The one thing almost no one ever warns you about when starting a new business is burnout.
I used to think it is something that only happens when you start to be overwhelmed in a job you don’t enjoy much, and then just need a break and come back to a new fresh page.
What I didn’t know is that you can reach the burnout status even when running your own business. But how did that happen? And how can one get out of it?
I’ve been running my business of an online magazine and a digital book publishing company for about six years now. During the first four years of the business I was managing it aside of a full-time job in the private sector. Nevertheless, I never reached burnout! But this year was different in every way.
The business for the last two years has been blooming and expanding in so many ways. It naturally means we are being more recognised in different forums, with more and more giving talks requests, participating in panel discussions, participating in business exhibitions, being invited to attend talks and event launches, being asked for different meetings of getting to know another business, and the list goes on and on.
While the business has grown, I don’t think I caught up with it at the time and so I didn’t grow my time management skills.
The result? I ended up being involved in more things than my hours in the day could fit, and I kept biting more than I could chew from new projects regardless of their scale. In no time I started to realise I was getting more and more irritated with work and with socialising, my body started to rebel against me and demand more sleep hours, and I started dreading even the sound of a message on my phone.
It was then that I realised I reached the burnout stage, and that I needed to declutter my life and my work to reach my balance again.
So here are the main steps that I made:
The first step I had to make was to clear my entire schedule for two weeks and cut off my personal social media accounts as well. And I had to make this announcement on all my social media accounts to ensure that even if I got tempted to accept a request for a meeting or an event, or any such, I would remember the post and be embarrassed that I couldn’t keep my word. This decision actually made rejecting invites much easier: “Oh this week? I can’t cause I’m cutting off everything these two weeks to focus on my work, maybe later?” And believe it or not, they mostly don’t come back later!
I needed to make clear to myself that I clearly had a problem saying no. Not because those potential invites weren’t of value, but because I had to accept I have a limited time of the day.
In order to run a successful business and still have a life, I have a very limited time for events, meetings, and conferences that aren’t directly linked to my work. And so, I had to learn to say no to anything that wasn’t directly linked to my work, and didn’t directly lead to a new business.
Declutter your desk and your desktop. I’m not kidding! It does wonders. If you have reached burnout, chances are you have reached a stage where you have piles and piles of papers and folders that need your review at some point.
Also your computer’s desktop is chaotically filled with so many unfolderised files everywhere because you never got the chance or the mood to organise them.
Declutter them both and organise the files and folders on your physical and virtual desk. This undeniably has a power to clarify your mind as well and give you a chance to start fresh.
Have a strict schedule that includes break and end working hour.
Running an SME, like many know, means you are 1,000,000 percent committed. It is your baby that you are working on. It is your calling. You literally breathe it in and out. And so, you can’t seem to disconnect from it from the moment you wake up to the moment you sleep, and when you wake up at night, you probably check emails and reply as well!
Needless to say, this contributed to my burnout.
So I had to put a strict schedule for myself. Start at 9.00 AM, have a break at 1.00PM, resume at 2.00 PM. Cut off at 6.00 PM. That is it. Cut off is cut off, don’t answer work calls, work messages, work emails. Better yet, just throw that phone away to relax your brain a little.
Have an official day off. Fridays for me have become a red line. I don’t even refresh my email on my phone nor do I open my laptop on a Friday. It’s a complete disconnection from work to allow my brain to recalibrate its senses, and stay sane.
This was how I was able to overcome my burnout.
I hope it resonates with you, and helps in your case if you ever reach it. And I’d love to also hear how you were able to overcome yours if you ever went through one?
About Iman Ben Chaibah:
Iman Ben Chaibah is the founder of Sail Publishing, a digital publishing house for online magazines and ebooks, and the editor-in-chief of the Emirati Sail Magazine, an online magazine about community and culture written in English by Emirati columnists. She is also a lecturer at Canadian University in Dubai.
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