Do you feel like you’re limping to the end-of-year finish line? Most business owners know the feeling. The festive holidays roll around, but rather than looking forward to some time with your friends and family, you feel like you’ve hit the wall. You’re low on energy and motivation. You don’t want to do anything, even if you have to. Maybe you’re bad tempered and unusually negative.
This is end-of-year burnout.
The World Health Organisation characterises burnout as “a state of vital exhaustion”, and it’s more common than you think. Burnout doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a result of chronic stress and exhaustion. According to American psychologist Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter, this typically leads to three primary outcomes: “physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment [and] feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.”
The problem is, as business owners, many of us try to ignore the signs. Instead, we push ourselves to work harder to finish the project, land the next client, and grow the business. It’s part of the dark side of being a business owner.
Don’t wait until you reach the point of no return. There are things you can do to take care of yourself and avoid end-of-year burnout:
Look after your physical health.It sounds like a cliché, but exercise and proper nutrition can transform your mood and stress levels. Sure, ‘tis the season to eat rich food and drink alcohol, and high-calorie foods can reduce feelings of stress. But it’s a short-term fix. In fact, research shows our bodies actually store more fat when we’re stressed, and the positive effects of alcohol consumption can quickly be replaced by the negative, darkening your mood, impairing your faculties and sapping your energy.
Make time for things you love. Schedule time for your favourite activities and loved ones. Be inspired by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos who makes time to eat breakfast with his family every morning. He rarely allows himself to be distracted by his phone and avoids multitasking. Instead, he focuses on what he’s doing and the people he’s with in that moment.
Get more sleep. We mean good quality sleep. Research by the Sleep Health Foundationfound that up to 45% of Australian adults sleep either poorly or not long enough most nights. Sleep deprivation can quickly take its toll on your overall brain and body health, and there’s a proven link with depression. Aim for 6-8 hours of good quality sleep each night.
Take a real holiday. Take some time off where you’re truly disconnected from work, even if that means going on a digital detox. The Energy Project’s CEO Tony Schwartz, who has worked with the likes of Coca-Cola and Microsoft says you’ll be far healthier and more productive overall.
Create a “Not To-Do” list. Tim Ferris, author of The Four Hour Work Week, says“not to-do” lists are more effective than to-do lists for improving performance, because what you don’t do determines what you can do. For example, don’t answer calls from unknown phone numbers, don’t agree to meetings with no clear agenda, and don’t check your inbox continuously (we recommend reading his full post).
Say ‘no’ more often. Say “no” to obligations and opportunities that you don’t need on your plate – not just in your professional life, but in your personal life too. This will give you the focus and energy to concentrate on tasks that need to take priority.
If you need it, get help. Speak to an independent business advisor to see how you can adapt your business in a way that prevents burnout (here are some typical sources of business advice). Get advice from entrepreneur communities such as Flying Solo (it has a great blog on wellbeing). See your GP for advice about lifestyle changes or seek help from mental health organisations like BeyondBlue. There’s lots of help out there – you just need to ask.
Above all, set aside time for yourself this festive season. You’ve earned it.