I’m getting vulnerable about my experience with job burnout to help you recover if you’re in the midst of it.
As I write this, I’m approaching my third year as a full-time business owner and I never once in that time felt extremely burned out – until recently. I’ve heard other people in my industry talk about entrepreneurial burnout and how it had deeply effected them and their business.
I never fully understood it though, because I hadn’t actually been there myself.
Well my friend, I can honestly say that I completely understand now.
That’s why I want to give you an inside look into my experience as I come out on the other side of this journey. I hope that sharing my story and the steps I took to recover will help you along the way on your own.
WHAT IS ENTREPRENEURIAL BURNOUT?
Everyone experiences and hits entrepreneurial burnout in different ways and it manifests differently depending on you and your habits.
For us business owners specifically, it usually shows its ugly face through a severe lack of motivation and drive in comparison to normal.
We as business owners are always wanting to drive forward, take the next step, grow, scale, launch courses, book clients, write books, post on social media, make more money, learn, educate…. you get my drift.
That means that we can often overwork ourselves to the point of complete exhaustion because we don’t feel we have time to take breaks and rest. That point of exhaustion can drive you to feel bitter about your work, frustrated and just generally lost.
It basically makes you want to do things like sit on the couch and dive into a pint of Ben and Jerry’s every day rather than do something you love to do… work on your business. (please say this isn’t just me?!)
It’s pretty easy to get to the point of burnout if you don’t have clear boundaries in place with yourself and your clients.
That’s why it’s important to recognize the signs of the burnout monster so you can nip it in the butt before it gets to the severity level of “I need Ben and Jerry’s every day”.
HOW I HIT ENTREPRENEUR BURNOUT
The year 2020 has brought on challenges for everyone, business owner or not, in ways we could never have imagined.
I am extremely fortunate to already have the flexibility to work from home in an industry that was fairly stable throughout the start of the current public health crisis of COVID-19. I’ve never been more grateful for my job and my business than I’ve been this year.
With that being said though, it definitely hit me like a ton of bricks in a lot of ways:
John and I had been planning and saving all throughout 2019 to buy a house this spring. We had actually found our dream home less than a week before the stay at home order in Massachusetts went into place. So needless to say, we decided to put a hold on our house purchase for the year. I’m grateful we did now, but it was a huge disappointment to have to make that decision after looking forward to it for so long.
When COVID-19 first shook the US back in March, we also understandably had a huge shift in client work. Some of our clients saw huge spikes in their business virtually overnight. Other’s saw their entire business model crumble in front of them in virtually the same time frame. So we had a couple wild months making the appropriate shifts in support for our clients during the most uncertain period of this year. Although I was more than happy to do so, it created a wild time for myself and the team.
Then less than a month after that, John was laid off from his job (thank god we didn’t buy a house…) and has been on the job hunt. We are extremely grateful again that I am still maintaining my income during this time thanks to Byte Bodega, but this challenge obviously gave us another level of stress.
All of this in combination with realizing that I didn’t give my team the time and flexibility they needed in order to support me properly left my brain in ruins to say the least.
WHAT BURNOUT LOOKED LIKE FOR ME
It had been a long time since I felt the kind of weight that I did during this time. Although all of these challenges were 100% manageable and I knew that on a practical level, it was still a lot.
Especially during a quarantine where the majority of your support system (aka friends and family) feel super out of reach.
Shortly after all this occurred, I started a trend of habits that screamed entrepreneurial burnout:
- Struggled to stay productive (I could barely work 5 hours / day)
- Slept way more than normal
- Found myself staring at my computer screen for long periods of time without accomplishing anything due to low attention span. (aka brain fog)
- Didn’t have any motivation to work on new projects / initiatives
- Had way less drive to execute client work effectively (SO not like me)
The signs of burnout definitely manifest differently for everyone, but this is what I personally recognized in myself as abnormal behavior. The signs almost resemble depression in entrepreneurs, which is pretty wild to think about.
It took me awhile through all of this to even realize that I was in the middle of a severe job burnout. Once I did though, I knew I needed to change things to start recovering.
STARTING MY BURNOUT RECOVERY
Once I realized where I was, I took some time to reflect on it.
I asked myself some important questions on how I got to where I was, what triggered it and what I needed to do in order to move past it. That’s how I put together the list below.
These are the things I knew would be essential for me in order to recover from entrepreneurial burnout.
I’m a true believer in that this is a process that is unique to every single virtual assistant or business owner. I hope that you can use this list to inspire you on your own recovery journey or to avoid the shit storm of burnout all together.
Cut Down My Workload
The very first thing I did to alleviate some stress was to cut everything that wasn’t absolutely essential from my task list. This meant that anything that wasn’t currently driving revenue was out.
I stopped blogging, SEO strategy, new business initiatives, pitching new clients, and more. Basically if it wasn’t a task directly for my team or my current clients, it was eliminated.
Gained More Support
Like I mentioned before, I realized that I wasn’t giving my team the calendar time to support me in the best way possible.
So I increased the amount of time that they work with me every week. This allowed me to delegated a lot of the tasks I was still doing that they were 100% capable of taking off my plate.
This opened up more time for recovery and flexibility for me.
Took More Mid-Day Breaks
I reached the point where I could barely work for 3 straight hours without needing a break. So I allowed myself to take advantage of the flexibility that virtual assistance and OBM work gives me, and took breaks when I needed them.
I’d work from 9:30-11:30AM and then come back at 1PM to finish out the day. Some business owners do this on a regular basis, but that generally doesn’t work for me under normal circumstances.
I found that it was really helpful during this time though to regain some energy for the remainder of my tasks each day. It kept me from tiring out and blankly staring at my screen unproductively.
I’ve been an active yoga practitioner for many years now. Of course when I hit burnout, I left my mat. (I know, very smart decision on my part…)
I made it a priority to practice yoga at least 3 times a week to move my body and gain back some energy that I lost. That amazing workout endorphin kick will do wonders when you’ve got client workflows to build.
Actually Took a Vacation
John and I were putting off a vacation due to both his layoff and safety precautions around the coronavirus.
Once things looked safe enough though, I finally scheduled some time off to safely visit family. If you know anything about me, my family is everything and a huge part of the reason I started my business in the first place.
It was incredibly rejuvenating to go ‘off the grid’ for a few days. I don’t think that my recovery would have been as quick if I wouldn’t have taken this time.
I realize that this is a privilege that not everyone can afford and I’m deeply grateful for the ability to do so. I encourage you to create your own ‘no phone stay-cation’ over a weekend to allow yourself the same space if you need it and aren’t in the position to fully step away right now.
Stopped Growing My Business
I stopped absolutely everything that fed into the growth of my business. I simply pressed pause on all my goals and projects I had planned for the year until further notice.
This was things like VA course development, email list growth, client recruitment, and more.
I honestly haven’t reimplemented all this much, even now. I don’t have plans to for at least another 1-2 months to allow more continued space for myself in my continued recovery.
I want to make sure that any new projects I start are with the passion and drive I want to bring to them. Until I’m 100% sure I’m in that space, it’ll be on hold.
Deleted Socials From My Phone
Ever heard of the comparison game? Me too.
When I log into instagram, I watch other business owners’ stories and start thinking about how much better they’re doing than I am.
“I should be doing ‘x,y,z’ like they are. That’s why I’m not succeeding.”
But frankly, that thinking is total crap. So I decided to delete the instagram app from my phone entirely.
It’s been so freeing to the point where I don’t plan to go back anytime soon. I check in once a day in the morning to respond to any DM’s and otherwise don’t take any action on the app at all. (sweet, sweet freedom) Take that, Zuck.
I recommend you consider doing some version of the same.
Leaned on Industry Friends + Family
I had several zoom calls with friends that I trust in the industry to share my experience who have also gone through entrepreneurial burnout. It was super supportive to vent without filter and know that I wasn’t alone in my craziness.
Before I realized I was burned out, I stopped calling friends and family as often as I usually do. Soon after though, I made the effort to call someone I love every few days to just catch up and chat to get my mind off things.
Maintaining both friends in the online business community as well as your personal friends and family is a key role in gaining support. You’ll have the personal friend to vent to on private stuff as well as someone that understands the challenges burnout poses for you as a business owner.
REFLECTING ON THIS EXPERIENCE
After taking a full two months to care for myself, I’m finally feeling a lot better. The entrepreneurial burnout monster is slowly climbing back in his cave and leaving me the hell alone.
It’s important to lean back into work slowly as not to damage your burnout recovery process, so I’m taking my time in doing so. (and kicking the monster back in his cave as needed)
This entire experience has been a giant reminder as to why I created my business in the first place: to serve and support small business owners while creating a flexible work lifestyle for myself
I don’t always need to be pushing forward in my business. I can do what I want when I feel inspired instead of constantly being driven to the next thing.
Make time to grow your business, but make time to enjoy everything you’ve accomplished too.
Trust me, there’s time and reason to enjoy both.