Solopreneurs and burnout

by Michele on November 16, 2012

Solopreneurs need to avoid burnoutBurnout is a very real risk for solopreneurs.  We wear all the hats in the business, and it’s so easy to just get caught up in the treadmill of never ending work.  It’s easy to buy into the myth that if you just work harder somehow it will all get done.  However, it’s simply not possible to ever get everything done.  No matter how much you do, there’s always more you could be doing so the work is never actually done.

What you can do is set limits on how much you work and make good choices about what to leave undone.  Otherwise, burnout is a very real possibility.  Over the long haul, burnout can sap your enthusiasm for your work and leave you tired, worn down and unable to focus.

The long term effects are tragic, but what about the short term effects?  Sure it’s fine to push yourself for a short while but working long hours and not taking time off has a very real risk in the short run.  In the short run, not taking time off can cause you to temporarily lose focus.  You might find yourself forgetting why you walked into a room, going to the store for 3 things and not being able to remember them, sleeping poorly or feeling lethargic.  These minor effects might not seem too serious, but expanded into other areas of your life the lack of focus might mean you don’t pay attention while driving, miss appointments, or skip medications.  These effects can be serious or even deadly.

One of the recurring themes I come across in my work is that business owners work too hard for it to be sustainable.  As I’ve mentioned, a short push is okay but when you get into months of long weeks there are very real risks.  Sometimes when I point this out, I get the impression that the other person thinks I’m patronizing them or trying to butter them up about being such a hard worker.  The truth is when I see someone working too hard for their own health and safety I feel like it’s important to point it out.   I feel like sometimes I spot it because I’ve done it to myself as well.  I’ve never had a serious incident, but have had more than my share of absentmindedness due to burnout.  Two people close to me have had car accidents because of burnout.

I talk about burnout and working too hard a lot.  Please don’t think I’m patronizing.  It’s a very real risk in the long run.  If you burn out and leave your business, the world won’t get what you have to offer.  You also put yourself and others at risk when you can’t focus.  Take regular breaks, take days off and take vacations.  Always remember that the work will never be all done.

Have you had burnout?  How did it impair you?  Share it in the comments, and tell me how you’ll prevent burnout in the future.


  1. Mozette says:

    I’ve burnt out – in a big way too! It was unpleasant and set me back with my health and work life massively. I had to take time off work and I was back to going in for tests and going to doctors who I used to visit when I was kid. It retriggered my Epilepsy when I was 19 and was only one year into working and had only just bought my first car. It was debilitating. I was just discovering alcohol, nightclubs, sex, men, smoking (anything) and adult late night fun! And it was all taken off me by my medications because when all my friends were going out at 10pm, my brain was going to sleep at that time…. I hated it.
    And it took me 20 years to get through the burnout too! People don’t tell you how long it takes – but doctors will. People won’t believe what doctors say as they think they can just pick up and keep going after 3 months – but they can’t.

    About 7 years ago, I saw a friend of mine – who was about 60 – go through a burnout. She had spread herself too thin with charities, work and her home life – and her husband saw it coming too – and she one day collapsed in the living room and was taken to hospital when nobody could wake her up. She had been kept up all night every night by all-night feeds of baby animals for 3 weeks straight! Now, not even I could do that – and I’m 39. But she thought she could.
    Well, I saw her about a month after her burnout and she was still weak. She had been taken to hospital again since her diagnosis and she asked me about mine; asking if it was true – that it took 20 years for them to ‘go away’. I said it doesn’t go away, you work through them.
    Here are my main tips to work through a burn out that helped me are:

    Get early nights during the week and have only 1 late night – nothing past midnight. (but work up to this).

    Eat as healthy as possible… get rid of all the junk food in your life.

    To help with the above one, take up Yoga or Pilates. This will help your get your mind back on track.

    Avoid a computer screen before bed for about a year.

    Get outside and just sit and enjoy the garden or a park with a book, or just look around… it relaxes the mind.

    Be with people who know what’s happened are there to help you… good friends and relatives who are positive.

    If you don’t feel well, don’t push yourself. Sit down, drink some water and take a good long breather… listen to your body.

    Talk to your doctors… they know what’s going on whereas you’re learning.


    If you can’t sleep at night, sit in bed and jot down exactly what’s on your mind – your never know, it might be the tiniest thing keeping you awake.

    Most of all, take one day at a time… burnouts take time (a lot of time) to get through. Like I said, 20 years, to get over… you must care for yourself, or else you’ll be useless to your customers and others around you.

    1. Michele says:

      Mozette, thanks for the thoughtful and honest comment. Your words really underscore just how serious it can be to spread yourself too thin and burnout. It’s not something to brush, take lightly or assume it only happens to others. It’s something I see solopreneurs heading for fairly often. When there’s nobody around to tell you to stop working and there’s an unlimited amount of work it’s easy to overdo it.

  2. Mozette says:

    Too true. This is why when Christmas rolls around, I try to take my time doing things; instead of rushing through everything. Yes, it’s holiday time, but for writers, it’s not. I have never taken a vacation from writing (believe me, I’ve tried and it’s kept me awake each time). And so, what I do is stay home from the coast (because my Dad tends to try and control everything that goes on during the holiday) and take my time editing my books, enjoying my garden and hanging out with my neighbours with a cold drink and exchanging a good story or two…

    Otherwise, this time of year can really be a big burnout time of year. And it’s not good for anyone who has a family around them who can see it coming but they can’t. Believe me, I didn’t see it, or believe anyone who told me to slow down; and it hurt like hell. In case you’re wondering how it all came to a head? I went to a 24 hour party, came home, had a big fight with my folks and then had what I thought was a stretch, but it was a grand mal seizure…. there was the end of my ‘fun’… my brain and body telling me to stop.

    But when it came time to try and advise my friends that they were on the brink of burnout, I could easily tell them, but they never listened until their parents shoved them into a car and took them to hospital to be sedated (this happened to one of my friends for her own good). It’s so hard to tell the person burning out that there’s something wrong with them because they’re working off adrenaline and little else.

  3. Nice article, and very important subject given the fact that more and more people are taking the solopreneur route. I remember the day a few years ago when I realised I was turning into my own worst boss! Things changed after that, I can assure you!

    1. Michele says:

      Lynn, I can totally relate! I would describe myself as an over-demanding boss when I’m at my worst. I still have to set real limits on myself so work doesn’t take over my entire life. Michele

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