As an entrepreneur, it is very easy to get caught in the trap of saying yes too often in an effort to chase down new opportunities. If you aren’t careful to quell that entrepreneurial spirit from time to time, you’ll inevitably hit the famous entrepreneur burnout. Here’s how not to postpone important tasks, anger your family and end up in a full entrepreneur meltdown.
To recap our extremely busy last few years, Bill D’Alessandro joins me to discuss the six tactics we use to prevent and recover from entrepreneurial burnout. From forcing ourselves to walk away for an hour to taking extended vacations from everything work-related, Bill and I supply you with killer tools you need to increase your productivity and take time for yourself.
The Full Conversation
Andrew: Today on the show, talking about something that doesn’t get mentioned a lot but plays a real part being a store owner, and ecommercer, really entrepreneurship of any kind, and that’s burnout. Really running yourself ragged and trying to do too much and coming to the end of the week or month or year and just feeling like you’re running on empty and you’re just ragged. Joining me to talk about that, a man who I know has a busy six months to say the least between buying a company, trying to raise some money, and moving cross country. Bill, how are you doing man?
Bill: Very good. Very good.
Andrew: Good. It’s interesting because we were both talking how this last six months have been busy and this just popped up as a great topic to dive into because it is something we’ve both been working with.
So no first shout out this episode. We’re just going to dive right in to figure out how to deal with burnout as an entrepreneur.
Alright, Bill, I kind of eluded to a couple of things that’s been going on for you but can you give a few more details if you wouldn’t mind. What’s been going with you and how specifically does it related to your life in the last three months or so?
Bill: This is definitely a topic, when you asked me to come talk about it, that I have some very personal thoughts on because I’ve lived through it, some burnout for sure at different times of my life. Past couple of months have been one of those times. Just had a lot as an entrepreneur, I think all of us listening, you’re inclined to do too much. It’s very easy to say “yes” to chase down multiple opportunities and to feel like I need to be working all the time and to feel like you’re always at work, especially if you work from home. I can talk a little bit about that later, working from home versus going into an office and how to deal, manage that. There’s also, Andrew, I know we did this other episode that I’ve really recommend to people listen to is the “How to deal with the temptation of running multiple businesses as an entrepreneur”. So I think that one probably dovetails pretty nicely with our conversation today.
Just to answer your question. In the past three months or four months roughly I have bought another business, another sunscreen business, to bolt on Elements brands. I have begun to speak to some investors about raising an investment round for OrderCircle.com, which is a sort of a wholesale Shopify. And then I’ve also purchased a house and moved half way across the country. All in a couple months. It’s been pretty busy.
Andrew: I don’t know how you do it. It’s crazy. It’s funny too you mentioned that we did the episode before where you can be running ragged and feeling like you are doing so much stuff but still if you see another business opportunity. You would think you would look at it and be like “Oh that looks like a great business opportunity but I have way too much going on.” But no! You can’t. Your brain is like “Oh, I can fit this in.” You can juggle everything. It’s funny. For me it’s been just…yeah. Especially after we got Right Channel Radios launched and kind of changing gears on things. I feel like, for me a lot of times, just a lot of things coming at me from business and trying to figure how to manage different contact points and different people. For me a lot of times I don’t, maybe it’s not so much as burnout as much and being too busy but sometimes I’ll go through these enormous motivational ups and downs where for six months I’ll will just be on fire for getting a new website launched and really in the zone in terms of being productive. And then I’ll have these one to two month or sometimes longer, I’ve had one time it was like three or 4 month, just enormous productivity dips where I don’t feel motivated to get things done and everything is a battle to try to be productive. I had one of those a couple months ago and it lasted for about six weeks and you’re not quite as busy but you’re emotionally burnt out to get stuff done. That’s where I’m coming from, at least from the last three to four months.
Bill: Yeah. I get that way too. If you work so hard for so long. Even if you don’t end up hating your business you just feel like blah. I don’t want to do this anymore.
Identify What’s Important – Eliminate The Rest
Andrew: How do you deal with that? We’re going to talk about six tips for preventing and dealing with burnout. And the first one is, and this one is probably easier said than done, identify what’s important and eliminate everything else. I think, Bill, if you and I both kind of looked at each other’s business schedules, at least I’ll speak for myself and what I do on a day to day basis. If you watched what I was doing every day, at the end of the day, say, “Andrew, what are you goals?” And I listed my goals to you and then you said, “Well here is what you did all day as I watched over your shoulder with my spy cam that you didn’t know I was watching. How do 70% of these things relate?” I probably wouldn’t be able to give you a great answer. I think a lot of times we’re not as good as we think about identifying where we want go and focusing just on that. But if you can and it frees up more time to do other things it is enormously beneficial so you don’t get overloaded.
Bill: I think you’re totally right. I catch myself…and I call this mentally to myself, I call it Playing Whack-a-Mole. I think it’s very easy to fall into this as an entrepreneur when an email is what does this to you. An email comes in and you’re like “Oh. I have to deal with this.” Or “Oh. There’s a fire over here. Maybe I’ll handle this thing now.” Or I just got a notification from Google Analytics with my last month in summary. Maybe I’ll dive into analytics and I’ll spend an hour there slicing and dicing all that. And then the day has gone by and you’ve played Whack-a-Mole as all these things have popped up all day and then you’ve never really made any sustained progress towards your long term goals. And all the time it happens to me, it’s four o’clock and I’m like “Oh. I’ve been playing Whack-a-Mole all day long.” It’s hard. But you’ve got to turn off email if you can or find a way to not play Whack-a-Mole for a few hours.
Take Extended Breaks from Work
Andrew: Yeah. I’ll refer people over to our episode on being productive as a solo entrepreneur. We talked a lot about these turning off notifications, being a little more vigilant with not checking email all the time, planning out your day. Those kind of things. They can help. If you’re good with those it will help a ton.
Number two, take extended breaks from work. I think this sounds really obvious but I think a lot of times people don’t do it. Not just a day here, a day there, but take extended time, at least a couple weeks if you can. Maybe even a month if it’s possible to swing it. For me I think back upon last year we took two weeks off of work and went down and spent some time in Florida right on the coast with the family. The first week I didn’t do any work at all. I just hung out. I didn’t check email for a week which was crazy. But it was really rejuvenating and by the time I got back for week two I had so many ideas and so many things that I had the chance to think through and percolate in my mind without all these distractions. It not only rejuvenated me but it gave me so much more energy than I had when I left and some great ideas that I brought into the business.
Bill: I think that it’s beneficial for me too. It’s interesting to hear you say. So you said about two weeks, three weeks? What’s your time frame? I think it’s different for every one before they get antsy. What’s your time frame?
Andrew: I was antsy to get back to it after a week. In May we’re taking off for a little family trip for two to three weeks, maybe for up to a month, we’re going to load everyone up in the VW van and head south. We’ll see how it goes especially with a couple young kids but ideally I want to do three to four weeks out. But I know that after seven to ten days I’m going to itching to get back into it. Are you like that?
Bill: I have about seven to ten days where I can totally unplug and somewhere in there…it’s not like I’m not thinking about it during that time and having good ideas but in the seven to ten days I go, “Oh, I feel like I’ve been screwing around for a little while. There’s a lot that I could do. I’ve got all these good ideas. I want to get back to it. And I wonder how the business is doing.” It’s hard for me. At seven to ten days I start to wig out a little bit and then I need to get back to it. Then I wonder, “God, am I a workaholic? Can I not…have I been doing this too long that I can’t set it down and go away?” Or it could be that I just really like what I do. Seven to ten days for me is as long as I can go.
Get Better At Saying No
Andrew: Yeah, but even it’s only seven to ten, make those breaks in there. They’re important.
Number three…this one might’ve been the one to put at the front. Get better at saying no and I think this is probably not even business specific, life specific. It’s probably one of the best skills you can learn to do. I think people get really good at adding things incrementally to their plate. They don’t really notice them stacking up and stacking up. And there’s also an enormous urge and desire for a lot of people to please other people. People don’t like disappointing other people or being abrasive or being that person who won’t help out. But if you can’t get good at saying no you’re pretty much going to have other people dictate the direction of your life, your business, your family, everything. So I think this is probably one of the best things you can do. I have something in my personal mission statement and it goes “the only things I want to do are things I think are really important and impact, important to people that I care strongly about or that I have committed to.” And if they don’t pass those three, I’m probably going to say no to them.
Bill: That’s good criteria. I like that. What were they again? The three criteria?
Andrew: Only say yes to doing things that are deeply impactful and important, important to people I care about or that I’ve committed to doing already because I was a wiener and couldn’t say no the first time.
Bill: I think that’s a good criteria. There’s a good book. It’s written by James Altucher and he writes on…you’ll see him on Tech Ron I’m sure. He founded MarketWatch.com or something or one of those financial…he writes a lot and I heard him on Tim Ferris’ podcast recently talking about and he wrote this book. It’s either called “The Power of the No” or “The Art of No” or something and it’s about strategies for saying no. Because as you get successful and as you get, especially on the internet you put your email address out there people know how to find you. And you just can’t say yes to everything even things you want to say yes to. You just can’t. And so there’s a real art to saying no in way while not being an asshole essentially and that’s sort of what the book is about. Here are the different situations where you’ll be, people will ask you of things, and he goes through things are potential business opportunities you don’t have time to pursue, things that are someone from your past reaches out and says I want to do this but you don’t really want to. How do you handle all these things in a elegant way? It’s a pretty good book. It’s a very fast read. It’s thin. But, it’s by James Altucher. It’s called “The Power of No”.
Andrew: Perfect. Super important. Are you good pretty good at this, Bill?
Bill: I’m terrible at this. I love to help people and especially entrepreneurs who email me and I’ll be like “Yeah let’s get on a phone call.” That stuff, though, and I will continue to say yes to that stuff all the time because I enjoy it. But you did get a lot of people…and I do have to say no to people sometimes who don’t know when to stop asking for free help or whatever it might be. You have to figure out a way how to say it nicely and it’s kind of tough. I don’t mean to sound like I get all these inquiries or whatever. When people say, “Oh there’s no harm in asking. Maybe I’ll just lob an email.” Sometimes there is harm to asking. Sometimes it can change a relationship a little bit. If I have to say no. If we had a certain relationship and now I have to say no to you because you make an inappropriate ask or something. It can kind of be a little weird. It can be really delicate.
Andrew: There’s a really interesting framework somebody mentioned. This isn’t mine. I’m stealing it from somebody. I can’t remember who. But the bottom line was they said any time you say yes to something, in your mind to make sure you’re thinking through it properly, figure out what it is you’re giving up to take that on. So if you say, “Hey Yes I’m going to take this call or I’m going to commit to this thing with this organization or my church or my friend or whatever it is.” There’s always an opportunity cost to that. Maybe you’re not meeting with your good friends as much. Maybe you’re not seeing your family or your children as much or your spouse. There’s always a trade off and we don’t think about that until after the fact. But if you can try to verbalize that in the moment it makes it a ton easier. And it’s also a very legitimate way to talk to someone. When I’ve had to say no in touch situations in the past, I’ve said, “Hey, I understand this was something you needed help with but if I do this I can’t do this. To be honest with you my family is more important. I’m sorry but I hope you understand.”
Bill: Right. The flip side of that is if you find yourself saying “I don’t have enough time to do that.” Rephrase that and say “That’s not a priority for me.” Because how you spend your time is how is really your level of priority. So when you say yes to something, realize that you’re prioritizing it, you’re making that a higher priority than they things you have to skip and realize is this the thing I want to make a high priority before I say yes to it.
Andrew: We touch on this. If you’re a people-pleaser this is probably one of the biggest potential weaknesses that you have. I don’t know how you get over that. How do you do that, Bill? If it just gives you knots inside to disappoint people, how does someone get over this?
Bill: It’s really hard. I struggle with it. To some degree I am a people-pleaser. I love to help people, especially other entrepreneurs. It’s fun for me. But I still have to run my business and have my life and all that stuff. It’s hard. The book is good, “The Power of No” I think it is. Or “The Art of No.” It gives you some strategies and some scripts for ways to say “I’m sorry. I just can not” without being a jerk.
Create Systems and Stick to Them
Andrew: We’ll link up to that in the show notes for sure.
Number four, get better at creating systems and most importantly sticking to them to help with burn out. Of course creating systems is step number one, and I’ll link up to a blog post that we did over here on virtual team management. How you can create systems and really streamline the automation process of your business. It’s one thing to create a system or framework, like we have something called a “unless I hear otherwise’ culture at Right Channel Radios and eCommerceFuel. I think I’ve talked to you about that before, Bill, where anytime there’s a problem a team member is supposed to come to me and say “Hey. Unless I hear otherwise I’m going to do X, Y, and Z to solve it.” So it makes them take the initiative to really propose a solution and stuff gets done even if I don’t intervene unless I want to…
Bill: That’s great. I love that.
Andrew: A lot of times I’m not great at really holding people to that. People will come with “Hey. What do I do here? What do I do there?” Again if I was in their shoes I would probably would be not…I can understand how it’s hard to always come with that. There’s been a lot of times where instead of me linking over to our philosophy and having them come back to me with a productive solution, I’ll just put out the fire in the moment and give them a solution or say “Here’s what we should do.” It’s sticking to those system and really empowering your team as well. Making them understand that they’re proactive even if they don’t make the perfect decision in the moment, as long as they’re proactive about it, they’re doing their best and they’re adhering to the principles you’ve set up for the company. You’re not going to get mad at them. Those are really important.
Bill: I think maybe we should’ve listed this one earlier. It’s kind of hard to take a two week vacation if you don’t have systems. The whole world is going to fall apart while your’re gone. I think if you are feeling burned out, look at your repetitive tasks. What are some of the things I do every day? And that can not be a task? That can be approving someone else’s work. I have to check what this person does every single day. How can make them better at it or something where I don’t have to check them? If you are feeling burned out, start with your systems. And if you’re sucessful at building systems you might A) just to feel less burned out because you’re dong less repetitive stuff every day and then you might be able to go “Man, maybe I can go away.”
Find What Recharges You
Andrew: It’s a snowball. It just starts snowballing on itself.
Number five, figure out what recharges you and make sure to prioritize it. Bill, it would be interesting to hear what yours is. But for me the two big things that recharge me are times one on one with Annie and basketball, as long as I don’t play absolute garbage. As long as I don’t embarass myself on the court. It recharges me. I love it. Those are the two things I really try to focus on because if I don’t, I feel it. They give me energy. Bill, what is it for you?
Bill: For me it’s going out with friends. I love to get a good group of five or six friends together to go out, have a nice dinner, sit around, have some wine, and just have a nice social evening. For me, really, lets me recharges my batteries to some degree. And also going outside. I realized that spend so much time inside. You can just sit in your office at your computer screen and to just go for a walk even. I’m trying to go for a walks every day now. I go for 15, doesn’t have to be long, 15, 20, 25 minute walk every day just to get outside, get a little sunlight. If it’s raining, I stay in. But if it’s nice out I try to go outside every single day to break the staring at the computer screen thing and get out of my bubble. A walk and then a social evening with friends. And then the other change I made to try to recharge myself…This was almost a break through for me because I didn’t realize how bad I actually was at relaxing. It’s actually kind of a skill. When you take a break you want to make that break count. What I realized was during the day I would sort of take these micro breaks. I’m sure you guys, every body listening probably knows what I’m talking about. YOu work for a little while and you go “Oh, maybe I’ll just click on Facebook or maybe I’ll go to Hacker News and I’ll read a couple articles.” Or whatever it might be. I’m not talking about when you get totally derailed but you take a 15, 20, 30 minute and I’ll just read some things on the internet and then I’ll get back to work. Even if you do that you’ll probably have that feeling you’ve been reading articles for 20 or 30 minutes and you go “Okay, I guess I really should go back to work” and you take deep breath and you dive back in that thing you were doing. What I realize is that what my brain is telling me when it goes “oh maybe you should take a little break and read some articles on the INternet.” What my brain is telling me is that it wants a break and if I don’t get up and I don’t go do something else and give my brain an actual break, if I give it this half-assed still stare at words on a page “break” in quotes and then I go back to work. I don’t have any of the benefits. I don’t feel recharged. I don’t even feel like I got a break. And then shortly thereafter I want another one. It’s not a wholesome break. So now what I’m trying to do is when I feel that compulsion to take that quick mental break, I stand up from the computer and I go do something. I go read a book. I go play a video game or I go outside. I try to take an actual non-stare-at-words-on-a-screen break whenever I feel that and then return in 15 to 30 minutes and begin work again. And that’s helped me a lot because I feel actually recharged after a little snack break.
Take Care of Your Body
Andrew: Happens to me all the time too.
Number six, take care of your body. Burn out is something that can hit you at any time but you are much more prone to it if you’re tired, if you’re body’s not funtioning well, if you’re feeling ‘blah’. I don’t know about you, Bill, I used to be able to eat like a goat and be great, in college. Drink three beers and put away three-quarters of a pizza and then chase it down with ice cream and I’d be golden. It wouldn’t affect my body. Now if I eat like that I feel terrible. If I don’t get any decent sleep, if I’m not in bed by a reasonable hour, the morning are really groggy. For me from eight to eleven that’s when I really get stuff done. We’re talking about those most important things, that’s when that happens for me. If I’m feeling terrible or have to sleep in because I’m up super late, I don’t get that done. Taking care of your body in terms of exercise, in terms of nutrition, it sounds silly, it sounds cliche, everyone talks about it, but it’s a big deal.
Bill: Exercise is one of these ways and you mentioned that playing basketball recharges you in the last point and it’s actually not surprising because there’s a lot of studies that show exercise releases endorphins and it helps your brain to actually chemically function differently, just to have a little bit of exercise. And it makes you happier. So if you are fit and you are getting exercise you will perform better in your work even while you’re not exercising because your brain is sharper and you’re generally happier.
Andrew: And another thing too is I’m much less prone to eat junk, eat crap food, if I’ve been exercising. It doesn’t make any sense but if I’m hanging out on a Saturday and don’t do anything, five o’clock rolls around I’ll be ravenous and put away three-quarters of a pizza if I wanted to. But if I go out and play basketball and come back at the same time I might be a littel peckish but just have a protein shake or something or an apple. I won’t have the appetite which is a little counterintuitive because you’re definitely burning more calories. That’s the experience I’ve had.
Bill: It’s somehow easier to make the right choice on the food if you’ve already made the right choice on the exercising.
Andrew: Yeah. It’s bizarre. But it works for me.
Bill: I feel the same way. I get that. I understand that.
One more point I want to add on to taking care of your body. You mentioned just now you said eight to ten a.m. is sort of your most worthwhile time. You’re an early bird. I am not. I’m the opposite. I think eight to eleven p.m. is my most worthwhile time when I happen to crank the best. Everybody listening is going to be different. Again this sounds rudimentary but one thing you can actually do is if you journal, if you just take any pad of paper or something and go “when I eat this it makes me feel this way” or “I’ve noticed that i’ve really been in flow for the last two hours. What time of day was it? What did I eat before that? How much did I sleep last night? When did I got to bed?” You just write these things down. Don’t even attempt to change anything. Just observe your life and put it on paper and go back and go “Wow, when I eat pizza I feel like shit.” Or whatever it might be. Or “When I stay up past midnight my whole next day does not function well or when I get less than however many hours of sleep or when I go outside for a walk I tend to be more productive in the afternoon.” If you just journal, don’t even try to change anything, just write it down because we as people are really horrible at subjectively analyzing the things that we did, even just remembering what you did and try to link it back up to your current mental state. If you just write it down you can actually figure out how to manage your own body. Which sounds like you shouldn’t have to write down and analyze to figure it out. But it really helps.
Andrew: So that will wrap it up for us. Six tips on preventing and dealing with burn out. Again, a real quick summary. Identify what’s important and eliminate everything else. Take extended breaks from work. Get better at saying no. Get better at creating systems and most importantly, sticking to them. Figuring out what recharges you and prioritizing it. And finally taking care of your body. Bill, I think we’ve earned a break here.
Bill: I think so. Maybe I’ll go outside.
Andrew: I would but it’s dumping snow. You get the 70 degree weather in North Carolina and I’ll pace around my house. Bill, it’s been fun as always. Thanks.
Bill: It’s good talking to you.
Andrew: That’s going to do it for this week, but if you’re interested in launching your own e-commerce store, download my free 55-page e-book on niche selection and getting started. If you’re a bit more experienced, look into the eCommerceFuel private forum. It’s a vetted community for store owners with at least 4,000 in monthly sales or industry professionals with at least a year or more experience in the e-commerce space. You can learn more about both the e-book and the forum at ecommercefuel.com. Thanks so much for listening, and I’m looking forward to seeing you again, next Friday.
What Was Mentioned
- eCommerceFuel Podcast: Running Multiple Businesses
- eCommerceFuel Podcast: Solo Productivity Tips
- eCommerceFuel: Managing a Virtual Team Across 5 Time Zones
- The Power of No: Because One Little Word Can Bring Health, Abundance, and Happiness by James Altucher
- Tim Ferris
- James Altucher
Photo: Flickr/Jonathan Leung