I worked in a hospital caring for patients for most of my career, so work wasn't exactly the kind I could take home with me. I had a benefits package that included generous paid vacation time. On top of only being required to work an eight-hour day, I had a lunch break that I was required to take, which forced a breather in the middle of the day. That 9-to-5 job allowed me to turn off the work once I left the office because there was not much more I could do, and burnout was not a huge concern.
Once I became a mother, I decided to start my own business so I could be home with my daughter. I imagined this would allow me to have more work-life balance and take on small projects to cover baby gymnastics classes here and there. I never anticipated bringing in as much business as I have and having to balance even more than I did as a full-time employee.
It is challenging to say no to potential income, so I didn't. While this is a perfect way to make some serious cash, it is also a perfect recipe to get burnt out very quickly. And that is exactly what happened at the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey. I wasn't turning down any work and was working way too many hours without any boundaries. My daughter was home with me but was not getting the attention she deserved, and my husband was honestly getting pretty annoyed. Burnout had been uncharted territory for me, until it wasn't.
After that experience, I have luckily found ways to stay more balanced and keep both the quality of my work and my quality of life up. Here are some steps that I have committed to that have helped me avoid that state of mind again.
- I have a bedtime. My daughter wakes up at 6 a.m. every morning, so turning it off at 10 p.m. gives me an opportunity to get in a full eight hours of sleep. I have found that adequate and quality sleep is the best thing I can do to stay fresh. If my brain isn't sharp, I am not focused on my work and become disengaged. Before this mandated bedtime, I was working until the wee hours of the morning and was exhausted the next day when I had to do it all over again.
- I have an afternoon work break built into my day, every single day. Because I don't have a boss telling me it's time to take a lunch break or turn off my computer and leave for the day, I set my own schedule, and that includes free time. From 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. every day, I have time blocked on my calendar for my daughter. My phone is put away, and my computer is shut off. If I hear that bing alerting me that someone has just emailed me, I remind myself that the email will still be there once my break is over.
- I try to partner with other colleagues. Most projects I take require me to work independently, but if there's an opportunity to collaborate, I jump at the opportunity. Working with someone else adds some excitement and socialization to my work. It also allows for some variety, which really helps me stay excited about the work.
- I celebrate my successes, no matter how small they are. I have moved away from being worried that people will think of me as a braggart. Celebrating wins and successes is extremely motivating and reminds me of how much I have accomplished. Not having a boss means not having someone to evaluate my work and give me praise, and I have found that taking the time to acknowledge positive outcomes in my business helps me keep going.
- I listen to my body. If I feel like I need to take a breather, I take a breather. I am not doing my clients any favors by pushing myself when I am fried; the quality of my work isn't as good, and it is simply not enjoyable to work. Whether I need to take a day and hit the beach or take a walk around the block to clear my head, I don't ignore the signs when burnout is around the corner. I honor those feelings and work through them.