4 SMART Ways to Avoid Professional Burnout

By David S. Chang

Being a successful entrepreneur takes hard work. There’s always plenty to do, and the competition isn’t going to cut you any slack. As entrepreneurs in today’s fast-paced workplace, many have experienced burnout throughout their professions.

Detecting warning signs of burnout is difficult because everyone is different. It can be hard to recognize it until it is too late. For some, it creeps slowly over time; for others, it hits without any notice. Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. 

It reduces your productivity, sapping your energy so you feel increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. It robs you of the enthusiasm and passion you once had. If this is you, then it is important to take steps to overcome it.

Fortunately, burnout isn’t permanent. Self-development and self-care are important. If you’re working SMART and maintaining a SMART work-life balance, you can achieve the success you want and guard your well-being. Here are a few SMART ways to avoid professional burnout as an entrepreneur.


1. Learn to Say “NO” and Set Boundaries

“the difference between really successful people and everyone else is that really successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.”

Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett, one of the greatest investors of all time, is famous for his wisdom. Hence, his nickname the “Oracle of Omaha” (Omaha, Nebraska is where he works and lives). Buffett has a rule that explains what separates the successful from the highly successful.

Buffett states that “the difference between really successful people and everyone else is that really successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.”
For many entrepreneurs, including learning from the mistakes that I have made, this goes against our predisposition.

We typically say “yes” to do as much as possible, thinking (incorrectly) it will maximize our chances of success. Entrepreneurs often are used to doing everything and wearing many hats in their business. Education and learning how our how brain work is important. Learn what can you do with a psychology degree and apply these principles to your business.

Success in business doesn’t come down to doing hundreds of different things at a rapid pace. Instead, it comes down to doing a few things really well. It is all about prioritization, focus, and concentration. Learn to set boundaries.

Pareto’s Principle

You have heard of the 80/20 rule or Pareto’s principle. It is named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. In the early 1900s, he observed that 20% of his pea pods produced 80% of his peas. He also discovered that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.

This 80/20 distribution occurs frequently across different spectrums. 20% of your customers represent 80% of your sales, 20% of your work produces 80% of your results, and so on.

The key is to identify the 20% that accounts for 80% of your results. Say “yes” to the 20%, and say “no” to the 80%. Anyone is bound to burn out if they are are always trying to do too much at one time. Focus on your key 20% activities instead, and let the rest take care of itself.

When you have difficulty prioritizing, ask yourself: What is this the impact this will have on the business long term? Is this impact worth the cost in resources, time, and stress?

From my personal experience, here’s what I recommend that you learn to say “no” to:

  • Say “no” to too many goals – Write down all the goals you have. It could be 10, 20, or 100. Circle the top three and cross everything else off. Once complete, go through the exercise again.
  • Say “no” to too many projects – There are many ways to achieve our goals. Focus on doing the most effective projects, not doing the most projects.
  • Say “no” to certain people – There will be people who try to take advantage of you. Don’t let them. One of the fastest ways to failure is by trying to keep everyone happy.
  • Say “no” to procrastination – Sometimes stress is self-induced by putting things off to the last minute. Don’t! Try just getting started on the task, or break up tasks to small steps. often that is the hardest part. With that out of the way, it is easier to avoid procrastinating.
  • Say “no” to perfectionism – “Perfect is the enemy of the good.” Don’t let perfection stand in the way of getting things done. You want high-quality work, but perfect is impossible and will only discourage you.
  • Say “no” to a negative mindset – How we see ourselves is how we perform. Don’t be afraid of failing or making mistakes (as long as it isn’t the same mistake). It is the only way to grow and learn. Be resilient. That is one of the most important qualities a successful person has.

How to Say “No” to People

Worried about people not liking you if you say “no”? Try this. Tell them that you are focused on getting your key tasks completed right now and if you take on any more, then it will hurt the work quality. If it is that important, ask them to ask again at a later time.

If they are still forceful, ask them if they would want the job you are asking you to do to be done well or not. If they want it done well, then you need to be able to focus and not be overwhelmed.

If it is a boss or an important customer, then it may be difficult to say “no”, especially if it will hurt your long-term prospects. The key here is to prioritize and do what is the most important and take some risk on pushing other things off until later.

There may be some long nights and short-term stressful situations, sometimes these can’t be avoided. The key is to make sure it is not the norm. Learning to say “no” to things is critical to managing potential burnout.


2. Create Daily Routines for Managing Stress

Burnout is ultimately caused by stress – specifically the kind of stress that leaves you feeling overwhelmed. It is possible to work hard and achieve your goals without high amounts of stress.

It is how you approach your day and the mindset you bring to the job. Stress management is essential for any entrepreneur who wants to go the distance and be successful. So, make sure that you have daily routines in place for managing stress.

Here are some helpful stress-reducing routines:

  • Take a break between projects – avoid jumping from one stressful, time-consuming project to the next one. This will give your mind and body a chance to recover.
  • Take a break throughout the day – Pay attention to your body and energy level. We can achieve more by managing our energy, not our time. Just like we have our circadian rhythm for sleep, our bodies have an ultradian rhythm that accounts for the ebb and flow of our energy throughout the day. To get the most out of your working day while minimizing stress, go full out for 90-120 minutes (fully engage) followed by a 15-20 minute break (strategically disengage).
  • Meditate – Deep breathing exercises have been shown to significantly help manage stress levels. It helps us focus and be more alert. During your breaks throughout the day, take a few minutes to meditate.
  • Listen to Music – Listening to music can have a powerful relaxing effect on our minds and bodies, especially slow, quiet classical music. It helps our physiological functions, slowing the pulse and heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing anxiety. It may also improve mood and help with one’s overall well-being.
  • Aromatherapy – Aromatherapy can increase wellness and reduce stress. carry many benefits in terms of wellness and stress relief. By smelling certain types of oils and fragrances, the brain triggers positive feelings, thereby relieving stress and anxiety.
  • Socialize – Either meet new people or talk to people that you enjoy being with. They can be a listening ear or just take your mind off stressful things. Relationships are important to help avoid burnout.

These are just some of the routines that you can use to reduce stress and potential burnout. The key is making it a habit, this way you are building into your day stress release activities and routines that help offset stress-causing activities.


3. Be Intentional on Your Calendar and Commitments

Entrepreneurs often burn out because they don’t take care of themselves. They are constantly on the go, struggling to patch things together and adding more stress. If you don’t guard and take care of your calendar, then others will do it for you, which is what you don’t want.

Be more intentional by putting on your calendar time and activities that reinvest in your wellness and self-care. It can be therapy sessions, meditation, massages, or just time to rest and relax. By putting it on your calendar and making it sacred time, then everything else will be scheduled around it.

When you plan your days out in advance and stick to it, then others who demand your time will see that it is a priority. Give yourself the recovery time, and be realistic with your expectations around it. Put time for family, relationship-building, exercise, and sleep.

Take the time to review all of your commitments. Rearrange them from most fulfilling and impactful to the least. Then review how long each commitment takes and if it is worth the time. Stop the commitments that take too much time on your calendar.

Also put on your calendar time away from your phone, computer, social media, and the like. Do a digital detox and stay away from the gadgets and social media if you can.

Plan your days out in advance using a daily planner or calendar. It is important that you give yourself space to decompress. For busy people, blocking off time on your calendar may be the best way to approach it.


4. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help and Outsource

Just because you are an entrepreneur, doesn’t mean that you have to try and do everything by yourself. You’ll probably be a lot more effective and efficient if you outsource some of your work. You’ll also be much less likely to burn out.

Thanks to the Internet, it’s easy to find all sorts of freelancers and managed services companies that can handle aspects of your business for you. Although this will involve costs on your side, you will gain a lot back in terms of freed up time and energy, reduced stress, and new perspectives.

Look at joining communities of other entrepreneurs. Showing up to support others, asking for the support you need, and being around like-minded people can better help you figure out the path to take.

Seeking professional help to regain clarity is essential. It’s important to isolate the problem and find a sustainable solution for it. In contrast to what many people think, a vacation or just working fewer hours often isn’t the answer. 

A therapist or someone who understands what you are going through can help you get in touch with your own unique needs and desires. When you are clear about who you are and your why, it is easier to make informed decisions about how to recover, regain your passion, and the next step to take.

David S. Chang

Award-Winning Entrepreneur, Wealth Manager and CEO | Chief Editor, Author, Keynote Speaker, Consultant ArtofThinkingSmart.com | Political Consultant | Army Officer National Guard | Living To Fulfill Needs, Solve Problems, and Live Passionately!

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