Life hacks for working hard without burning out: Notes from a LaunchBase workshop for entrepreneurs

This is the fourth in a new series of articles that will focus on the activities and accomplishments of the LaunchBase programme, an incubation platform of the Maastricht Centre for Entrepreneurship (MC4E). Composed out of two specific programmes, LaunchBase covers a comprehensive approach to business development. The next round of the programme began 2 October.  This article summarizes the insights of the life-hacking workshop organized for the Base participants.

We all know that choosing to be an entrepreneur is not the easy path to money and success. It is a path full of pain, setbacks and failures until you—maybe—reach the route of continuous success. To be successful, you need to be driven by yourself, be creative and have an appetite for productivity. You are a student who wants to become a business owner, a graduate who is ready to start your own company or already working on your business idea. This, unfortunately, also entails that you are one of the prime candidates for the burnout syndrome if you are not careful.

stressBenno Groosman, Director of the Base programme, wants to help you avoid that. “We want to build a good eco-system and foster entrepreneurship in Maastricht,” he says, “and for us this also means ensuring that the young entrepreneurs learn to understand when it is time to shut down the computer and relax.”

In a recent LaunchBase workshop, Adina Petre, a clinical psychologist, life coach and entrepreneur herself, shared her experience with how to survive in the busy and stressful start-up jungle.

According to Petre, it all starts with the basics. “We all know that we should set clear goals, write down our goals and follow a structured action plan, to ensure that we do not loose track or mix up to many tasks,” she said. “The hard task for many entrepreneurs is to identify that they are working to hard to be still productive, because accepting this, in the eyes of most young, passionate and self-driven people, would mean to show some kind of weakness.”

Signs of entrepreneurial burnout
During the lively discussion in which everyone present shared their experiences with stressful situations, Petre and the participants jointly developed some ways to detect signs of entrepreneurial burnout and some ways to overcome it.

  • Feeling empty: The constant feeling that no rest is enough—you slept in on the weekend, but still feel tired when checking your e-mails on a late Saturday morning. You lose all your drive and, even more important, the joy you had when you started with your work. You cannot motivate yourself anymore to follow the tasks you set for yourself.
  • Nothing else matters: After you leave your office or co-working space, you have a phone call on the way home with a potential business partner. You get home, quickly have some dinner and leave to a “meeting” with friends—the topics of the night: business, start-ups, networking. You leave the bar long after midnight, while checking e-mails and quickly calling a client. At home, you e-mail this really important document to your business partner because it cannot wait until tomorrow. Your alarm is set for 5:30 a.m. to work on a pile of e-mails before you prepare the presentation for the pitch you have. The calendar on your phone tells you that you forgot your mom’s birthday and you try to get a few hours of sleep.
  • Feeling overwhelmed: Usually, everything you start works out quite well, because you work hard and put a lot of effort in your projects. Suddenly, you see projects and tasks piling up in front of you, your to-do lists are becoming longer and so are your workdays. You do not see a way anymore to handle all your tasks at once—hence everything is done last minute. The fun in the work is gone and you do not know how to handle all the tasks in front of you.

How to avoid entrepreneurial burnout: Some simple life hacks
Life hacking, a term invented by computer experts that faced information and work overload, refers to any trick, skill or short cut to increase your productivity and efficiency in any life situation. Some of those life hacks are simple and greatly reduce the chances of burnout while ensuring a productive and healthy lifestyle.

  • internetDelegate: It sounds easy, but you might be the person living the mentality, “If I do not do it, it won’t be done right.” Learning to delegate is not a simple task, but it will greatly reduce the workload you have. You simply are not able to do everything on your own anyway, and at some point you need to learn how to divide work among other members of your team. Learning how to formulate clear tasks and set deadlines while delegating will increase the chances of ending up with less work and well-executed tasks.
  • Sleep: Focus on getting enough good sleep, and good sleep is not only defined by the duration. Make sure you sleep during the night and work when there is daylight. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day and have a clear mind when going to bed. If you go to bed but roll around for two hours because you have too many thoughts in your mind, the sleep does not help you and your productivity on the following day(s) will decrease. Stop reading emails at least one hour before you go to bed and clear your mind from business thoughts before resting. You need sleep to process the information of the day and you might even wake up with new ideas for your project.
  • Information diet: We live in a world where information is constantly around us, and you might feel the need to consume as much information as possible. However, this will overload your mind and negatively affect your productivity. Try to avoid consuming knowledge right before going to bed, sort out unnecessary e-mails right away and specifically plan your thinking time. If you have to think about a difficult question or problem, put everything that might distract you far away—simply sit down somewhere and think.
  • Play: Do something else besides your business life. Join a sports team, hang out with your friends and stop discussing business topics, go in the park with your dog (get a dog!) and toss a ball while enjoying the sun to clear your mind. Watch a fun movie and laugh until you start crying.
  • Organize your private life: You now that there are hundred ways of organizing your business. You have project plans, fancy charts and weekly meetings to be as productive as possible. Do not forget that your private life needs to be planned into this agenda as well. You need to buy groceries, visit your family every now and then and pay your bills. There are life decisions that have to be made, and if you take them in the middle of the night after a hard day at work, eventually they will not turn out best for you.
  • Stay healthy: No, you do not have to run a marathon for which you trained only 6 weeks with your super fancy fitness app, but you should monitor your body, as it is your only resource that still needs to last a couple of decades. Eat healthy and regularly. Try not to get home after a long day, recognizing that you did not have time to eat and cover it up with a huge pizza you find in your freezer, only to wake up tired the next morning because your body was busy processing it. For the coffee and energy drink lovers, it is scientifically proven that caffeine and sugar consumption in the long run harms your body, increases the chance of anxiety and even makes you less productive. One or two cups of coffee a day are still acceptable, but if you start counting in liters you should probably reconsider your diet.

Overall, each entrepreneur needs to find the perfect mix for himself. It is important to understand how full your agenda already is and that saying “No” is not a sign of being lazy or unproductive. Be aware that living healthy is not only about how often you share a 10k run with your new fitness app, but also training your brain and using it in different ways to ensure that it is functioning well. And after training, there is always rest to reload your batteries. Once fully emptied, it is hard to recharge your body.

Check out the third article in this series on creating a crowdfunding campaign.

Jonas Heller has been passionate about the entrepreneurship world since working in Berlin for Zalando, one of the fastest growing start-ups in Europe. He earned his Bachelor’s degree from the Maastricht University School of Business and Economics (SBE) in 2012, and after 18 months in Berlin, he decided to follow an academic career and return to Maastricht for a Master’s degree in International Business, after which he hopes to pursue an academic career in the field of disruptive technologies. Still keeping abreast with all things entrepreneurial, Jonas writes and tweets frequently on the subject. You can follow him at Twitter.

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