Setting Boundaries To Avoid Burnout
Scott D. Clary | Mental Models, Performance, Business & Entrepreneurship
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Setting Boundaries To Avoid Burnout
Have you ever met a chilled out entrepreneur? Someone who can simultaneously run a startup and have a great personal life? I haven't – at least, not an entrepreneur who's fresh off the ground.
Entrepreneurship is a high-stress, all-consuming job. It's not for the faint of heart, or those without an iron will. That's because, for the most part, you are forging a new path with no model to follow. There are no guarantees; the only constant is change.
There's no question that this type of work can be highly rewarding. But because it is so involved, it's also incredibly easy to get burned out. (Entrepreneurial burnout is a real thing, and it's not pretty).
That's why it's so important to set boundaries for yourself – both in your professional and personal life. I learned a few important lessons about this in a recent interview with CEO and bestselling author, Melissa Urban.
Melissa Urban of the Whole30 Program
My mid-April guest on the Success Story Podcast, Melissa Urban, is a woman who can truly say that she reinvented herself. After hitting an all-time low upon finishing college and recovering from serious drug addiction, Melissa decided she needed to completely upend her way of life – and she didn't do things by halves.
"I changed my friend group, I got a new job, I moved, I changed the music I listened to and the clothes I wore. And that's when I started getting into health and fitness. I decided if I was going to reinvent myself as a healthy person with healthy habits, what would that healthy person with healthy habits do?"
Talk about inspiring. Among many pivotal changes Melissa made in her life, she started a blog and began experimenting with healthy eating. This eventually led her to develop the Whole30 Program, a 30-day nutritional reset that has helped countless people change their lives for the better.
If you're someone who is struggling to make big changes in your life, Melissa's story is a great reminder that it's never too late. I highly recommend listening to the entire interview – you can find it here.
Melissa's Thoughts on Boundaries and Burnout
As per my introduction, today's newsletter is all about boundaries. Melissa Urban had a lot to share on this topic – so let's take a deep dive.
Burnout hasn't always been recognized as a clinical condition. To my understanding, the term first started to emerge in the 70s when people in healthcare occupations began to experience breakdowns. It was originally called "occupational burnout."
The key symptoms of occupational burnout are emotional exhaustion, depersonalization (emotional detachments from others), and a lack of personal accomplishment. A person might feel like they're constantly running on empty or like they're just going through the motions at work.
No matter what industry you work in, whether it be caring for the physical and emotional needs of others or working in a leadership position, the crux of burnout comes from reaching the end of your emotional tether. Sound familiar, entrepreneurs in the room?
Research suggests that entrepreneurs are more prone to burnout than the average worker. This is likely due to the many unique challenges and stresses that come with being an entrepreneur, such as long hours, uncertainty, and lack of control. Melissa believes it could be due to this thing we call "hustle culture" – the killer of innovation and wellbeing.
“I think entrepreneurs are actually some of the worst at setting boundaries at work. It's because of the entrepreneur hustle culture that tells us: when you are resting, or taking a break, or taking a day off, there's somebody else working harder than you.”
Did you get chills reading that? I did. This is one of the most insidious things about hustle culture – it tricks us into thinking that we're weak or lazy if we're not always grinding away.
Why We Are So Prone to Burnout
Hustle culture isn't the only thing at the heart of our burnout problem (although it's a pretty big one). There are a few other key reasons why we entrepreneurs are so prone to burning out. Let's take a look at five.
1. We're perfectionists.
Come on, raise your hand. Have you ever redone a project from scratch, even though you spent hours on it to begin with? Do you procrastinate and put off tasks for fear of getting them wrong? How often do you cringe at the praise you receive because you know you could have done better?
We entrepreneurs are often perfectionists. Why this word was ever associated with being a good worker is beyond me. It is seriously debilitating, and the constant stream of underlying stress leads us down the path of burnout.
2. Our work is never done.
There's always more to be done. As an entrepreneur, you are constantly juggling a million things at once, and it never ends. This sense of never being done can be really overwhelming and cause us to feel like we're constantly behind.
“[It can] make you feel like you have to say yes to every person, take every call, accept every job, go the extra mile – even when it's completely unreasonable," Melissa explained.
And, when we inevitably burn the candle at both ends until the flame meets in the middle, we're burned out right to the core.
3. We're surrounded by competition.
It's no secret that the entrepreneurial world is competitive. We're constantly comparing ourselves to others, and this can lead to feelings of inadequacy or insecurity. This sort of thinking can be really harmful and cause us to overwork ourselves in an attempt to "keep up."
“You can get so caught up in your competition, and what they're doing and where they're going, that it can completely derail you off of your own path," Melissa said, "Because there's three more people in the wings waiting to take that client, or waiting to take your audience, or that job."
A bit of healthy competition is one thing, but when it becomes all-consuming, it's definitely not good for our wellbeing.
4. We are juggling too much at once.
Who decided that multi-tasking and working ourselves to the bone was going to be the new 'normal'? It seems backward. And, yet, here we are as a society – trying to do it all. While everyone takes on too much from time to time, Melissa emphasized that this is an issue parents struggle with in particular.
“This is prevalent with women – especially mothers – who are part of this entrepreneur culture. They have to show up at work, but then they also have to manage a household and take care of their kids.”
“They can't win either way. If they focus on their kids, they're not fulfilling their career. If they focus on their career, they're neglecting their kids. There's a lot of pressure out there.”
I'm all for the working mom or the entrepreneurial dad, don't get me wrong. We're living in 2022 at ScottDClary.com. But when society tells us that we have to be perfect at everything, it's no wonder we're all so burnt out.
5. No one taught us any different.
Entrepreneurs often wear their burnout like a badge of honor. We think it means we're working hard and being productive. But, in reality, it just means we're overworked and exhausted. And, unfortunately, this is the way things have always been done. No one ever taught us another way.
“We're not taught how to set boundaries. We are not taught at school, we're not taught in college. It's not part of any workplace curriculum. And very often, we weren't modeled boundaries at home by our families. So it's really hard to learn how to set them,” Melissa explained.
I'm so glad Melissa brought this up. There is immense power in the education systems that raise us and the institutions that we work in. Sadly, in the case of setting boundaries, these systems have failed us.
The Time for Change is Now
We may be prone to burnout, but there's no rule that says we can't change. Just as Melissa changed her entire life and did a full 180 on her nutrition habits, we can change how we approach work and entrepreneurship.
So, what's the secret recipe? According to Melissa, we need to be able to recognize the signs of burnout first and foremost. That way, we can pull up barriers as they are needed instead of letting them snowball into a full-blown crisis.
“I think learning to recognize the signs of burnout early is incredibly important. It's the dreading going into the office when you used to love it; feeling like work is sucking so much of your time and energy that you can't show up for your partner, or fun things outside of your life. It's the physical aspects of being exhausted all the time.”
According to a study published by the FIIB Business Review a few years ago, the signs and symptoms of burnout are spread across a few different spectrums.
Of course, first, there are the psychological symptoms of burnout. This is when we feel like work is no longer a source of joy or satisfaction. We may feel cynical or negative about our careers, and we might start to doubt our abilities.
Sadly, among this group of symptoms lies depression and anxiety. So, if you're feeling particularly low or strung out, it's definitely time to take a step back and assess the situation.
The physical symptoms of burnout are pretty self-explanatory. We feel tired all the time, we have no energy, and we might even experience headaches or chest pain.
Some studies have even observed flu-like symptoms in burnout victims, along with more alarming conditions like hypertension, diabetes, skeletal problems, and even heart disease.
If you're suddenly struggling to show up for the people who rely on you, or you're considering abandoning your post altogether, that's a big sign you might be experiencing burnout.
You may also find that your workaholic tendencies have gotten worse. Addictive behaviors might emerge or re-emerge; suddenly fast food is irresistible, and the couch calls your name every 5 minutes.
You might also find that your productivity has decreased. This is usually a sign that you're working too hard and not taking enough time for yourself.
So, How Can We Set Boundaries?
Now that we know the signs of burnout, what can we do to set boundaries?
Melissa hit the nail on the head in my opinion. “I think the concept of paying yourself first is one that entrepreneurs need to learn to embrace. If your goal is to grow your business and give back to your team, your community, your customers, you can't do that if you are pouring from an empty cup.”
She's spot on. A startup venture requires everything you can give it in terms of time, effort, and attention. That's why it's so important to set boundaries for ourselves – so that we can ensure that we always have something left to pour from our cup.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Schedule your time.
If you don't schedule your time, someone else will. This is especially true for entrepreneurs who tend to be go-getters and workaholics by nature. We often have this idea that if we're not working, we're not doing anything productive.
But that's simply not the case. In fact, if we don't take some time for ourselves, we're actually doing more harm than good. So, start by scheduling your day and allotting specific blocks of time for work and for yourself.
2. Set boundaries with your clients.
This one is especially tough, but it's so important. If you're feeling overwhelmed with work, set some boundaries with your clients. Explain that you have a certain number of hours per day or week that you can commit to their project and anything beyond that will incur additional fees.
3. Take regular breaks.
This one is a no-brainer, but it's so important that we need to mention it again. If you don't take regular breaks, you will quickly find yourself burnt out. Get up and move around every hour or so, and make sure to take a full day off once a week.
4. Say no to new opportunities.
When you're feeling overwhelmed and stressed, the last thing you want to do is say no to new opportunities. But, trust me, it's necessary. If something doesn't fit into your current schedule or if it requires too much of your time and effort, say no.
5. Set rules for yourself and stick to them.
"I'm an entrepreneur – the rules don't apply to me." Wrong. The rules apply to everyone. And, in order to protect our wellbeing, we need to set some boundaries for ourselves and stick to them.
So, what are your rules? Maybe you decide that you won't work past 7pm on weekdays or that you'll take Saturdays completely off. It's up to you, but make sure to enforce them.
At the end of the day, it's up to us to protect our wellbeing. By setting boundaries, we can ensure that we don't fall victim to burnout and that we're always able to give our best selves to our businesses.
If you feel personally attacked by this article, I highly doubt you're on your own. Burnout is a deadly concoction of our own making. We often forget to take care of number one: ourselves. The guilt we feel as entrepreneurs for not working 24/7 is real, but it's important to remember that we can't pour from an empty cup.
So, please take a step back, assess your current state, and make the necessary changes to ensure that you're taking care of yourself. Only then can you truly give your all to your business.
Don't forget to check out my interview with Melissa Urban, especially if you're feeling down in the dumps about your diet or energy levels. She's one of the most insightful people I've met when it comes to diet and lifestyle choices.
Until next time!
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