Smart Working: Avoid Burnout and Get Your Work-Life Balance Back

by Steve Fisher on September 30, 2009


I will take a guess that if you are reader of this blog you probably have your own business full time or a side business that is growing to be full time. Taking the leap and being a full time entrepreneur is a bit jarring on the somewhat normal schedule you might have or have had as a 9 to 5 cubicle dweller. Granted, as a full time employee you are probably “expected” to work long hours to get the job done so I do empathize.

However, as a business owner, the business is always calling for something – one more email, working on Sunday afternoon to do the books, write this proposal, etc. Since you are where the buck stops you are usually the one that has to do the task. Often, new entrepreneurs feel the pressure to do everything and do it now. The lines of when you are working, especially if your office is located at home is trying and you must have the discipline to separate them. If you don’t do this, there is one end result…Burnout.

Phases of Burnout

I recently came across this article on Web Worker Daily, “Regain Balance and Avoid Burnout“. It turned me on to a great article on A List Apart by Scott Boms called “Burnout”. That article examines the stress, exhaustion and illness often associated with web work. Burnout is not just stress, he notes, but is caused by an “imbalance in an individual’s personal goals, ideals, and needs as related to their job.” Here is their list of burnout phases that a person goes through:

They identified phases, several of which I bet sound familiar, are:

  • A compulsion to prove oneself
  • Working harder
  • Neglecting one’s own needs
  • Displacement of conflict (the person does not realize the root cause of the distress)
  • Revision of values (friends, family, hobbies, etc., are dismissed)
  • Denial of emerging problems (cynicism, aggression, and frustration become apparent)
  • Withdrawal from social contexts, potential for alcohol or drug abuse
  • Behavioral changes become more visible to others
  • Inner emptiness
  • Depression
  • Burnout syndrome (including suicidal thoughts and complete mental and physical collapse) [2]

As they say in the article, tt’s important to note that burnout is not the same as depression, though there are shared characteristics that blur the distinction; burnout can be brought on by fits of depression or may lead to depression itself.

Ways to Avoid Burnout and Get Your Balance Back

Here is what the Web Worker Daily article recommends:

Stop (or at least slow down). When you realize you’re suffering with burnout, it’s important to start taking steps to reduce the amount of work you’re doing. Cut down on the hours that you’re working, use sick days, or take a vacation.

Set boundaries and expectations. When you’re no longer working a regular 9-to-5 schedule you need to set boundaries between your work and home lives (see my previous post “Mark the End of the Day and Finish on Time“). It’s also important to manage your clients’ expectations. As Boms notes, when you start answering client email at 10pm, it sets a precedent that is then hard to undo.

Create a daily routine. Most people have a time of day when they work most effectively. Organize your day around these times (see our previous post “Change Your Work Hours to Get More Done” for tips on how to do this).

Make time for numero uno. Sometimes it’s hard to justify making time for yourself when there are so many demands on your day from bosses or clients, but everyone needs some “me time.” Spend time with family, goof off, visit a gallery, play a game — whatever makes you happy.

Change your situation. Changing careers might be in the cards, but there are also plenty of steps you can take to improve your current one. Shake up your routine (tryworking from somewhere else, perhaps), offload responsibilities, or learn a new skill.

Rely on a good process. If your current process isn’t working as well as it should, try another one. GTD works for me.

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