12 Tips for Staying Productive and Avoiding Burnout

October 19, 2006

Posted in Small Business.

“…the best time to attend to burnout is before it happens.”Peter Hawkins and Robin Shohet

Burnout…you’ve been holding B too long and now Excitebike is forcing you to pull over to cool down. You’re shut off. You lose the race. It’s the dangerous realm where you’re overextended and everything in your life starts to suffer.

There’s an excellent page on recognizing the symptoms of burnout and dealing with it here: Burnout Signs and Symptoms

Some of the things I notice in my own burnout phase:

  • Short temper
  • Lack of focus
  • Taking longer to do regular tasks
  • Being annoyed by co-workers
  • Difficulty getting up in the morning

With a small business, there are some big risks. If the boss is experiencing burnout, it can damage relationships wth clients or employees. Projects can fall apart and administrative tasks (such as billing) can fall by the wayside. It can be overwhelming how much you have to do to keep a business running.

When your employees are burned out, productivity takes a nosedive. It doesn’t take long to go from burnout to job hunting. Passionate melts into apathy. You need to fight the fire.

Keeping Things Cool

Here are twelve things you can try to help avoid burnout:

1. Schedule time on and time off
This should be obvious, but it’s easier said than done. Many business owners start their companies in hopes of working fewer hours – and end up putting in 60-70 hours a week or more. This turns into burnout fast. Try scheduling your hours as you would for an employee. Also make time for your personal life.

2. Get outside.
Fresh air, sunlight, and human interaction have physical and emotional benefits. Regular 40 hour employees spend their weekends unwinding and recharging for the next week.

3. Exercise.
Staying in shape means increased energy, improved focus, and more self-confidence.

4. Celebrate small victories.
Landing a new project, launching a new website, or winning an award are all cause for celebration. Take your team out for lunch or get yourself a good bottle of wine. If you’re the boss, a little reward for hard-working employees can go a long way.

5. Get organized.
One of the major symptoms of burnout is feeling overwhelmed and out of control. When your work becomes chaos, you need to get yourself organized. Make lists. Get a system.

6. Clear your desk and clear your mind.
Every little piece of clutter and every loose paper distracts you from the work you need to do. Throw away anything that you don’t NEED. If you haven’t used it in a few months, you probably don’t need it.

7. Take a vacation
Get away. Seriously. Go somewhere and make it a point not to work. Let yourself recharge physically, mentally, and emotionally. Take pictures and keep them around for next time you’re feeling stretched.

8. Improve your business.
The same old thing can give you the feeling that things aren’t going anywhere. Even when new business is stale, some minor improvements can give you some renewed enthusiasm. Get new business cards. Brainstorm new projects or products. Update your website.

9. Rebuild your business.
Small business owners are the anchor of their business. So when they aren’t around, work often comes to grinding halt. Fix this by restructuring your business so that it doesn’t rely on you. It’s a long term shift for many companies, but one that will keep you sane for years to come. See E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Fail and What to Do About It

10. Go off the grid.
This is huge. Turn off instant messenger programs. Close your email. Turn off the phone. Go somewhere away from interruptions and unscheduled walk-ins. Don’t even talk to co-workers. Just work.

11. Shut out the world.
Put on some headphones, crank up some music, and tune out the world. Multitasking can take a major toll on you. When you can focus on a single task for an extended period, you can make great progress or even complete the task (both of which has the effect of reducing your stress).

12. Sleep
Get enough sleep. Being tired hurts your focus and productivity. Get enough rest and you’ll be sharper and more attentive.

Finishing Up

These are all things I’ve done to keep myself from blowing a fuse. I still feel the burnout from time to time, but I have learned to recognize the signs early and cut it off before it affects my life.

Update: I can’t count. Thanks, whaler.

1 Comment

  1. wander lima — October 24, 2006

    yeah, is this. Direct to the point.