How to avoid burnout as a startup founder

Burn-Out

As a startup founder, it is often difficult to take care of your health because of the long work days, team management, product development, sales and support activities coordination. When you are the person ultimately responsible for your company and its results, it’s far from easy to settle down for a good rest even when things go reasonably well. Strategy planning, adaptation, and internal and external negotiations are usually time-consuming.

This is not only true during the first months or years of a startup: once your company gets investment or you have made enough money to scale it up, the demand for high performance and the effect it has on expectations can be too much for many people. On the other side of the coin, in a market crisis or when a bigger competitor makes a move that might neutralize your business for a few days or weeks until you are able to react properly, chances are that not only the founders but the team needs a pause for a few days.

To go through the dark times of low turnover and also through better times of high turnover and high demand, founders and teams must focus on the startup mission, their responsibility towards each other and managing energy and commitment levels. One has to have in mind that everybody is in for a long run, not for a short and fast sprint. That’s why founders and directors should care much more about culture as a key method of preventing burnout for both entrepreneurs and team members. Ideally, your corporate culture will incentivize that everyone loves what they do and most of the people they work with, besides giving employees and directors a high degree of autonomy.

Owning a company is like owning a farm: it does not matter if business is going good or not, a founder must go to work and put at least the same effort or more than the previous day. Only they may actually know how much work is needed and what their limit is.
Below I list a few pragmatic measures to try to prevent burnout in founders:

Avoid the undervalued feeling

Burnout isn’t a symptom only of overworking, but of feeling undervalued and not wanted in a certain degree by the team and by your co-founders. A high degree of autonomy is one of the best ways of preventing it, together with truly understanding the vision of the company. This creates a sense of ownership in all employees and reduces the workload of founders, because as a founder you do not need to micromanage them. Everybody feels more valued and more flexible in their pursuit of daily results.

Clear defined roles for everyone

Another simple but forgotten way to prevent burnout is for all founders – and afterwards the employees – to have defined and precise roles. All team members need to make a list of what their tasks consist of and share it with everybody else, at least every quarter as requirements and priorities may change. This creates more cohesion than separation and allows all team members to know what the others are supposed to do, solving conflicts that might arise when 2 or 3 founders or employees attribute the same task to them without telling others.

Rotation of two-week vacation for each founder in different periods

Another way to push co-founders out of the path of burnout is to put emphasis on medium duration vacations (since most of founders will not allow themselves to take long periods of time out of the business) and assemble a calendar where each of the founders choose a two-week period and takes a pause from the operation, in different seasons throughout the year for each founder on a rotating basis.

Get motivation from accomplishments and milestones

As a founder, the most important is to take energy from your co-workers’ accomplishments and overall good operational results. Follow up by motivating yourself based on your startup mission and milestones achieved. Not only corporate success stories but also personal ones should be shared, helping build company pride and bringing the team closer together.

Respect your margin

Every new opportunity – be it a new sale, a new exhibition or a new conference, must be confronted with your startup’s mission and average margin. In many situations in the beginning, you don’t even have a margin and need to appeal to the mission and cashflow question: “How does this sale, conference or exhibition affect, beat, or exceed my average margin and return?”

If there is a poor return, or a sale goes below your needed established margin, leave the opportunity as it may end up causing trouble to your operation. The more you pay attention to maximizing your margins, the safer your company will be of any financial derailing, as unstable cashflow causes many of the burnout situations in most startups.

Priorities, priorities, priorities

This is the final point, but it is nevertheless important that founders always look to prioritize tasks and where they focus their energy and efforts, and to support their team in doing so, to create a better flowing business and working environment.
If employees are working too many hours, ask what’s taking up unnecessary time, as overworking and not achieving results is one of the most common sources of anxiety and burnout – especially when there is no prioritization.

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