src=”https://buffer.com/resources/content/images/2022/04/jessica-newendyke-nDjG07g5cNg-unsplash.jpg” alt=”I Experienced Founder Burnout While Building a Self-Care Startup–Here’s What I Do Differently Now”>
Many people believe that I have to live a balanced life because I own a self-care company. I thought I understood the boundaries and routines I had to follow to take care myself while I ran my business.
Yet, despite having spent the last three years building Silk + Sonder, thinking about self-care daily, writing monthly journaling prompts and even being the voice for the audio meditations on the app, I recently felt like I had never experienced burnout before.
It was not caused by any major company events or life crises, but rather the normal requirements of being founder. Every day I switched between short-term thinking and big-picture thinking. I was making decisions that affected product, marketing, growth, and operations. I was always saying yes to every meeting, and finding new problems to solve.
My personal care habits began to slip without me realizing it. I stopped going to the gym and I was eating poorly. I felt pressure to make sure my family was happy, even though I had less time to socialize. Although I was overextending my capabilities, as a founder, it wasn’t something I thought about. I was so used to stepping outside of my comfort zone and facing new challenges every day that I didn’t even notice.
One day I woke up with a severe headache. I tried Advil, hoping it would go away by the end of my morning journaling. But I couldn’t look at the words. I knew something was wrong when I felt nauseated. I was able to send a text message to my assistant to clear my schedule for the day. Then, I texted a friend who is a founder for some advice. She said, “I believe you’re suffering from burnout.” I was disbelieving because I had always associated burnout as heightened anxiety and not debilitating exhaustion.
The next eight hours were spent on the couch, doing nothing. I had to unplug but my usual unplugging tools, such as a book or podcast, felt too draining.
After a day of rest I was ready to get back on the road. But I knew I had to address the root cause of my condition. I would be back in incapacitated before I knew it. While self-care was a good option, it didn’t help me immediately. The long-term solution required deeper changes in my approach to work.
These are my strategies to avoid burnout.
I began by reviewing my energy requirements.
I realized immediately that I had to make some changes in my daily life so I could conserve my energy.
Make my calendar work for you
The first was to look for ways I could rework the calendar. My best work is done when I am able to focus for two to three hours each day. But, I was neglecting that structure prior to the burnout. I set aside some work hours every day and started looking for alternatives to my daily schedule, such as recurring check ins that allow updates to be shared asynchronously.
Use an energy map to delegate
Also, I created an energy map to review how I was spending my day. This included writing down all of my daily and weekly tasks, and categorizing which ones charged me or drained. This became a guidebook that helped me decide what to delegate. It was easy to delegate the task of sourcing candidates and conducting screening calls, which I found draining. When my to-do lists get out of control, I’ll make a new map.
Reserve time for me
Finally, I tried to find ways to recommit myself to my health and wellness. To avoid neglecting exercise, I began pre-booking classes during the week and I became more conscious about filling my weekends with fun activities such as reading, journaling, and social outings.
Instead of reacting, I have worked to strategize
My burnout was due to the fact that I fell into a reactive mode and kept trying to solve every problem, question, or need that came up. I realized that I needed to be more strategic in how I approached the business’s needs so that I could concentrate on the most important tasks and not get pulled in every direction.
Every day, one primary goal
My first step was to adopt a method we recommend in our Silk + Sonder Planners. This is where you choose one thing that you need to do each day. It will make it easier for everything else. My one thing is to be creative and think big for my company or do the tasks that will make me a better CEO. These should be my priority, even if the company is burning to the ground.
My team and I should have realistic expectations
Also, I had to be more open about when I could answer questions or review deliverables for my team members. Even if they didn’t have a deadline, I did so. It’s tempting to just stop doing what I’m currently doing to address their needs, especially if I’m preventing them from getting it done. But I found that being realistic about timelines was better than over-committing and under-delivering (or trying to do everything I can to deliver).
My employees are empowered to make their own decisions
Finally, I have been trying to get out of every business decision. I will tell a colleague that I am happy to help them with a topic they don’t understand, but I also trust their knowledge. They are empowered with the knowledge to make their own decisions. It’s been better overall for them, better for me, and better business for us all.
I am constantly building positive habits
I have finally come to the conclusion that creating healthy habits to avoid burnout can be a constant process. Not only did I have to constantly adjust or recommit my habits to avoid burnout, but I also had to remind others in my life about my needs. My well-being is my greatest advocate.
Reduce notifications and check messages at my own pace
To reduce the temptation of context switching and shifting intended priorities, I have disabled email previews and Slack notifications from my computer and phone. Although I know I have a tendency to allow distractions in, especially if they are helpful for others, I have learned that my involvement can be delayed more often than I thought. These accounts are checked a few times a day to preserve my creativity and flow. This same approach is used in my personal life. I remind my family and fiance that just because I’m not at a meeting doesn’t mean that I’m unavailable for any personal or home-related questions.
My team is trained on how to handle an urgent situation.
My team is trained to recognize when it’s truly urgent. People are aware that they can text me or call me in an emergency. They should ask themselves if this is so urgent that Meha needs to stop working right now to deal with it.
Although it’s difficult to do this when everyone is looking at you, I believe founders place more pressure on themselves than necessary. My team values my trust and my honesty around my needs. They actually respect the fact that I am setting myself up to do my best for them and the company.