5 ways tech founders can avoid burnout
The risk of burnout can be reduced by focusing on our mental health needs.
Being a founder is incredibly exciting. From micro startups to tech businesses that already employ a number of staff and have achieved regular revenue, it’s exhilarating to build something new.
But being a founder can also be lonely and stressful. This is something to take note of as loneliness and stress can contribute to burnout. Or certainly create the conditions for burnout.
Add the last year and a bit to that mix, and a whole other level of complexity is included in the combination. Extra long hours, working from home (which comes with benefits and challenges), not taking holidays and increased anxiety over sustainability has lead to 73% of tech workers, according to a 2020 study, feeling burnt out.
Amanda Falkson, a psychotherapist based in London, has worked with tech founders for a number of years using a hybrid of therapy and coaching. Clients see her as a sounding board and someone with whom you can be yourself, safe in the knowledge that what is said is completely confidential. She understands how founders strive to gain traction for their startups, and grow and scale their businesses.
As Amanda supports the founders she works with, she encourages them to maintain a focus on five main areas in their lives to reduce the risk of burnout. These are:
- Physical health
- Personal relationships
- Mental health
- Professional relationships
I recently chatted with Amanda to gain her insights on burnout.
What is burnout?
Let’s be honest. While the virus and lockdowns has injected a huge amount of stress into our lives, stress has already been a frequent presence in modern life for many years.
So how can you tell if you’re dealing with a “normal” amount of startup stress or you’re in dangerous burnout territory?
Amanda shares that there are three distinct elements to burnout.
- A feeling that you can’t keep up no matter how much you work. This is in opposition to how you used to feel when you were confident in your ability to keep up.
- Feeling cynical and uninterested in work and people you previously cared for deeply.
- Feeling deep exhaustion that doesn’t abate after a sleep or rest.
It can be a frightening experience to feel burnt out, and it’s a condition to take seriously.
“I work with founders who are burnt out, and I’d always say that recovery is possible. However, taking time to build healthy habits in your life to mitigate the risk of burnout is always the much better option,” says Amanda.
Don’t underestimate the power of exercise
Exercise has more benefits than purely keeping our lungs, heart and bodies fit. This is an important consideration in itself, but regular exercise also has another superpower.
“When we exercise, our minds have to focus on what we’re doing,” explains Amanda. “If you’re playing tennis, or lifting weights or dancing in a Zumba class, you have to pay attention to the activity. This clears your mind from constantly thinking about work - and that break does a lot to keep stress at a manageable level.”
Invest in personal relationships
The founder path can be one of contradictions. On the one hand, there is a significant degree of camaraderie in the startup community. And on the other, it can be an isolating experience being a founder when peers have chosen more conventional career paths.
It’s therefore critical to nurture and invest in personal relationships.
Having these relationships in our lives gives us something else in our life other than work. People matter, and connecting with your loved ones is so important.
Pay attention to your mental health
Running a startup can be a sprint and a marathon at the same time. You need to support yourself in all ways to flourish in your role as a founder.
“I’m encouraged by the conversation I see in the media around self-care. Taking time out for a delicious coffee, a massage or a meal are all ways of looking after ourselves. However, I’d like people to think deeper about what self-care can include. Creating a safe space for ourselves with a trusted confidante is an incredibly powerful way to support ourselves,” Amanda says,
Identify the professional relationships you need
Amanda works with founders who are both at the very beginning of their startup journeys, and with founders who already have teams.
“Founders are not always able to hire people to help them run their businesses right off the bat,” says Amanda. “But this doesn’t mean that securing the professional relationships founders need should take a secondary priority.”
“While hiring team members to help you manage the load is great, so too is accessing mentorship programs and/or working with a coach,” says Amanda. “These supports can contribute to your own sustainability as a founder, as well as to that of your company.”
Make sleep a #1 priority
With a to do list as long as your arm, it’s easy to demote sleep and rest to something you’ll do if you have time. Something to squeeze in as a last consideration rather than an important part of your schedule.
Yet, getting regular, quality sleep and rest has benefits for both your health and business.
From a health point of view, sleep is imperative to your wellbeing. And from a business point of view, good sleep and frequent rest helps keep your decision-making abilities sharp and your ability to focus strong.
“We can all experience difficulty with sleep at different times in our lives. The important thing to remember is that a Sleep S.O.S. session with a qualified therapist can help you create the conditions you need for better sleep,” says Amanda.
By actively building healthy habits in our lives, the risk of burnout can be significantly decreased.