My tough love approach (heavy on the love) focuses on bringing order to chaos, and creating solid (and straightforward) strategic plans. I take surveys for fun, never met a process I didn’t like, and am a big believer in personal growth as a keystone to business growth.
As an entrepreneur, you’ll sometimes face work exhaustion. Why is it that no day seems to be long enough to get everything done? Tasks pile up, get left behind or are forgotten.
Soon, you’re working 16-hour days and seven-day weeks because it seems like the only way to catch up. This gradually transforms into a months-long habit and becomes the norm. Naturally, you start to feel chronically exhausted going to bed, exhausted waking up, and like a complete zombie for every hour in between. It’s not a sustainable way to run a business, and it can be demotivating and frustrating to feel like you’re not making headway.
It’s an easy trap to fall into if you’re not careful. There are times when you feel like you can’t say, ‘No’ to a new experience, an opportunity, or that you could be doing some good in the world if you weren’t so selfish.
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The more generous you are with your time and resources, the more likely you’ll find yourself burnt out. Perhaps because there’s no obvious or single cause, there’s also no easy fix for this problem.
You’re a complex person with an individual set of priorities and pressures, so we won’t push a ‘magic’ solution on you. But we can look at it through the lens of how things get done, how to maximize your downtime, and how to manage your emotions to help you lead a healthier and more productive life.
Brace yourself, because this suggestion is the hardest for some: you’ve got to give up on perfection! It’s unreasonable and doesn’t exist.
Not that you should leave flaws in your work, but it’s time to loosen your standards a bit and put your stamp of approval on things when you know they’ll satisfy everyone other than yourself.
This is the first thing we suggest because the tips that follow will put you into a specific mindset where, at the end of the day, you may walk away from your work before it’s finished. Being okay with that is critical.
Next, create task lists.
Write down everything you need to accomplish, then group all of those tasks into things that can be done together, or in succession. Depending on your preference, using a task organizational system like Wrike or Asana can help, but sometimes putting pen to paper is the best way to dump your brain.
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When you’re feeling exhausted by your work, your list will likely be impossible to complete in one day, even though a big part of you is saying you need to get it all done today, no matter what. You’ll also need to add another task to your list: Work on accepting that this entire list won’t get done.
Now it’s time to pare down your list.
Eliminate the things you don’t absolutely have to do. Get rid of all of the “nice-to-haves” and get the list down to the bare essentials. The first time you do this you’ll probably only find a few things to cross out, but after doing it every morning for a few days, you’ll likely find that almost a quarter of the tasks on your list are things you could skip out on and everything would be just fine.
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Next, it’s time to assign cutoff times for each group of tasks. Cutoff times are different from deadlines in that, instead of saying, “I need to get this done by X time”, you’re saying: “I am going to stop working on this at X time and come back to it tomorrow if it isn’t done.”
Doing this helps you plan your time around your work. Get rid of distractions. Schedule appointments around the tasks you need to complete, cut conversations or meetings short that run too long and destroy your productivity, and – most importantly – schedule some downtime.
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By the way: downtime is not optional (more about that below).
Keep your task list where you can refer to it throughout the day. Cross off or highlight things you complete, but don’t delete them. Seeing a big list of tasks you’ve accomplished at the end of the day, whether you’ve finished all of them or not, is incredibly satisfying. It’s also a great way to reflect on how you used your time each day, and whether you can improve how you allocate or track your time.
As we mentioned earlier, downtime is a must. If you roll out of bed, work, and don’t stop until you let your head fall back onto the pillow, you will get sick. This is the reality you must accept: your body will start to shut down if you don’t dedicate some time throughout the day to de-compressing and de-stressing.
In general, downtime needs to happen at the following times:
Whether it’s taking time to meditate, enjoying a steaming hot cup of tea, walking the dog or watching some funny YouTube videos, start your day with a relaxing ritual of some kind. Make sure you give yourself at least 30 minutes at the start of your day when you don’t have to do anything else but relax. This will put your mind in a state of calm.
Evening relaxation may include more active fun and social time, but pay attention to how you think and feel about this. Sometimes social time doesn’t relax you and you need quiet time by yourself. This is also a great opportunity to indulge your creative side by doing some painting, scrapbooking or writing. There are two things to keep in mind here: don’t trick yourself into doing something for work that “doubles” as relaxation time, like watching educational videos or having dinner meetings. You’re still “on” at these times, and don’t get to truly decompress. The other thing is to avoid trying to pack too much into this time. Keep it simple – this is not a time where you absolutely have to see that play at the theatre or squeeze in a yoga session between appointments.
The ideal activity will get you to power down all your devices. Try reading a book, taking a walk in the woods – connecting with nature can help transform your mental state.
Don’t sacrifice sleep. Getting anything less than 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night (every night) will slowly decrease your available brain power throughout the day, to the point where no amount of caffeine will bring you out of your mental fog. This makes everything more difficult (including thinking) and slows you down.
Also, when it’s time for bed, shut off your phone and laptop. Practice excellent sleep hygiene by not texting from bed or making phone calls in your pajamas. Keep bedtime completely separate from the rest of your life, or you won’t sleep properly.
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There are a lot of great self-help books for entrepreneurs about mindset if you’re in the right headspace to read them. But if you’re nearing or are at the burn-out stage, it’s time to stop trying to get “motivated”. Accept how tired you’re feeling, how stretched you are, and how rough your journey is for the moment. If you try too hard to repress or “ride out” these feelings, you could push yourself into an energetic state and cause yourself more stress before finally snapping.
Instead, cut back on the number of activities and tasks you’re doing. Leave any projects that could survive without you, even though they may be better off with you. You won’t be doing yourself, your clients, or anyone else any good if you have a total breakdown.
Since you’re a digital nomad, you can also infuse new energy into your work life by changing locations often. If you work from home, try moving your laptop to different rooms throughout the day. Or better yet, try a local co-working space (where you’re likely meet many other entrepreneurs in similar fields) or work from a coffee shop. These tiny shifts can add color to your day and make everything seem manageable.
Finally, and most importantly, remember the “why” behind everything you’re doing. Why did you start these tasks in the first place? What’s the payoff in the end? Where is it all leading?
The answers to these questions will reveal answers as to how your time would be best spent. If you find out you’re being led down the wrong path, this is your wake-up call to do something else. However, perhaps you just need a reminder to review your Mission and Vision statements. Keeping them in mind will often give you that last little push of determination to power through when you’re nearing the end.
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