In his book The Productive Bite-Sized Entrepreneur (a follow-up to Bite-Sized Entrepreneur,) Inc. columnist Damon Brown provides smart, actionable strategies to increase your productivity while running a business and maintaining a family life. In this edited excerpt, Brown explains why burnout is so common among entrepreneurs, and how to manage your time--the right way--to get the most out of it.
Why are you at work today? I don't mean your paycheck work, but your so-called passionate work. For us, work could mean pushing out another product, going to a networking event, or updating your website. Why are you doing it right now? Why are you compelled to produce, to move... to show up?
The question is not as banal as it seems. Mainstream musicians come out with a new album every 18 months, often not because they are inspired like clockwork, but because they (and/or their publishers) are afraid the public will forget their name. Authors churn out books to keep themselves known, too, and even if they currently have a best-seller, they will want to have another one coming as the current one takes its' inevitable fall off the charts. Entrepreneurs fight for success, get that success, and then immediately chase after the next success as they don't want to be viewed as a one-hit wonder.
I can relate to two out of three of these things (hint: I don't play any instruments).
What all three of these examples, and countless other similar scenarios, have in common is fear. We are afraid of losing our place in the world. If we stop, then we will be replaced with a newer, smarter model. We must feed the beast.
It may be the most widely used performance hack. It is also the most short sighted.
It's like performing with a gun to your head: Sure, it gets you motivated to be productive, but at a certain point your body, mind, or soul will give out and you will have to stop, no matter the consequences. That's called burnout. It's called being productive the wrong way.
Instead, you have to listen to, understand by, and give respect to your natural cycle. You will not be productive all the time. You are not meant to be productive all the time. In fact, you are best when you are not productive all the time, as less productive periods give you the opportunity to think, to strategize, and to optimize your energy for the next sprint.
If you want to understand why we often don't respect our own productive cycles, then you have to look at how we view others. As creatives--and entrepreneurs, no matter the ilk, are creatives, too--we face a tremendous amount of pressure to perform. You came up with a brilliant melody? Come up with another one. Can we get another game-changing novel? When are you going to get another startup idea that will shift business forever? We are all guilty of having these expectations, explicitly or implicitly, on the creatives we admire the most. It is why we get desperate, angry, or dismissive at the Salingers of the world: People who produce based on some personal schedule, not on some worldly expectation.
Vulture's Rembert Browne articulated the psychosis well in an article about Andre 3000, Frank Ocean, and other mainstream performers who produce seemingly on their own time:
High quality multi-talents with both infrequent outputs and low profiles make us uncomfortable. We love them, but we're jealous of them, and, possibly, deep down we hate them, because they're doing what we all want to do: Opt out. The way they've decided to live reminds us of how wrong we're all doing it. When people go against the grain of the system, it's a reminder that we're the robots--and the weirdos are the actual humans.
The lessons here are many. First, productivity comes in two forms: Productivity for the public approval and productivity for your passion. It's possible to discover transformative ideas and map out brilliant strategies without anyone else knowing and with no public proof. It's OK.
Second, if you produce all the time, then it is easy to lose your voice for the sound of the crowd. The outside voices could be your customers, your family, or your backers. Remember, the people have invested in your voice, not the other way around.
No one is going to tell you when it is time to put the tools away and sit down for a second. Only you know when that moment is. And you absolutely always know when that moment is. You just need to be brave enough to listen.