Small Business Owner Burnout - What are the Signs and How You Can Help Yourself (and your Business)

Updated: Mar 2

You love your business. You are passionate about it. For most of the people reading this, you started the business yourself! What started out as an idea or a dream is now a full-blown reality. You are your own boss!

Being your own boss, however, is not all the “take a break whenever I want” and “work in my sweats” lifestyle you had envisioned. The rose-colored glasses are off and you are in the tranches of day-to-day decision making, deadlines, and minutiae you never considered when creating your company.

The grind can wear you down - quite literally - and lead to burnout. According to a 2017 research study, burnout is a syndrome that results from chronic stress at work, with several consequences to the workers’ well-being and health. And it is not just headaches, little sleep, poor diet or lack of regular exercise. This chronic stress can lead to muscle tension and aches, high blood sugar levels that can lead to diabetes, heart problems, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, irritability and insomnia. These are serious health issues that can have long and debilitating effects on your life!

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Many small business owners have some or all of these types of issues, especially when their business is first starting out. It is not something that is surprising. After all, you have a lot riding on this - you want to be successful. Long days (and nights), decisions, upon decisions, upon decisions, money going out and not as much coming in, people to hire. (Just thinking about all of it makes you stressed!) Burnout can occur when you try to control too much to try to do too much and your body starts to wear out. It can easily take your business - which is something that you loved and enjoyed - and turn it into a prison.

Women at laptop stressing over work, dirty dishes and young children

As stated above there are health issues that are caused by severe burnout. There are also signs to look for that you may be headed down the path to burnout including:

  • Low energy

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Constant frustration

  • Low enthusiasm

  • Chronic stress, anxiety, depression

  • Lack of confidence

“Ok, ok, message received!” you may say. You may recognize that you have burnout or are headed in that direction. You probably didn’t even need this article to help you realize that. But what can you do about it?

Thankfully there are many things you can do to manage, reverse and even eliminate burnout. They may not be things that come naturally to you at first, but if you want to better your health or create a better work-life balance, changes are a must.

  1. Get organized. It is easier to see what needs to get done and when deadlines are all in one place. Put everything on a calendar so it is easily accessible. Planners, paper calendars, apps, online programs - anywhere where you can see everything that is going on all in one place.

  2. Delegate. Whether you have five employees or one employee there are always things that can be delegated. This will allow you to focus on what you do best. Letting go can be difficult but it is important not to try and do everything by yourself. Giving tasks to others will help you be less stressed and overall happier in your work.

A team of young business professionals in a meeting

  1. Get yourself a schedule. Many entrepreneurs find block scheduling to be very effective. It can look something like this:

  2. 8 a.m. - 9 a.m. check email

  3. 9 a.m. 11 a.m. work on previous days assignments

  4. 11 a.m. - noon check in with staff

  5. Noon- 12:30 p.m. eat lunch

  6. 12:30 - 1 p.m. read up about what is happening in your industry

  7. 1 p.m. - 3 p.m. meet with clients

  8. 3 p.m. - 5 p.m. work on assignments from meetings

It may take a little time, but stick to the schedule - it will help create more structure in your work life, which will create more time for your home life. If you are someone who is prone to check emails and take phone calls at all hours of the day (or night), setting a schedule will also help you create boundaries with your clients or customers. Let them know the hours that you work and take calls and hold them to it. Unless it is an emergency do not take calls or answer emails outside of your work hours. Turn off notifications on your phone if you need to.

Man head down on desk stressed out over deadlines with clock and calendar on desk near laptop

  1. Learn to say no. This one can be difficult - especially when your business is starting out. You want to show that you are willing and able to do anything for your clients or customers. But this can quickly lead to being taken advantage of (however innocent it actually is). It can eat up your time or distract you from what you are really trying to accomplish. Saying no will allow you to concentrate on what you feel are the most important things for your business at that moment and not get bogged down in projects or tasks that you never wanted in the first place.

  2. Set goals. When you first started your business you probably had one big goal - to be successful, to turn a profit or complete a big project. Those goals may seem far away in the day-to-day grind, so set some small goals for yourself. A weekly goal, monthly goal, even a daily goal. It will give you something to strive for and will motivate you throughout the day or week. Get your staff in on it, too! Create some small workplace goals and then celebrate your success in achieving that goal! Have a lunch party, after work drinks or donuts first thing on Friday. Small successes can boost your enthusiasm, and morale. Running a business is hard, so take some time to celebrate! Not only will everyone feel accomplished, they will also feel more like a team.

  3. Take a break. It may be the very last thing on your mind or something on your to-do list you keep postponing, but be sure to schedule yourself some downtime. Take a day off here and there and focus on you. Take vacations, take sick days (that is must) and take a long lunch here and there. After all, isn’t that one of the reasons you wanted to start a business in the first place? So you had more control over your own schedule? Plus taking a break can help jump start your creativity and solve problems you have been stumped on. Harvard researcher Shelley H. Carson states “a distraction may provide the break you need to disengage from a fixation on the ineffective solution. If you are stuck on a problem, an interruption can force an ‘incubation period.’” Taking a break from work can be the perfect solution.

Socked feet with coffee cup in between

While it can be hard to separate yourself from your business it is an important distinction to make to prevent burnout. You are passionate and driven and that comes through in your business. By implementing some strategies to help avoid becoming burnt out, you will continue to have the joy and desire you had when your business first began - making you and your business a success!

Sarah Gray of HMG

Sarah Gray


Content Guru

"I want to tell your story!"

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