Courtesy of Brad Feld’s blog, we found a terrific set of posts today on the topic of burnout, an affliction that nearly all startup founders experience at some point in their careers. While it appeals to our entrepreneurial romanticism to “burn the candle at both ends,” burnout from working too hard can be far more destructive, personally and professionally, than all that excessive working was worth in the first place. (Just ask Om.)
Burning out is a chronic problem with entrepreneurs. In the early 1990’s – for a year before and after I sold my first company – I went through a tough period where I got very depressed. I held it together and got through it, but the memory of how I felt is never far away. I was completely burned out. I’ll be forever grateful to Amy and my business partner Dave for putting up with me during this time period since they were the ones that had to deal with the brunt of my depression.
Sound familiar? Are you suffering from burnout yet? Here’s a great post that outlines The Four Stages of Burnout. They are…
1. Physical, Mental and Emotional Exhaustion
2. Shame and Doubt
3. Cynicism and Callousness
4. Failure, Helplessness and Crisis.
Founder Andrew Hyde, the creator of Startup Weekend, succumbed to burnout and wound up having to take a month-long hiatus to recover. It took “a full month to be able to really recover, complete tasks, find neglected projects and really get excited about the project again,” he writes his recent post about what the experience taught him. Four whole weeks without working!
I am still trying to figure out why this is really important. Today I looked back at the pages of notes and figure out lessons and trends I would have forgotten about.
Lesson: Burnout = Distraction = Lost Opportunities
Burnout can also create unnecessary conflict: business conflicts due to lost opportunities; as well as personal/personnel conflicts, because it always affects those around you when you’re suffering from it.
So do what Andrew Hyde didn’t do: listen the people who caution you to slow down. This means your friends, your parents, or the parents of your friends (it might not be your investors!).
And, as Feld suggests, sleep more. Scientific studies prove more sleep makes your brain function better. Feld recently started to feel anxious again, he writes, but this time he spent 14 hours in bed. The next day, “whatever vestiges of my cold, fatigue, or anxiety were completely gone.” And so we close with Feld’s parting counsel …
HOW TO AVOID BURNOUT
I have simple advice for all entrepreneurs – listen to your body. Remember the quote from Dune “Fear is the mindkiller” and remember that most fears and anxiety are born of fatigue…Don’t worry about “pacing yourself” – that’s probably not possible – but when you see signs of burn out, take it easy for a little while.