Don’t let the ping-pong table fool you, startup life is a full-time, often over-time job. Founders typically go 24/7, team members wear many hats, and even the intern needs an intern to help him out.
Many startup journeys are fuelled by purpose and passion. It’s good to love your job, just don’t marry it.
Team players, for all their admirable selflessness, may justify the early symptoms of burnout with a delusional brand of self-motivation.
Losing your motivation? Wake up, honeymoon’s over.
Taking your work home again? Now that’s dedication.
Always tired and stressed? What you need is a coffee.
Slipping performance at work? Work harder.
A growing dependency on alcohol, smoking or junk food? Hey, whatever’s your fuel.
Now your relationships are falling apart? They don’t understand your work.
Always feeling frustrated, negative and depressed? What you need is a coffee!
Acknowledging the toll your job is inflicting on your mental and emotional well-being is the key to averting burnout
This may be harder for those who pride themselves as team players. They can take on stress with the flawed resolve of a heavyweight boxer who doesn’t know when to throw the towel, even when he’s taking a complete beatdown.
To these team-first individuals, admitting to burning out not only shows they’re weak, it shows they are the weak link.
Timely intervention is critical to divert a collision course with burnout. The team-player in you may resist the idea of slowing down or taking a timeout, but burning out doesn’t have to mean copping out. Here are seven guilt-free strategies to manage burnout.
1. Tune out
The “always-on” startup mindset can prevent you from resting and recharging. Start by unplugging from the ecosystem during rest time. Remove yourself electronically from emails and instant messages. Detach yourself mentally from thoughts of deadlines.
If it’s unrealistic to disconnect for the evening or over the weekend, allocate specific check-in times that allow you to respond to emails and messages. This allows you to be fully present in your non-work life while being available on your terms.
You could let other team members know your tune-out times, and encourage them to set up theirs too. Everyone will appreciate this.
2. Block out
When we’re disorganised, we’re not only less productive, we’re also more stressed by the chaos around us. We worry more about our uncompleted tasks and feel the anxiety of not being in control of our situation.
Distractions like social media and personal instant messages steal our precious focus at work. Block out distractions while at work, or schedule specific times to check in on them. You’ll be more focused and productive, and your team will appreciate the difference.
3. Sieve out
We feel overwhelmed when we try to do too much with too little. Filter out the unnecessary and give your time and energy to the truly important.
Do you need to reply to every group chat just to “be heard”? Should you be at every meeting, including the one to select the wackiest photos from the Christmas party? Instead of trying to be omnipresent, choose to be fully present and engaged on the things that truly add value to your team and organisation.
4. Chill out
This one sounds simple: Work on having a life outside of work.
Get back to spending time on your favourite hobbies. They take your mind off work stress while refreshing and energising it. Your passions remind you of who you are and can help restore balance.
Invite your colleagues to a weekend barbecue. Set up Wednesday yoga classes or Friday night bowling. These are some great ways to calm frayed nerves and connect as a team outside the office.
5. Step out
The office is the physical epicentre of work stress. Whenever possible, step outside without compromising your productivity.
Forget the takeaway sandwich at the desk. Make lunch time a designated timeout by exploring new places to grab a bite with co-workers. Have the less formal meetings at a nearby café. Take your laptop to the open breakout area.
Arrange to work from home on certain days. Be there for your team without being there.
6. Cut out and Work out
Like your mind, your body takes a beating from burnout. Listen to what it’s trying to tell you, from headaches to numbing sensations. Loading up on junk food and caffeine puts more stress on your beleaguered body and can only exacerbate the burnout.
Exercise can do wonders to help the brain manage stress. Hit a nearby gym during lunchtime. Organise evening team runs with your co-workers. Get your body moving and your mind moves better, too!
7. Speak out
Before you’re completely burnt out, talk to someone — don’t suffer in silence.
Speak with your partners or other stakeholders about your unsustainable work situation. This is not a sign of weakness but a show of accountability. Clearly express what you need in terms of resources and ask for the necessary support to achieve your targets.
This is also the time to count on your support network of family and friends. Talk to them and lean on them. If you need professional help, it’s always better to seek out an executive coach or mentor before a meltdown.
Burnout is a silent startup-killer. Losing your motivation, self-confidence or personal well-being— all important assets in your startup journey— can deal a severe blow to team success. True team players understand this and take responsible steps to fight burnout before it hits.
This article was first published on e27, on September 13, 2018.
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