How to Beat CEO Burnout
"I get up every day excited about my company, my work, my customers, and what we are doing!"
Do you say this? How often? And: Is this how you really feel?
I confess, I say it almost all the time--but I mean it less often than I say it. There are times when I just get tired of being CEO. It's not often, but let's face it: Being CEO is a hard job. When it stays hard for a while, that's when I get tired.
The causes, I think, are common: I worry over suppliers, employees, customers, cash flow, regulation--and the fact that everything takes too *&^% long! These frustrations are pretty typical of most small and midsize companies. Even if you have a very small business with almost no staff, there are times when day-to-day concerns can wear you out.
What to Do
Here are a few ways to cope with occasional burnout.
- Acknowledge it: If you find yourself going through a period when your job as CEO looks more like burden than pleasure, you have to admit it. That doesn't mean you give up, but it may indicate that you need to make some changes.
- Get the data: Review your work and calendar for a few recent weeks. Make a list of your main activities, and note which tasks are giving you energy and which rob you of energy.
- Get some perspective: I am a big fan of having peers--preferably other CEOs and business owners--with whom you can commiserate and compare notes. Go over your notes with one or more of those peers, preferably over a cup of coffee, and tell them what is going on. Often they can give you great perspective.
- Make some changes: I think that radical changes have the potential to backfire, creating some nasty and unintended consequences. It's better to find a few key adjustments to make--maybe in how you are spending your time, or which employees and customers you are interacting with. Your calendar will show you which people and activities are your personal energy vampires.
- Schedule a checkup: Whatever the adjustments, they may not immediately improve your energy or excitement level. Give them time to take effect, but then set a date for a checkup, so you can decide whether your approach worked.
- Get more perspective: Repeat the process regularly. Most of the fatigue that hits us as CEOs doesn't come upon us all at once. Instead, fatigue creeps up on us. By going through the process regularly and getting some outside perspective, you can often avoid the worst lows.
I consider myself very fortunate: I say (and mean) the phrase, "I love my life, family, and business" almost all of the time. But like most CEOs, I go through occasional tough times--and I find this process helps me.
One Great Example
A few years ago I went through one of these tiring periods--to the point where I thought about closing up shop and doing something else.
When I went through where my best energy came from, however, the formula was really simple: The best parts of my job were in being with clients, speaking to prospects, and writing.
Over the course of three months, some peer-advisors helped me develop a plan that allowed me to spend more than 85% of my time doing those three things. We figured out how to eliminate, delegate or reduce everything else that was taking energy from me. And we set one important parameter: We had to maintain cash flow during the transition.
The plan worked--and now that is the business life I have.