Stress and entrepreneurship go hand in hand. In addition to the high-pressure moments — such as an investor pitch or launch day — the day-to-day lifestyle takes its toll. Getting a business off the ground is hard work and the Type A personality of many entrepreneurs makes us prone to exhaustion.
You’ve probably heard someone say that entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint. This means that your success depends on your ability to maintain stamina over the long run. Here are five preventative measures you can take to avoid burning out before you get a chance to succeed.
1. Learn to prioritize
No matter what industry you’re trying to start a business in, there are a few common truths: Time is a finite resource and there will always be more work than available time. Every startup is resource-constrained, so prioritizing is key.
While building your business, you’re naturally inclined to take on every opportunity. I was guilty of this during the early days of my company; I accepted every advertising, partnership, networking and speaking opportunity that came my way. However, I since learned that success isn’t about doing everything; it’s about doing the things that matter. Founder of Artspace, Catherine Levene, said, “From my experience, companies succeed or fail as much by the opportunities they pass up as what they decide to pursue.”
2. Focus on what you like and do best
During the early days, when bootstrapping is your core financial strategy, you’re going to have to do a little bit of everything. This is when you will quickly discover that there are activities that you love to tackle and others that you have little motivation for. You are never going to love your job if you’re constantly spending time on things you hate. When you get to the point when you can start delegating and outsourcing work, offload your least favorite tasks first.
3. Connect with other entrepreneurs
New entrepreneurs, particularly those who work from home, face a serious risk of isolation. You might feel like friends and family with 9-to-5 jobs don’t understand your stress and challenges. And most likely, your friends don’t want to hear about your startup travails every time you meet up for drinks.
A strong network or support group is essential for any entrepreneur or small business owner. These connections are great for getting feedback, finding help with specific matters like recruiting, and just simply being able to talk to someone who understands the things that keep you up at night.
Not sure how to start building your network? Subscribe to the StartupDigest newsletter and search for relevant meetups in your area (or check out Entrepreneurship Meetups). Start working from a few coworking spaces several times a week. You can also join a local or online entrepreneurial group like the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, the invite-only YEC or even a relevant slack group.
4. Reset your expectations
Burnout typically occurs for two reasons: 1) You work too hard and don’t get the results you want and 2) You set high expectations and then feel like a complete failure when you don’t meet those goals. Both situations can be the result of unrealistic expectations.
Over the years, I have learned a few lessons about managing my excitement and expectations. I needed to stop comparing my business to others and quit worrying what everyone else was thinking. In addition, it’s important to focus on progress and celebrate each milestone, instead of just dwelling on the shortfalls.
5. Take care of yourself physically and mentally
There’s no trophy awarded for the founder who works the hardest, goes the longest without sleep or eats ramen the most nights in a row. You need to take care of yourself if you want to have the energy needed to get through the stressful times. This includes eating well, exercising, meditating (or whatever relaxation method works for you) and setting aside time to hang out with friends and family.
If you’re like most entrepreneurs, there’s little distinction between work and play. As much as you can, set clear boundaries when you’re on and when you’re off. No single approach works for everyone — maybe you need a break in the middle of the day or to take at least one day off each weekend. Set your “off-the-clock” time and honor it.
Most importantly, we all need to drop any guilt associated with taking time off from work, and ditch the notion that being busy 24/7 automatically means we’re doing important things. Your startup is important, but there’s a lot more to life than work alone.