“When I give a speech at a corporate event, I often ask those in attendance, ‘Do you know how to tell if you’re doing the job?’ As heads start whispering back and forth, I provide these clues: ‘If you’re up at 3 A.M. every night talking into a tape recorder and writing notes on scraps of paper, have a knot in your stomach and a rash on your skin, are losing sleep and losing touch with your wife and kids, have no appetite or sense of humour, and feel that everything might turn out wrong, then you’re probably doing the job” – Bill Walsh
I’ve been close to or at the point of burnout for the last few weeks putting together the next installation of Secret Sauce Conference while working on my various other projects (like I said in a recent tweet “Good luck to everyone in 2016 not working on their projects over Christmas). Being this close to burning out excites me, as all the major breakthroughs I’ve had in the last couple of years have come when I’m at this point. Some thoughts on burnout:
Most entrepreneurs never hit the point of burnout. Go to a meetup and observe London’s startup scene getting stuck into the free booze. Would you invest in their company?
Burnout is a rare phenomenon because virtually no-one works hard enough to achieve it. Everyone wants to be the next Steve Jobs, but would you work 90-hour weeks like his time (pretty much) did, eventually getting sweatshirts made to commemorate this feat.
You don’t have time/energy to get drunk if you’re an entrepreneur. You don’t have time/energy to see friends, but you should schedule to see your family once a month.
You can probably have a relationship (if you’re in one already) if they’re very understanding. You probably can’t create a healthy (new) relationship while building a new company/agency. Use Tinder.
Nuance is how you win. I could tell you every growth hacking secret in the world and it wouldn’t matter unless you were committed to tweaking, testing, and understanding why things work, and how you can affect it for your specific purposes.
Likewise, you’ll only discover the “Secret sauce” that makes your company better than everyone else after a LOT of experimenting. Read this.
When you start to feel burned out, you’re probably very near to a major breakthrough. Part of the reason my talks are so successful is they appear to show how shortcuts can help you win quicker. They do, but you still need to work from the moment you wake up until the moment you go back to sleep (you’ll probably have to take one nap a day also) in order to be successful.
When you’re burned out, you have a voice in your head which will tell you “I just cannot do anymore work.” Now we’re getting somewhere! At this point you’ll examine everything you do to see what can be gotten rid of e.g. low paying clients/unnecessary work/anything else that takes up more time that it should (remember what I said earlier about getting drunk?).
Now you’ll focus on the really important stuff, or you may take a new direction completely. Maybe you’ll do a personal development course, or hire a coach. Only by giving it everything do we realise what we need to do.
Caveat: You need to stay relatively fit (Regular exercises of sit-ups/push-ups/planking do the job for me, while cycling to all meetings in Central London) whilst working every minute of the day or you don’t get the upsides of burnout I’m talking about here (healthy body=healthy mind). Don’t ask me why this is true, it just is.
Burnout is one of the byproducts of investing in yourself. The interest tends to accumulate later than you think, in unexpected and awesome ways.
Caveat #2: You can’t aim to be burned out. It’ll just hit you one day. You can work towards it by giving yourself the best possible chance to be in peak condition to work on your project: Give up caffeine and alcohol. Say no to distractions. Don’t watch entire seasons on Netflix. Eat the same good foods each day so you don’t have food comas/energy slumps. Cutout all distraction (working from home is very under-rated, or an environment with as little distraction as problem (i.e. co-working spaces and coffee shops suck for this reason). Stop having meetings face to face (Skype will do in 99% of cases.) If you’re working near to burnout on your startup, investors will come to you. If you run an agency, do everything on Skype, only leaving your house/office to do public speaking (which you should get good at).
If you put all of the above in place, it will show when you speak to anyone about what you do for a living. It will show in the work you do. People will wonder how you achieve what you have. And the answer is almost always: You were on the verge of burning out for days, weeks, months, but carried on anyway.
The very definition of entrepreneurship is often stated as “living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t”. Burnout can’t and shouldn’t last forever, but it’s going to get you far nearer to where you want to be. Do you agree? Let me know in the comments