Evan Goodman

How Entrepreneurs Can Identify Impending Burnout

You’ll need to work hard to succeed as an entrepreneur, but that hard work and passion comes at a price. Burnout is a kind of psychological stress, one that kills any love and passion you may have for your business. If you’re lucky, it’s temporary. If you fail to identify its onset or presence, you may end up making a few rash decisions that could cost you the start-up. Here are a few warning signs you’re about to crash.

1. Your Excitement is Gone

Do something often and consistently enough and you’ll buff the shine away with your effort. It’s not a bad thing and is in fact the standard. That’s how the grind works. But there’s a difference between having the shine off the apple and not being excited at all. The former can inspire you to try new things and expand your reach, while the latter means you don’t care. What used to get you out of bed is now just another thing you have to do.

Feeling the latter is a clear sign of burnout. If that’s happening, make changes. Try something new, or explore different aspects of your business. Look at something that needs improvement and fix it – nothing gets the engines roaring like progress and success.

2. You Feel Ineffective or Disengaged

There’s nothing that kills the entrepreneurial spirit faster than detachment or a feeling of ineffectiveness. You go to work and fulfill your responsibilities, but it feels like you’re watching yourself work. You’re not present and nothing seems like it’s worth your effort.

These feelings often after prolonged bouts of doing the same thing combined with a lack of progress. It can feel like you’re trying to drain the ocean with a bucket at times. Being an entrepreneur is more of a marathon than a sprint. While you have a tremendous amount of control compared to employees, your start-up remains at the whim of the market. Sometimes, even your best efforts will often result in progress feeling like it is always a bit out of reach. 

There are a few ways you can work around this symptom. You can look at where you started and re-examine your motivations. You can also look for a quick win – look for something you can get done that will result in immediate progress – and do that. It doesn’t matter how small the win. What matters is you prove to yourself that you have an effect on the start-up’s future.

3. You’re Irritable

You don’t know what happened. What used to get sensible chuckles from you now inspires frustration or anger. While you don’t expect to get along with everyone all of the time, you never thought you’d get this angry this easily. Even people you like you are now finding annoying. Something is wrong and it’s likely impending burnout.

The first thing you should figure out is if what is making you ‘mad’ actually merits your reaction. If they are, offer constructive feedback and coaching. If not, figure out what’s making you so angry and frustrated.

4. You’re Cynical or Disillusioned

By nature, you’re an optimist. Some part of you became an entrepreneur believing that if you do things right, it will work out. Otherwise, you would have never taken the leap and founded a start-up. But for one reason or another, your optimistic spirit has withered away, leaving cynicism in its wake. The good news is your disillusionment is not a sign your business is about to fail. The bad news is it is often your feelings coming to the surface.

It is easy to feel disillusioned. All it takes is for reality to fail to meet your expectations one too many times and you start thinking the start-up was a mistake. Work through this by adjusting your expectations. Re-evaluate your life and your start-up. Talk to a third party, like a business coach or mentor, to get some perspective.

5. You’re Exhausted, Physically and Mentally

Entrepreneurship is tiring. It’s mentally taxing as you have so many variables to consider when you look at your product relative to your target market. It’s physically taxing as well, from meetings with potential investors to long nights spent just thinking about your start-up. You will regularly push beyond your limits and that comes at a cost. Eventually, you will start feeling exhausted, even after you’ve rested. 

Fortunately, this is a symptom that you can control. Step away from the start-up for a few days. Leave someone in charge of contacting you for urgent issues that only you can handle and otherwise stay completely disconnected from the start-up. This should let both your body and mind recharge.

As an entrepreneur, you will experience burnout at some point. It is not healthy, but it is also (almost) inevitable. Let us face it, the competition is fierce, no matter what industry you’re in. You cannot afford to take your ‘eye off the ball’ for a second. If you’re not pushing, the competition tends to win. However, you are no good to your business, your staff, or your customers when you are not operating at your best. It is important to recognise that you need to take care of yourself before you take care of others. Just like the instructions you get on the plane – put the mask on yourself before you help others get theirs on. Self care is important,  and it is a learnt skill. Take note of the signs of burn-out, and act on them before it becomes a problem.