Burned-out business owners learn to relax, delegate, say no
NEW YORK – Candace Barr showed all the signs: She was exhausted, stressed out and “starting to resent my clients.”
Barr had so much work in her resume writing business that it was a struggle to get it all done.
In short, she was burned out.
While burnout is a common phenomenon in the workplace, it’s particularly frustrating for entrepreneurs whose dream was to escape the daily grind of employment and find fulfillment in running their own companies.
“I had major deadlines every week,” recalls Barr, owner of Birmingham, Alabama-based Strategic Resume Specialists, who discovered that burnout can occur even when a business is flourishing.
Like many owners who realize they’re burned out, Barr made adjustments. She scheduled breaks and turned down some requests.
“Saying ‘no’ does not come easily when someone says they might get their dream opportunity,” she says. But, Barr says, putting quality over quantity makes the process easier.
Dread: Exhaustion, feeling overwhelmed and even getting sick can make owners dread the very things about their companies that once brought them joy.
Victoria Bogner, who describes herself as a perfectionist and control freak, burned out after becoming head of two financial advisory firms.
“I eventually found myself spinning some huge plates as a CEO, chief investment officer, and a financial adviser with my own clientele,” says Bogner, a co-owner of McDaniel Knutson Financial Partners in Lawrence, Kansas.
Bogner started getting sick and felt light-headed. Her doctor told her she was stressed out, needed to take a vacation and to figure out how to dial back. Her husband had a warning of his own: “It’s affecting our marriage.”
At about that time, Bogner became pregnant with her first child. She realized she had to delegate tasks to staffers and relinquish her need for perfection. And set firm boundaries between work and her personal life.
Now, at home with her two children, “I put my computer and phone away and focus on them. No insidious multitasking that makes us all believe we can answer emails and be present with our family at the same time,” Bogner says.
Health troubles: Florent Defontis worked 18-hour days and gave up exercising as he built his software business, Air360. He loved the work but so focused on it that he neglected his health. He ended up in the hospital on the verge of an ulcer.
Defontis cut the number of hours he worked. And he returned to one of his great loves, exercising and jogging outdoors. A resident of Paris, he realizes he should have been taking advantage of the city’s great parks all along: “It’s stupid now, when I think of it.”
Business partners can suffer collective burnout. Five years ago, when Paul Altero and Bill Hart had opened eight Bubbakoo’s Burritos restaurants, they were both overwhelmed from the juggling required to create new locations, work on their strategic plan and run day-to-day operations of the Point Pleasant, New Jersey-based chain. Altero remembers having panic attacks.
It was so draining that “we would look at each other and say, ‘OK, do we stop?’” Altero recalls. “Another part of us would say, ‘we can’t stop, it’s working.’”
Hiring helpers: The partners had resisted delegating but realized they needed to make some key hires. A district manager and an administrative assistant came on board, followed eventually by a vice president to oversee construction of new locations. The company now has 25 restaurants with 10 more planned.
Burnout may not be a one-shot deal. Dentist Ben Dancygier, like many practitioners, handles accounting, staffing issues and other tasks that accompany running a business. He’s suffered burnout several times from working too much.
“You think the more hours you put in, the more that gets accomplished but then suddenly it hits you that you aren’t getting anything done because you can’t think straight,” says Dancygier, who owns Valley Pediatric Dentistry, which has offices in Jefferson Valley and Hopewell Junction, New York.
Dancygier has learned to delegate more and to take breaks. But every year or so, especially after taking on a new project, he starts feeling moody and uninspired.
“We’re all susceptible to falling back to our own ways,” he says.
Annemarie Fowler has felt burned out several times since starting her online learning company, Speak Confident English, in 2014. Fowler remembers feeling overwhelmed in the beginning because there was so much to learn and do – such as marketing, accounting, and developing a website. The feelings returned as she signed up clients around the world. Trying to keep up with the expectations of people in multiple time zones became exhausting.
“I was waking up at 2 a.m. and not functioning well. I was getting angry and frustrated. I knew something needed to give,” says Fowler, who lives in Omaha, Nebraska.
Fowler’s solution included time for herself in her calendar; not just workout time, but also 15 minutes for morning coffee. She gets alerts when it’s time to shut down the computer and quit for the day. And the last half-hour of her day is spent reading for pleasure.
“It makes it easier to come back and sit at the computer and feel fulfilled instead of overwhelmed,” she says.