For many hard-working entrepreneurs and startup folks, burnout is a regular part of the work cycle. Just as new ideas bubble up periodically and are followed by sprints of intense effort, crashes of mental and physical exhaustion regularly punctate these people's lives. After a period of recovery, they're ready to do it all again.
But what if there were a way to get off the work-mania burnout roller coaster and maintain a more even keel when it comes to energy levels and productivity? Serial entrepreneur Kent Nguyen insists it is possible. Now on his third company, Nguyen was once like the rest of us--a regular sufferer of burnout until he got fed up with his occasional collapses and pledged to find a way to never experience that sort of exhaustion again.
Through research, he claims to have found a simple process for short-circuiting burnout before it hits you full force. It boils down to these three simple steps.
1. Know when burnout is coming.
This is slightly more difficult than it sounds. You'd think spotting oncoming exhaustion wouldn't be hard, but the signs of burnout are sometimes more subtle than you'd expect and entrepreneurs are often too hopped up and wired to see where things are headed until it's too late. To head burnout off at the pass, you need to learn the early warning signs of its approach.
"I found this article from LifeHacker to be pretty helpful to judge if you are having a burnout," Nguyen suggests, adding that sometimes when you're unsure about your energy levels, the best course of action is to ask others to give you a frank evaluation of your mental state. "In extreme cases I came across, the person was so consumed by stress that he was not able to tell that he is burnt," he writes.
2. Discover your personal causes of burnout.
Too often we simply treat burnout with a holiday or other break from our routines without really taking the time to examine why we burn out in the first place, Nguyen notes. But learning what causes your burnout specifically is the most essential part of fighting the problem, he believes.
While everyone burns out for different reasons, there is a commonality to all cases of exhaustion--something Nguyen realized after reading about Marissa Mayer's take on the problem. Burnout, she has said, isn't caused by not taking enough breaks. Burning out is the result of not being able to do what you love or what is most important to you regularly. So identifying the root causes of your burnout isn't just bitching about your schedule or your boss; it's taking an honest look at those things that are professionally and personally essential for you.
"Another way to look at it is to ask yourself: What is it that you absolutely cannot miss?" Nguyen writes. "It could very well be work-related like mine, or it could be nonwork-related such as … attending your child's weekly event. If you still don't have an answer, no worries--keep searching," he says before suggesting that those in doubt about their essentials ponder their necessary work environment, things they're desperate to subtract from their days, what recharges them, what they look forward to, etc.
3. Always schedule your essentials.
The last point Nguyen makes is both the simplest and probably the most difficult to put into practice. Once you know what's essential for you--whether it's a daily yoga practice, avoiding too much paperwork, or making more time to spend with friends--fight and fight hard to keep that in your schedule.
Think of these activities as recharge stations for your soul--you can't go too long without hitting one or you'll sputter out and be left on the sidelines. "By setting up multiple rewarding activities, even if I miss one small one, I can always aim for the next bigger one as my 'save game,'" Nguyen says. "In the case when I really have to skip several of them, such as when I travel, I make sure to plan ahead and reserve … "me-only" time and only do what I want on that day. In other words, I plan my burnout ahead of time."
Do this, he insists, and you'll never truly burn out again.
Do you think this system would work for you?