Burnout – it’s something that has always been the dirty little secret of entrepreneurs, small business owners, and anyone else busting their ass to get a project finished on time.
Up until recently, it was also something that no one really talked about. Chances were that everyone was going to experience it at one time or another, but it was a sign of weakness to admit that you were struggling with it.
In fact, it was like a badge of honor to talk about the beating that you had taken to get to where you were – the fact that you were still standing, bruised and beaten (but not how you had found yourself there).
Most importantly, it’s no longer a badge of honor, but rather something that we have realized is not only bad for business, but also completely avoidable!
As you may know, we’re currently right in the middle of a launch of our Audience Business Masterclass. When we were figuring out our editorial calendar for this month, we thought “what better time to feature a post about how to survive a launch than when we’re right in the middle of one?”
The Blessing and the Curse of Feeling Overwhelmed
You may have noticed that the word “overwhelm” has made its way onto the pages of Firepole quite a bit recently, from a recent guest post on using Asana to ease project management pain, to Danny’s recent email to our subscribers about overcoming overwhelm by focusing on the big “why” behind your business. (You’re not a subscriber yet? You should probably get on that so you don’t miss any other gems like that!)
In fact, earlier this month Danny even required that the team listen to a podcast by the team at Gimlet Media that uncovered their very own dirty little secret – capturing the launch burnout (in live audio, as it happened) that came with their StartUp podcast.
Since we’ve been on such an “overwhelm management” kick recently, we wanted to share the 7 warning signs and behaviors that are likely to manifest as you prepare for your next big launch – and how to overcome them before they burn out you.
Are you ready for this? Let’s kick burnout to the curb, one warning sign at a time.
Warning Sign #1: You’re Working 12-hour Days, 7 Days a Week
Chances are, you have every waking moment between now and your launch fully scheduled. There are only so many hours in a day, after all, and you have a laundry list of tasks that have to get done before launch day.
Let me guess: you probably have stacks of notes (digital or otherwise) and three different to-do lists staring you in the face right now, all with things that “have” to be done.
This usually isn’t a problem when the behavior only lasts for a day or two.
Our bodies are amazing machines and can adapt to many of the terrible things we do to them during times of high stress. But, the real damage comes when we put ourselves into a high-stress state for days and weeks (or, let’s be honest, months and years) at a time.
James Clear explains, “recovery is not negotiable. You can either make time to rest and rejuvenate now or make time to be sick and injured later.”
Schedule Yourself Sane
The first step to solving our over-scheduling issue is to use the Eisenhower Decision Matrix. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of different interpretations of this matrix out there, but it boils down to being able to distinguish between tasks that are “urgent” versus those that are actually important.
In an ideal world, we would focus on the things that are both urgent and important (quadrant 1) and completely ignore any task on our to-do list that is neither urgent nor important (quadrant 4). Then, if there is any more time available, we would fill in the middle with tasks from the other two quadrants.
The second step is to put the tasks that you have identified as urgent and important into your schedule – and then take everything else out. Now, schedule in some downtime – time where you can just relax and let your brain slow down.
You can choose one day a week to take a break, or you can schedule blocks of time into each day for relaxation. This could be as simple as taking 15 minutes to lay on the floor, scheduling a 30 minute walk outside every day, or making one day a week your day off (and promise that you will do absolutely nothing work related for the entire day).
The important thing about scheduling this time is that you treat it like a business meeting – no pushing it out of the way because something else comes up!
Warning Sign #2: You’re Not Taking Small Breaks
At some point in recent history, the idea of “getting into a flow” became the ultimate goal for working hours. You know how it goes: you sit down to make some progress on one task or another, and four hours later, you look at the clock and realize that you haven’t so much as looked away from the screen during that time.
The problem arises when our state of flow causes us to sit at our desks for hours at a time – barely moving, except for the flash of fingers on the keyboard and a full on forward hunch toward the screen.
Whatever the reason behind the non-stop time at your desk, it’s doing really bad things to your health, whether you realize it or not.
Recent research shows that too much sitting has been linked to an alarming number of chronic health conditions – not to mention the fact that scientists are now starting to see a correlation between too much sitting and increased mortality.
While the flow state is something that we can still strive for, we need to find a way to ensure that we break up our day.
Get Into a Healthy State of Flow
There are many ways that you can avoid getting into that flow and getting lost for hours.
Whether it’s using the Pomodoro technique – working 25 minutes and taking a 5 minute break, and then after 4 cycles, taking a longer break – or something as simple as setting an alarm on your phone to interrupt you after a set amount of time, the key is preparing for your break ahead of time.
Most importantly, don’t sit at your desk and check Facebook, email or whatever your favorite time-sucking website is during your break! Get up from your desk, walk around, focus your eyes on something far away – maybe even go outside and get some sunshine on your face!
When you come back to your desk, you’ll find that you are refreshed and ready to get down to another 25 minutes of work.
Warning Sign #3: You’re Not Working Effectively
Here’s the ugly truth – the closer you get to launch day, the more likely it is that you’re putting in longer hours to get everything done.
But what if by putting in those long days and pushing yourself so hard, you’re actually decreasing your effectiveness?
Our modern working habits have caused serious damage to our ability to concentrate. Remember when multi-tasking was all the rage? Oh, right – it still is, at least to some extent.
Truth time: multi-tasking isn’t actually doing two things at once; it’s just switching back and forth very rapidly between two (or three) tasks at once.
And, the science doesn’t look good. Turns out, when we switch focus back and forth so rapidly, the brain experiences a lag after each switch. Making things worse, spending too much time switching your focus back and forth can actually damage your brain.
Maximize Your Efficiency by Minimizing Your Task List
This step will depend a bit on your personal working habits, but generally speaking we can do a few things to improve our efficiency:
First, go back to your list of the things that are both urgent and important, and pick the top three items – things that must get done today.
Break each of these tasks down into manageable steps, and then decide what order they need to be accomplished in. Once you know what needs to be done, take your first task, set your timer, and get started.
You can even use this process as the last thing you do the day before, so that you can get right into your work when you sit down in the morning.
If you realize that there’s a step missing, or something else that you need to do, keep your to-do list (or your productivity software) handy and just jot down a quick note about what needs to happen.
This is important: don’t stop to do the thing you remembered, or you’ll get sucked down the rabbit hole and end up not getting anything accomplished from your list.
It may take a while to get used to working this way, but as you become more comfortable, you will find that you are more productive during your working hours, and able to cut through everything that you need to get done in record time.
Warning Sign #4: You’re Only Sleeping 4 Hours a Night
I’ll let you in on a little secret: one of the first conversations that I had with Danny at our annual company retreat this year involved Danny asking me if it was possible to never sleep.
For context, we were discussing some instances where (so it’s said) very advanced yogic practitioners are able to thrive on something like 2 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period of time. What I was quick to point out to Danny was that these men of legend were also spending something like 20 of those hours deep in meditation.
For the rest of us mortals who are battling the daily grind, stressed out of our minds and pushing ourselves to achieve inhuman feats of business, our bodies require sleep – and lots of it.
Think about your laptop battery – you can only work for so long before you have to plug it in and recharge the battery. It’s the same with our bodies; we can only push so much before we need to rest and recharge.
And, unlike a laptop battery, we can only run at a constant 10% for so long before we crash.
Sleep deprivation is a societal pandemic these days. The problem is, most of us don’t even know how to recognize when we’re sleep deprived, because we spend so much of our lives running dangerously close to empty.
We consume copious amounts of caffeine to wake up in the morning and to power ourselves through the day. We spend most of our days in artificial light and artificial air, completely separated from things like sunrise and sunset, which used to indicate the length of the working day. And, our screens cast that characteristic blue glow – messing with our sleep patterns, even if we’re managing to stay in bed for 8 hours a night.
Break Out of the Sleepless Cycle
The answer to this is not a simple one, but there are many small things that we can do to help improve our sleep.
Your first fix is simple: try to get more sleep.
Rather than cutting back on the hours of shut-eye you make available, try the tips above to make sure that you’re setting yourself up to be able to schedule somewhere between 7-9 hours a night.
Individual requirements vary, so this will take some testing to see what makes you feel best. The important thing is getting enough so that you feel rested and ready to take on the day when your eyes first open in the morning.
Second, try to improve the quality of your sleep.
If at all possible, stay away from screens for at least an hour before you go to bed. If you have to be up late working on your computer, use a software like f.lux to cut back on the amount of blue light you are being exposed to.
For a deeper dive into the science of sleep, James Clear offers some great tips on how to improve your sleep.
It boils down to this: if you’re not ready to jump out of bed when your alarm goes off in the morning, you still have work to do.
Warning Sign #5: You’re Not Eating, or You’re Eating Processed Crap
Another morning rolls around, and you went to bed really late the night before. You’ve snoozed several times through your alarm, and now you realize that if you want to get everything done that you need to, you have to get started… oh… 30 minutes ago.
So, you skip breakfast – no time to eat. You’ll make up for it at lunch. But, lunchtime rolls around, and all of a sudden you see that you have a call with a partner in 30 minutes. So, you run out and grab the first thing that you see – usually delivered fast over a counter, full of all sorts of empty ingredients and heavy on the fat and salt.
But, at least you’re eating, right?
The problem with both sets of behaviors – skipping meals and/or eating highly processed food – is that our bodies are finely tuned machines. There’s a reason that high performance sports cars require higher-grade gasoline – it’s because their engines require higher quality fuel in order to run at peak performance levels.
Our bodies are no different. When we eat, we’re not just cramming stuff into our mouths for no reason – we’re fueling our bodies.
Eat Food Your Grandma Would Approve Of
Whether you’re carnivore or vegan, paleo or flexitarian, or something else completely, you have to make sure that the food you are eating is high quality fuel.
Every body is different – some diets work for some people, while others have completely different needs. The key is finding what foods work for you, and then cutting out the crap.
And, make sure that you are drinking plenty of water – the human body is more than 60% water, after all. Staying hydrated is just as important as making sure that you’re getting enough sleep and eating healthy.
Here’s the harsh truth: no one can perform well for extended periods of time fueled solely on coffee and donuts. It’s just not how we’re built.
There’s a recommendation that I really like, and I think it fits well, no matter what your dietary restrictions and preferences are: “If your grandmother and great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, you probably shouldn’t be eating it.”
Warning Sign #6: You’re Not Moving Your Body
Right after sleep (or possibly before it), the next thing to get cut out of your schedule is time to exercise. Why go to the gym, when you could get a few more hours of work in?
Tying in with getting enough sleep and eating well, we also want to keep our bodies healthy. I’m not saying that you have to run marathons or spend hours of your day in the gym pumping iron – but you do have to get up and get moving.
This goes deeper than just the issues that come from sitting at your desk for hours at an end. There’s a reason that you’ve heard the phrase “use it or lose it” – if you’re not getting any kind of exercise, your muscles are actually deteriorating.
Get Up and Get Moving
Similar to dietary preferences, you’ll get 10 different answers if you ask 10 different people what kind of exercise you should be getting.
I personally think that yoga is a great way to fit both exercise and mindfulness into my day, but I know runners who find the same kind of zen at mile six, and others who swear by Crossfit or Zumba or… the list is never-ending.
Do whatever makes you happy and gets your heart rate up. By doing the form of exercise that you most enjoy, you’re more likely to stick with it.
When you get up and move around, you increase circulation, feeding your brain lots of super-oxygenated blood.
The more sedentary you are, the less oxygen your brain is receiving, and a brain with low oxygen levels is a brain that’s slow and sluggish – decreasing your ability to actually accomplish anything, no matter how many hours you spend sitting at your computer.
Warning Sign #7: You’re Trying to Do It Alone
Building a business can sometimes feel like the loneliest thing in the world. Maybe your family doesn’t understand why you are so dedicated to your project, and thinks you should get a real job. Or, maybe they say they support you, but they don’t really understand why you’re doing what you’re doing.
All those hours spent behind your screen can feel seriously alienating. Looking around at all the success stories, it can start to feel like you’re climbing a gigantically tall mountain all by yourself.
When you allow yourself to fall into this kind of thinking, it can really start to feel like the entire world is against you. Maybe you make it a point to get out and work at the local coffee shop sometimes – just being surrounded by other people, and maybe having a conversation with your favorite barista, can make things feel a little brighter.
But, it’s still not enough. You need someone else around who really gets it.
Reach Out and Join Someone
As of a couple of years ago, estimates were that there were over 400 million entrepreneurs spread across the world. That’s a LOT of people out there hustling to make a difference in the world.
There are many different ways that you can solve this particular issue:
- Find a co-working space in your city,
- Join (or start) a mastermind group,
- Reach out to a friend or colleague who is also working solo and make work dates (Lisa and Christine from the Firepole team do this, since they both live in the same city),
- Join local Meetup groups that are focused on your topic area, or
- Take advantage of any number of other networking opportunities.
Whether you’re an extrovert, or an introvert by nature (as I know many of you are), you can still find a group of people to share the journey with.
Maybe it’s just one or two other people on a similar path – in this ever connected world of ours, it’s easier than ever to reach out and connect, or to fade into the background and let yourself feel like you’re all alone in the world.
Sharing both frustrations and victories can be a powerful reminder that we are not slogging through the wilds on our own, but are in fact, sharing a similar path with other awesome, motivated compatriots.
Why This Works
A lot of this advice may seem counterintuitive at first, but science has shown that by following the steps above – working manageable hours, taking breaks during the day, setting ourselves up to work more effectively, getting enough sleep, eating well, taking time to move your body, and remembering that you are not alone – you can make huge improvements in your overall quality of life.
You may be skeptical, so here’s my challenge: Try it yourself and see what happens.
Take one of these steps and start to regularly integrate it into your life. Don’t try to do them all at once – there’s a reason that most New Years Resolutions fail come February – instead, slowly integrate them into your life.
Then, come back and let us know what kind of changes you saw!
Remember – You Are Not Alone!
One of the most important things I was reminded of while I was writing this post was the idea that we’re not alone. You might even find that sticking to these steps is easier if you commit to the changes with a friend or a group of colleagues.
Whatever you do, take care of yourself out there. I really mean it – not in the “yeah, yeah, I’ll do it later” sense, but right here, right now. You’re out there doing amazing work, and I think that together, we can massively impact the world.
And, isn’t it going to be even better if we’re each happier and healthier in the process? I sure think so!
So, which of these steps are you going to use for your next launch? And, for bonus points: how do you think the Firepole team does with following our own recommendations? Share your thoughts in the comments below!