Preventing Burnout: 10 Ways to Stay Productive Without Getting Overwhelmed

Tired woman, preventing burnout | Shopify Retail blog

It’s not unusual for a business owner to sometimes feel there’s no end to the mayhem of retail. By the time Black Friday Cyber Monday and the weeks leading up to the holidays roll around, the workday can be a struggle. Trying to juggle every job yourself, whether it’s due to lack of resources, fear of delegating, or an obsession to be productive, can make you susceptible to burnout.

These feelings are all too common for many entrepreneurs:

  • According to the Gallup Wellbeing Index, 45% of entrepreneurs report being stressed, compared to 42% of “other workers” (in this case, employed versus self-employed). Entrepreneurs also report being more likely to have “worried a lot” compared to the employed (34% versus 30%).
  • A study in the Harvard Business Review suggests entrepreneurs are more at risk of burnout because they tend to be extremely passionate about work and are more socially isolated, have limited safety nets, and operate in high uncertainty.

FURTHER READING: Learn how different levels of passion for your work can be linked to burnout.

We consulted with five business coaches and entrepreneurs to discuss how to define burnout, identify signs you might be burnt out, how to recover from it, and what habits to adopt to ensure you don’t burn out in the New Year:

  • Alison Gilbert, founder of Project AG, a strategic partner for early-stage entrepreneurs.
  • Dominique Mas, life coach for the High Achievers Series.
  • Jason Portnoy, president of JPORT Media, a full-service digital marketing and ad agency, and the founder of apparel brand True Rivalry.
  • Samara Zelniker, health and wellness coach, and founder of Mindfulness Matters.
  • Kelly Lynn Adams, professional business and life transformational coach, and founder of the After 5 Club.

Define Burnout: The Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms of burnout often can be confused with those of exhaustion, depression, and anxiety. In order to bounce back from burnout and prevent it from recurring, it’s important to properly identify it first.

According to Psychology Today, the experts define burnout as “a state of chronic stress that leads to signs and symptoms” in three overarching areas: physical, emotional, and mental (keep in mind, there can be overlap in these categories).

The trade publication lists some common symptoms that define burnout that are important to watch for, especially when they aren’t common character traits for you:

  • Chronic fatigue or insomnia (or both).
  • Feelings of irritability.
  • Feeling like you’re pushing against a wall or feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. (Gilbert equates this feeling to “wading through molasses — you’re showing up to do work and finding that the smallest, seemingly easy task feels that much more arduous.”)
  • Feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope.
  • A decrease in cognitive performance (for example, the inability to think logically or make decisions).
  • A lack of motivation to work and/or socialize.

6 Ways To Bounce Back From Burnout

Take a break to help burnout | Shopify Retail blogBouncing back from burnout requires work, self-reflection, and self-care. So, although your lack of time (perceived or real) might prevent you from allowing yourself to take a break and practicing the below habits, Mas points out that self-work rituals “allow us to gain awareness and refresh our perspective.”

1. Audit your behavior. Mas recommends taking time to reflect on your mental, physical and/or emotional depletion: this will help you create awareness around the causes of your burnout.

2. Create strong boundaries and stick to them. What can realistically be accomplished that will move you forward toward your bigger vision? Say yes only to those tasks.

Say no to whatever and whoever is draining your time and energy, whether it’s a task that someone else can do quicker or a supplier creating more problems than profits.

Most importantly, remind yourself that you can’t do everything. Learn more about how to outsource and delegate some of these tasks.

3. Take time out. Turn off your devices and get away from work to do activities you love with people you love. This will help to replenish your physical, mental, and emotional energies.

Mas suggests writing those activities in your calendar and treating them like actual meetings or appointments with yourself; so many of us prioritize our commitments to others, but we don’t give ourselves the same respect and importance.

4. Embrace this break. We’re much more productive when we take breaks.

“Focus on the habit of listening to yourself and note when you’re feeling less energized during the day, even if this means you’re most productive in short bursts of 20 minutes,” says Gilbert. “If you’re feeling your energy wane, take a break, take a walk, call a friend.

Do something to escape the zone of what’s triggering burnout, and come back to the task when you’re feeling more energized.”

5. Talk it out. Share your struggles with someone you trust: “Sometimes you just need to talk it out with someone who will willingly and openly listen without judgment, and who is there for support,” says Adams.

6. Invest in and focus on self-knowledge. This is where self-reflection becomes a form of self-care, as it’s critical to nurture your needs, understand how you function when it comes to work and stress, and invest in resources to help you grow.

Gilbert says: “Burnout stems from a deeper lack of alignment with your internal needs and drivers. To set yourself up to mitigate burnout — note I say ‘mitigate,’ because fully avoiding it is unrealistic — make time and space in your schedule to understand yourself more. Invest in books, tools, and experiences that will help you get to know yourself more. Or incorporate time in your morning to journal and/or meditate.”

10 Productivity Tips To Avoid Burnout

To do list to prevent burnout | Shopify Retail blog
Start fresh this year and resolve to avoid burnout — if you repeat the same behaviors, you’ll fall into the same burnout traps. Try to remember this quote daily: “If you don’t change, nothing changes.”

Assess the following productivity habits to determine which ones would work best for you and, most importantly, are realistic for you to apply and maintain.

1. Don’t take on too much. Stick to three tasks, tops. Adams recommends focusing on one to three main tasks that you have to do before the day ends: “Try to do those three things at the beginning of the day if you can.”

2. Create a to-do list in advance and plan accordingly. Adams recommends doing this on Sundays: Set aside some time in the afternoon or evening to plan out your week, and take a few minutes every evening throughout the week to plan the next day.

This helps you become intentional with your time and energy and allows you to start saying no to the things that don’t align with your daily, weekly, or monthly goals.

3. Think of it as a get-to-do list. Zelniker suggests maximizing productivity by shifting perspective on how you approach your work. “Instead of perceiving your to-do list as a chore, see it as your get-to-do list: all of the things that you get to do throughout your day.”

This approach helps you leads with gratitude rather than obligation. Of course, there will still be tedious tasks and to-dos you dread tackling, but integrating gratitude in your day is scientifically proven to reduce stress. So, if this trick helps you cross off some of your tasks while smiling, then that’s already half the battle.

4. Keep your calendar full. Portnoy emphasizes the importance of having a full calendar: “Author, sales trainer, and renowned speaker Grant Cardone once said that white space on a calendar is deadly. Having a full calendar keeps you busy and productive by forcing out distractions, even if you block out time for getting organized, doing research, or creative brainstorming.”

5. Use transit time to multitask. Portnoy swears by multitasking whenever possible, especially during commutes.

“I use my car time to get things done, so in transit, I listen to podcasts to stay up-to-date on my industry and have client or conference calls while traveling between meetings,” he says.

6. Use virtual conferencing tools if you can. Portnoy, someone who has several meetings per day, uses virtual meeting tools like Zoom to help him be in multiple places at once: “I will always prefer face-to-face meetings, but Zoom allows me to fit more meetings in.”

7. Declutter your space. Zelniker says you can’t underestimate the importance of clearing your physical office and workspace. “When there is clutter in your space, there is clutter in your mind. Clean off your desk to maximize productivity,” she says.

8. Delegate to elevate. It might be tough to let go of control in some aspects of your business, but delegating is one of the most critical productivity habits, especially when it comes to the tasks someone else can do better and quicker than you.

Learn how to delegate the tasks that you’re not good at, in order to make more time to do the things you love and ensure you remain in your zone of genius,” Zelniker says.

9. Create a self-love power hour every day: This is time dedicated to you, a non-negotiable break that you get to choose how to fill.

“The most important thing here is that if you can't find an hour, then at least find five minutes for you,” Adams says. “It’s not the time element that’s important, but rather creating the habit of doing the things that make you happy and feel good.”

10. Celebrate small wins. Taking time out to celebrate important victories, regardless of size, can help you stay motivated and keep your eye on the big picture.

“When you achieve a goal that you have been striving toward, do you celebrate or do you move on to the next goal,” says Zelniker. “What’s the point of working so hard to achieve the things you want if you forget all the effort it took to get there?”

Your Most Important Asset Is You

As a retail entrepreneur, it’s natural to want to give everything to your business. But there are ways to succeed in business without sacrificing your health and happiness. Keep this mantra of Zelniker’s in mind: “How you do anything is how you do everything.”

Every small step you take toward working smarter has a huge impact on your overall results. The sum of your productivity is literally as great as its parts: Remember this and you’ll see that success is possible, without paying the price of your well-being.