Have you ever experienced those moments where you’re working hard to knock off your to-do list, but you’re still not getting as much done as you’d hoped? Maybe some days you’ve lacked motivation, productivity, and perhaps overreacted to little things. Maybe you even found yourself at times giving too much power to self-doubt, comparison, and other destructive thoughts in your head.
If that sounds familiar, you might be running yourself to burnout. I’ve been there in the past, and this year I almost got myself there again. Luckily I was able to recognize the signs and knew exactly how to step away from it.
Working on our business can be rewarding and exciting, but it can also be emotionally, mentally, and physically draining. A lot of times, we sacrifice every second of free time we have to work on our business and keep adding more to our plates, which can be a slippery slope.
According to the 2022 National Survey of Capital One, 42% of small business owners said they’ve experienced burnout in the past month, and 25% say they are currently experiencing burnout.
So today, I want to put a spotlight on the topic of burnout: what it is, how to identify its signs, what steps you should take to get yourself out of it, but most importantly, how to prevent it from happening in the first place. Let’s dive in.
What is burnout?
Burnout is a state of exhaustion that’s typically caused by chronic stress. Initially, when we start our businesses, we’re energized and excited to work on our goals. This often means we’ll add more and more tasks to our to-do list than we may be capable of.
The result? We run out of time, wake up earlier, and work longer hours. More than that, we start to feel the pressure of constantly balancing between work and personal life, often sacrificing our own self-care to get things done.
In the short term, this may get you “ahead” in business, but really it will only slow you down in the long run. Here’s why: your mind gets tired. Tasks take longer. You feel exhausted. You lack clarity. You experience decision fatigue. Your brain is constantly thinking about work. You grow more irritable with loved ones. The list goes on and on.
My personal journey of burnout
I know these feelings all too well. In my first year of business, I was always jumping from one goal to the next. I couldn’t resist adding more projects, more launches, and more commitments to my calendar until I barely had any time left for anything else, let alone myself.
At the time, I didn’t know I was running myself into burnout. I was trying to be a superhuman, just like everyone else seemed on social media. Even though I knew I needed a break, I was stubborn. Taking a break felt like admitting a weakness, so I kept pumping out content and pushing through.
It wasn’t until my second year in business, after shipping about 10,000 packages at this point, that it hit me. Shouldn’t this be making me happy? But the reality was, it wasn’t. I felt empty. I was successful on the outside but burnt out on the inside.
At that moment, I realized I was NOT a superhuman. And if I didn’t take the necessary steps to protect my body, time, energy, and schedule from my ambitions, I would run out of fuel before I knew it.
That’s when I started questioning what I really wanted out of business. It was a transformational phase of my journey that took months for me to recover from. But ultimately, I changed my unhealthy work habits and set better boundaries so I could continue to work more sustainably.
This year, working full-time in the Small Biz Babes Community, I felt that old burnout creeping in again. Constantly creating content, strategizing, marketing, and learning new skills — it puts a lot of work on your mind and body.
The good news is that I was able to recognize the patterns, and I want to share what they are so you can recognize them too.
Signs you’re experiencing burnout from your business
These signs may be different for everyone, but there are a few that I’ve learned to recognize over the years when burnout is happening to me:
- Chronic decision fatigue, to the point that even choosing what to cook, eat, watch, wear, or do in your free time is exhausting and you wish you could delegate those decisions to someone else
- Constantly feeling overwhelmed and irritable
- Feeling like you can’t unplug because your brain is always thinking about work in the evening and at night
- Too often giving into negative thoughts — such as self-doubt, overthinking, and comparing yourself to others
Whenever these signs start to creep up in my life, that’s when I know I’m not at my best self and I need to slow down. Fortunately, this time around when I started to feel burnout earlier this year, I was smart enough not to push myself with an unproductive and stressed state of mind.
Our bodies and brains are our most valuable assets. If we neglect them — physically, mentally, or spiritually — they can’t perform at their best, which means it’s harder to make confident decisions and move forward.
Now, let’s dive into some actionable steps I took, and you can too, if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms I mentioned. Even if you’re new to starting a business, these steps will help you maintain a healthy work balance, without falling into the trap of burnout to begin with.
How to prevent and come back from burnout
Daily reflection serves as a little check-in with yourself. To practice daily reflection, first, I always plan my day ahead of time (most often the day before) and review it right in the morning. That way I have a clear idea of what I’m supposed to be focusing on while I’m at my desk.
Then at the end of the day, I take about 5 minutes to reflect on how the day went. I dig into what actually got done, how it got done, and what might have prevented me from completing certain tasks. I also look out for inefficient habits or time-wasting activities I can improve on or potentially outsource. But most importantly, I check in with how I’m feeling. Did something throw me off balance? Did I overreact to a situation?
This daily reflection helps me spot triggers and patterns ahead of time that could cause stress or self-sabotage. I tend to be tough on myself. That’s why I do my best to kindly ask myself questions like, “Is there a way to make this easier for you?” or “How can you support yourself better?” This helps me gently course correct where I need to.
Quiet yourself, take a step back from work, and take time to recharge
If you’re like me on the brink of burnout, I know you might be thinking, “I can’t possibly do that! Who’s going to handle everything?” Well, perhaps no one.
Here’s the thing: when you let go of unrealistic expectations and embrace the need for a break, it’s incredible how much it improves your mental health.
Taking a real break means allowing yourself to navigate feelings of being overwhelmed, but still enjoying the comforts of sleep, long showers, hot baths, going for walks, cooking delicious meals you love, and enjoying the rest you deserve. And you know what? You realize that if you take that time for yourself, the world won’t come crashing down
Of course, this might look different for everyone, depending on where you are in your life and business. You’ll have to figure out how to fit this essential recharge into your schedule and what needs to be temporarily traded-off to make it happen. Remember, taking care of yourself isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity.
Reevaluate your weekly schedule and to-do list
During this reflection, you might spot something that’s unrealistic or unmanageable in your current schedule. Maybe you’re spending way too much time on something you don’t have to be spending time on. Or you realize you need to let go of some commitments and slow down for a bit.
I get it; doing less and letting go is not easy. No one likes to slow down. We want to feel like we can do it all, but the truth is, we can’t. The sooner we understand this concept, the sooner we can start supporting ourselves and filling our schedules with tasks and activities that truly matter.
By the way, if you’re interested, some really great books that helped me better manage my calendar were Essentialism, This Is How You Heal, and The Mountain Is You.
Now, let’s move on to point number 4, which is closely connected to what we talked about in point 3.
Get clear on your goals
Getting clear on your goals is a crucial step in preventing burnout. That means asking yourself what you’re really working towards, why it matters to you, and what your number one most important goal is — both for the long term and for right now.
I know how easy it is to set dozens of goals and want to work toward them all at once. The reality is, we can’t do them all. If we don’t choose what’s truly a priority, it’s only a recipe for disaster.
Now, I won’t dive too deep into goal setting here because it’s quite an extensive topic on its own. But if you’re interested, I can certainly make a separate blog post dedicated to it. Just let me know on social media, and I’ll be happy to explore it further.
The bottom line is, we often end up in burnout because we’ve filled our days with too many “priorities” we could never handle all at once. Getting clear on our goals helps us streamline our efforts and avoid any feelings of overwhelm.
Redefine and set boundaries and rituals to support yourself
I like to think of boundaries as defining what you’re willing to sacrifice and what you’re not. For instance, I’m not willing to spend more than 20 minutes a day on Instagram — because it’s just part of my business.
I’ve even got an alarm set up, and if I don’t go through all the comments within those 20 minutes, I come back to it tomorrow. That’s my hard line for the sake of my mental health, business, and priorities.
I’ve also established boundaries like no phone time in the morning when I wake up or an hour before bed. Absolutely no social media during the weekends. And when I start to feel unproductive during my work day, I leave my desk because pushing through only leads to further exhaustion. Instead, I do something else to recharge.
These are just some examples of boundaries I’ve set for myself. You’ll need to define what time limits and energy limits work for you in various situations.
Now, when it comes to rituals, you want to set aside time for activities that make you feel your best, whether that’s a relaxing bubble bath at the end of the day or a 20-minute yoga or meditation session. Scheduling time for self-care rituals is just as important as any other task in your business and life because it keeps you from running out of fuel.
Both your boundaries and rituals will be ever-evolving. They’re not set in stone and they’ll adapt and change as you do.
Find yourself constantly exhausted and on the brink of burnout?
Here’s what I want you to take away: have more compassion toward yourself and your body. Pay attention to what truly supports you. Do you need a break? Do you need to slow down? Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your to-do list and priorities.
Take a moment to consider where you might be self-sabotaging yourself. Are you giving yourself more than you can handle because you feel like you should or because you’re afraid the world will fall apart otherwise?
I’m right here with you, and you absolutely have the power to make a change, even if it feels impossible right now. It all starts with taking small steps and being kind to yourself along the way. You’ve got this!
Want more helpful tips on how to navigate burnout? Tune in to today’s podcast episode here 🎧.