whether that’s talking to your family or preparing a sales pitch. 
  • Keeping an open line of communication: If one of your roles will consume more time than another, let your employees, family or friends know what to expect from you. 
  • Accepting imperfection: It’s impossible to be perfect while wearing every hat in your business and personal life. Acknowledge when there’s a mistake and move on. 

In short, find peace even during times of imbalance. “I try not to measure my productivity by how many tasks I complete, but by how I feel at the end of the day,” says Ravi Parikh, chief executive officer (CEO) of RoverPass, a travel marketplace for recreational vehicle parks and campgrounds.

3. Define Boundaries and Reduce Decision-Fatigue

Setting boundaries and sticking to them is challenging. When you have a few free minutes, you might check your email or respond to a client, even if it’s your day off. 

Andre Kazimierski, CEO of Improovy.com, a provider of interior and exterior home painting services, recommends business owners “stick to working within, and only within, specific hours each day. Once the day is done, force yourself to stop until the next day.”

Of course, this is easier said than done for many entrepreneurs. Kazimierski suggests “blocking email notifications during your rest hours so that you aren’t being frequently reminded of work.” 

Using time management applications that block certain platforms at specific hours takes the choice out of your hands, reducing decision fatigue that leads to business owner burnout.

Phone-based apps help set boundaries and automate decisions. Use Android’s Digital Wellbeing and parental controls or Apple’s Screen Time to block apps or notifications. 

In addition, third-party apps can create limits and track your time. Popular options include OFFTIME and RescueTime.

A pair of hands shuffle a deck of cards. One half is labeled “Work” and the other one is labeled “Load.”

4. Shuffle Your Workload

While routines make life easier, they also become boring. The same goes for small business tasks. If you find yourself dreading or putting off certain necessary activities, you may be dealing with burnout. 

It isn’t usually practical to eliminate these tasks altogether. But, you can put them aside and give yourself a breather. 

Daniel Carter, electric ride enthusiast and founder of ZippyElectrics, says, “people who experience burnout fall out of love in what used to be exciting for them. My secret coping strategy is shuffling workload once in a while so that there’s always something new that I look forward to.”

Consider:

  • Completing tasks in a new location, such as a co-working space or outdoors
  • Outsourcing your least favorite activity to a contractor 
  • Starting your day with a new routine or project to stave off boredom
  • Exploring a new idea, such as a new market or product 

5. Find a Physical or Creative Outlet

A therapeutic release is anything you enjoy doing that gives you a break from your work or home life. 

Darren Litt, co-founder of children’s multivitamin company Hiya Health, urges business owners to “consider volunteering, going on adventures or picking up activities that bring you joy to bring balance to your life.”

Parikh prefers spending time outside and says, “I find that staying present can absolutely affect our attitude towards work.” 

Meanwhile, productivity, time management and leadership coach Alexis Haselberger advocates taking “an intentional 10- to 15-minute break” when your attention wanes.  

Regardless of the activity, breathe, be present at the moment and help yourself feel gratitude for the opportunity. 

6. Protect Your Time

As a small business owner, you probably dislike saying no to potential customers. On the other hand, you may see blank spaces on your calendar and feel pressure to fill them, even when you want to say no to a request.

Catherine Nguyen, a photographer and owner of Catherine Nguyen Photography in Raleigh, N.C., says, “the hardest part about running my growing business has been learning to say no.”

She overcomes this challenge by understanding that “saying yes to every request” can actually harm relationships. 

Instead, Nguyen recommends business owners “know your worth and be confident.” If you say no to a suggested meeting time or lower-priced project, there’s a good chance that the other party will work toward a compromise.

A hand holds up a sign that reads, “Sorry, but no.”

7. Pause to Celebrate Achievements

The longer you’ve been in business, the easier it is to shrug off your accomplishments. You’re so busy completing daily tasks that you don’t take time to realize how amazing you and your company are.

Litt says, “some are so weighed down by business setbacks that they lose sight of how their product or service has made a real difference in the lives of their customers.” 

According to Nathan Watson, CEO of hair-care products line Lion Locs, “pausing allows us to assess and realign ourselves.”

Think back to why you started your business. Aside from financial figures, what does running a company give you and others? 

Avoid hyperfocusing on one factor, such as revenue. Instead, look at various goals you’ve achieved, where you started and where you are now and the benefits you’ve realized from business ownership.

8. Lean on Others

Social lives are the first thing to go when running a small business. Yet, isolation can increase the probability of business owner burnout. 

Sure, you may have a significant other or a close friend to rely on, but if you’re experiencing signs of burnout, it may be time to reach out. 

Online communities and support groups for entrepreneurs are a great spot to interact with others without feeling embarrassed. 

Likewise, a therapist or life coach can help you work through difficult times or cope with stress. 

Lastly, co-working spaces or mentorship opportunities may improve your outlook and allow you to be around other professionals that aren’t related to your business. 

9. Have a Plan for Dealing With Burnout

While these tips focus on avoiding burnout, you also want a strategy for how to deal with burnout if or when it occurs. 

Ignoring the entrepreneur burnout signs won’t make it disappear. Only by addressing the underlying problems can you help yourself. 

Moreover, once burnout happens, you may struggle to find solutions, so it’s essential to have a plan ready. 

Action items may include:

  • Create a non-negotiables list: Decide which daily activities are required to maintain your professional and personal life. They should reflect your values. If you’re experiencing burnout, pull out this list and focus only on these items during recovery. 
  • Identify tasks to delegate: Keep a list of jobs you can outsource if you run into a physical or mental block. It’s also a good idea to note staff or contractors who can take over the activity, as needed. 
  • Complete a digital detox: Identify a few actions or things to focus on, shut off your devices and disconnect from the internet for 24 hours. 

Burnout Prevention: Invest in Yourself

Entrepreneurial success starts with passion and hard work. But there comes the point where that enthusiasm wanes and life feels heavy.

Business owner burnout is a thing. Practice self-awareness, disconnect from work and the internet and take action before experiencing signs of burnout.

Jessica Elliott Contributing Writer at Fast Capital 360
Jessica is a business-to-business content strategist and consultant with 24 years of experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry. She writes about technology, marketing and finance.
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