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How to avoid burnout and find balance: A guide for entrepreneurs

Think taking time off as an entrepreneur is gambling with your finances? Not doing it is riskier. Learn why (and how) to take a vacation as an entrepreneur.

The holidays are around the corner. Uncomfortable parties with eggnog and over-sharing fill the canvas of your calendar, deadlines stack up, and shopping lists that should be getting shorter seem to grow by the day.

But it’s okay. You just have to tough it out, find that one last gift or card, and then that sweet, sweet vacation time will be on your hands.

Except that’s not how it really works for entrepreneurs, is it?

You don't get to stop being busy , ever, sometimes to the point of never getting to launch the next product or project, even with your nose to the perpetual grindstone. While everyone else has their days blocked off with big, definitive permanent marker lines, your days look more like this:

There’s no choice, right? If you aren’t working, you aren’t making money. There’s no one else paying you to take some downtime or practice self-care as an entrepreneur , which means all of your time has to be up. If you want people to take you seriously , you have to be likewise seriously committed.

30.1% of small business owners can’t even pay themselves. If you want to stay ahead of the curve, you have to trade leisure for the grind.

Yeah, no.

As bitter a pill as it is to swallow, here’s the truth: that mentality is hurting you, your business, and your customers. There are a lot of benefits to becoming an entrepreneur , but the grind isn't one of them.

You need to reclaim your holidays. Here’s why -- and so much more importantly -- how.

The reality of burnout on creators and customers

I’ve spent most of my writing career as a freelancing solopreneur . I’ve had full-time gigs where I was treated like an employee in every way except the benefits, and that meant I acted like an employee without benefits.

I worked through holidays. Special event coming up for the family? I’d have to set up a block in my schedule, and usually still spend half of it in my inbox.

I’ve been in the same place you are. Whether you’re selling online courses , trying to launch your membership website , or putting the finishing touches on your digital downloads, I know there’s one thing that connects us all.

We’re in the 54% of people who report their stress level stays high.

So we normalize it. We accept the sleepless nights, the anxiety-fueled procrastination , the unceasing perfectionism , and the teeth-grinding hustle as our day-to-day and tell ourselves that someday it’ll change.

Except it doesn’t. Passive income is a misnomer: we don’t get to create a product and kick our feet up. We have to market online courses , keep pushing out membership site content , and handle the dozens of little fires that crop up every day until we finally retire our products and shutdown the online courses , memberships, and digital downloads we worked so hard on.

But since that isn't anywhere in the near future, well --

It’s a lot of work ,” as Becky Mollenkamp, successful membership site owner and seasoned entrepreneur, astutely summarized.

All that work and stress compounds. Eventually, ideally later rather than sooner, you hit burnout.

Take a look at the top instigators of burnout according to human resource leaders:

Unfair compensation, unreasonable workload, and too much overtime -- doesn’t that sound an awful lot like what entrepreneurs call normal?

Right now you might be thinking, “I’ve got passion. That passion helps me burn the midnight oil more, sacrifice more, and achieve more.”

Unfortunately, it turns out that sense of passion -- the thing that drives you to proof an article five times before you hit publish and punish yourself for every misplaced keystroke -- correlates to a higher likelihood of burnout .

And let’s be clear about burnout: it’s more than a feeling.

91% of professionals say it impacts the quality of their work and 83% of the same group say it hits their personal relationships.

Combine that drop in quality with the fact a quarter of customers will leave your business after just one bad experience -- even if they love your business -- and the consequences of burnout become systemic.

From our bodies to our business to our customers, burnout doesn’t discriminate in what or who it hurts.

What happens when you finally take that holiday

Fortunately, the cure -- taking time off -- doesn’t discriminate, either:

  • 64% of people report feeling more productive after a sojourn.

  • Research finds that people are more resilient after a vacation, and resiliency, aka mood management, is strongly linked to creativity .

  • Your reaction time can improve by 30-40% , which means you’ll respond faster to the everyday curveballs currently holding you back from much-needed recuperation.

  • That includes your planning stages, by the way. Just anticipating your holiday can boost your mood for weeks ahead of time.

Does that mean you need to drop everything, book a roundtrip ticket to some exotic island, and throw your phone out of the hotel window when you get there?

(If it’s a Nokia, it’s probably fine.)

If you want to and can. But If you can’t or prefer the homegrown life, reaping the above benefits doesn’t require drinks with tiny umbrellas or expensive itineraries.

New experiences -- not the locale -- are the linchpin for downtime, science says.

And the more novel the experience is, the better: one scientist demonstrated that time perception is easily altered by novelty and excitement.

Granted, he demonstrated it by tossing (willing!) people off a 15-story building , but his research has been replicated in less extreme circumstances such as participants watching awe-inspiring videos .

So it’s less about where you spend the time and more about how you spend it.

And for that, we’ve got a few tips.

4 tips for a successful vacation (or staycation)

#1. Start your vacation with a digital detox (or diet)

As of the time of writing this, almost 164 billion emails have been sent out today.

And over 8 million users have logged in and sent off, or received, a Slack message.

Our world is one massive web of connections that keeps us in touch with each other -- and more importantly -- our business no matter where we go.

But unfortunately, that interconnectedness makes stepping away from work nigh impossible.

Because even if you’re out of the office, you’re still receiving updates from partners, still talking with customers, and still leaping up at the resounding ding that indicates you’ve received a new message or Tweet.

All of which accounts to a vacation that’s spent buried in your inbox instead of relaxing or experiencing new things.

Enter the digital detox .

Like going on a quick cleanse after eating pounds of holiday chocolate, the digital detox is all about abstaining from the connectedness that defines our life.

It means turning off notifications, logging out of social media, and stepping away from the world at large to get back in the groove with the world at present.

It also means putting our phones down from the start of the day, instead of picking them up -- something 34% of us do within five minutes of leaving dreamland.

And yeah, it’s scary. If you’re used to picking up your phone at any moment of the day to check your inbox (probably with an anxious refresh or two), it’s like asking you to remove one of your own teeth.

But it’s worth the struggle. Once you’ve overcome the initial shock of losing your connectivity, going on a digital detox improves your relationships and cuts stress down as much as 20% .

The hardest step is deciding to do it. After that, it’s as simple as turning on the 'do not disturb' setting on your phone. You can check out some great walkthroughs on how to use do not disturb on Android over here and how to do the same on an iPhone this-a-way .

But if you can’t afford to do a full detox -- most of us can’t -- at least make it a diet. Keep your phone on do not disturb for predefined hours of the day (see the last tip in this article for when to take it off), and ease your anxieties by automating your email replies.

#2. Create a helpful vacation auto-reply for your inbox.

Have you ever heard of a “hush puppy”?

It’s an amalgam of cornmeal, onions, and sugar that’s popular in the Southern states. Local legend is that these foods originated to keep man’s four-legged best friend quiet when the main meals were being prepared, hence the name “hush puppy.”

You need to do something similar for your inbox: give customers something they can chew on while you’re out in the wilds.

Since you’re not going to be answering every email you receive (remember, the goal is to leave work), you need to set them up with the resources to help themselves in your absence with a vacation responder.

Ideally, it should include a link to your sales-boosting FAQ (which you can learn more about in our tips for launching an online course ), product pages, and a designated email address for high-priority issues. And if you’re feeling ambitious, maybe some lead generation strategies like pointing people to the free content you're giving away or turning them to your virtual assistant to keep the conversation going.

If you don't have a virtual assistant yet, that's something else you may want to consider -- finding and hiring a virtual assistant -- to lighten your load.

Otherwise, here's an example of good potential autoresponder:

For a tutorial on how to set yours up, you can find instructions for Gmail here and for Outlook here .

#3. Better yet, automate your content altogether.

Marketers overwhelmingly love two channels for reaching consumers: email and social .

These two channels are also, incidentally, the easiest to set up with automations.

And there’s never a time when you want easy more than on your holiday.

If you’re using Podia, you can set up drip campaigns for new customers that keep your leads nurtured even while you’re away from the proverbial garden.

You can check out our detailed step-by-step guide for creating a drip campaign over here , and learn more about the benefits of drip campaigning in our previous article about using your blog to sell more courses .

As for social media, tools like Hootsuite and Buffer are popular (and free) scheduling suites that can keep your online presence active while you’re busy being inactive.

If you really want to dial it up with automations, you can take things even further and automate how students access your courses so they have an interactive experience even when you’re away. This is especially helpful for bootcamp and crash course style programs like Krit’s “ 30-day startup challenge ”.

Here’s how it works.

As ever, start in your Podia dashboard . Then head over to the products tab to open up your course (or create it).

Open it up by following the link for the course you want to drip (automate). There are two ways to drip your content: you can either create new sections on a schedule or edit existing sections.

If you’re working with a brand new section, start by clicking the purple “add” button and choosing the last option.

If you’re using an existing section, click on the three little dots beside the section title (between “add section” and the down arrow), then select “edit section”.

No matter which route you take to get there, both will present you with a pop-up modal that asks you about the section name and gives you a chance to give students a top-level summary of what they’ll learn.

After you’ve put in your copy, click the tab entitled “drip settings”.

Then, turn drips on for the section.

Once you do, you can set the time between when a customer buys the product and when they can access the section, choose whether or not they receive an email about it, and if so, send your email automatically.

Hit save and you’re done. Now, whenever someone signs up for your course, the customer will still get a play-by-play experience whether you’re in the office or not.

Which brings us to our last tip for a successful entrepreneur vacation: making time for work.

#4. Slate designated “work hours” for each day.

I would love to tell you that vacation means no work altogether.

But we both know that as an entrepreneur -- and probably a solopreneur -- your one-woman (or man) show can’t run without you. There will be issues that only you can address.

So as much as it’d be nice to set up automations and ditch our phones, that’s not the reality of our business. But that doesn’t mean your days have to be consumed waiting for that all-hands-on-deck email to hit your inbox.

Planning how and when you’ll handle those moments will go a long way towards securing your holiday time as actual holiday time.

And you wouldn’t be alone in that planning. Check this out :

That’s right, almost half of men and a third of women anticipate working during their downtime.

Even more surprisingly, people from the same group report that squeezing in some productivity time during their recreation actually helps reduce stress by keeping them in the loop.

The critical part here is that you spend your time on work frugally. Designate a regular, do-not-pass-go spot in your daily schedule to check your priority email inbox -- the place where you sent people in tip #2 -- and stick to it.

And if someone emails you about something that isn’t high-priority, don’t be afraid to politely but firmly let them know that you’ll address their questions when you return.

After all, why did you become an entrepreneur?

Control over your time and career, right?

Then maybe, friend, your vacation is when you should exercise that control.


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These are the breaks -- and the stakes

We talk a lot about how entrepreneurs are some of the toughest, most creative people out there, and it’s true. They’re also some of the hardest-working. They have to be. They can’t make it if they aren’t. But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, so if you’re considering skipping holiday this year, think about this:

  • Constant stress is more than a barrier to your mental health. It’s also an obstacle to providing amazing customer experiences.

  • Customers aren’t the most forgiving sort, either: just one bad experience can have them tucking tail and running to your competition.

  • You aren’t doing your business, your body, or your personal life any favors when you keep your stress levels at high.

  • The three most significant drivers of employee burnout in the traditional work setting are some of the three most common challenges entrepreneurs face: unfair compensation, too much work, and unreasonable expectations (of yourself).

  • Burnout negatively impacts the quality of your work, too. At least that’s what 91% of professionals say.

  • Taking time off, on the other hand, improves creativity, productivity, and reaction time. Even if it’s a staycation, as long as you’re packing new experiences into it.

  • Start your vacation (or staycation) off on the right foot by banishing notifications from your life until you get back. The “do not disturb” feature on phones is great for this.

  • Lock down your inbox with a helpful auto-responder, as well, that directs non-priority cases to resources where they can help themselves. Even better if you add a touch of marketing to them.

  • Don’t be afraid to rely on automations. Social and email are easy to automate with free tools, and your courses can be dripped to new customers, too.

  • Finally, if you’re going to work -- and if you’re a solopreneur, you probably will -- create an unforgivingly strict schedule about how and when you’ll do so, handling only the issues that necessitate immediate action.

tl;dr: Take a break. Go to that party, read that book collecting dust on your desk, and spend time cuddling with your kids, kitties, or house plants. You need it, and as counterintuitive as it might seem, you can’t afford to skip it.

About the author

Lauren Cochran is the former Director of Content for Podia. She still drops in to say hello and share cat pictures from time to time.