How to run a small business and avoid burnout

Jürg Widmer Probst

How to run a small business and avoid burnout

Jurg Widmer Probst - never burnout

When someone asks you what you do, and you tell them that you run your own business, it is often the case that they look at you a little bit enviously. A common reaction is ‘I wish I could do that one day’, or ‘It must be great to be your own boss.’ And it is, of course. You are in charge of your own destiny. You can set the hours that you work. You can assemble a team of like minded people around you, and achieve great things in your industry. But – and this is the part that a lot of people don’t see – it can also be incredibly stressful, and ironically for many of the same reasons.

Because you are ‘in charge of your own destiny’ it can also feel like the success or failure of the whole business rests on your shoulders. Because you can ‘set the hours that you work’ – and have no-one telling you when to stop – your work commitments can eat in to precious down time. And just because you can assemble your own team, it doesn’t mean that you won’t have the same long list of complex interpersonal and political issues that crop in every other business. The only difference is that because you are a small business, there is a good chance you don’t have a dedicated human resources division set up to deal with all of those personnel issues. It is largely down to you to sort it all out.

With all that in mind, burnout can be a real risk for those of us who run a small business. So, what can we do to avoid it? Here are a few ideas

  1. Make time to focus on the ‘small’ stuff

Anyone who runs a small business will know that it can be very easy to get yourself into a situation where the basic, essential tasks – your record keeping, your filing systems and your processes – seem to become secondary to the much more ‘important’ job of getting paid work done. The fact is however that without these systems working smoothly, that side of your business that brings the money in is going to seize up quickly. Administrative tasks are absolutely core to the success of your company and if you don’t give them the attention they deserve your business will suffer. So, make the time to get those jobs done – even if it means temporarily delaying another job that might seem more urgent.

  1. Don’t be afraid to say no

A really tricky one this – but the key to saying ‘no’ to work that will only cause you more stress or that you won’t enjoy is to reflect on why you set the business up in the first place. Your vision, when you started out, more than likely included an idea of the kind of people you would like to work with, and the kind of work you would like to do. So, it is well worth stopping sometimes before you blindly agree to work with someone and just checking it against this original dream. Is it really worth your while taking the job on? Sure, the money might be good – but it is crucial to weigh this against the added pressure it is going to put on you. Remember you are the boss – and it is up to you who you work with and what jobs you take on.

  1. Know when to stop

It is incredibly difficult to find time to take a break as a small business owner, or someone who is self employed. For one thing, there is a good chance you won’t be paid for that time, particularly if you are a sole trader. If you don’t work, you don’t earn. But it is absolutely crucial that you learn to build breaks into your working life – like those rest days that are built into a marathon running training schedule, they are your chance to rest and recuperate.

Our tip is to start at the micro level and build up. Invest in a pomodoro timer or something similar, and break your working day down into manageable half hour chunks with regular breaks built in. On the next level up, make sure that the hours you dedicate to your business don’t impinge on your downtime. Switch your work email off in the evenings. Try not to pick up work or dwell on company problems at the weekend.

And then, make sure you take a holiday once in a while. Book it well ahead, and tell people about it, so you have to go. And most importantly, don’t feel guilty when you stop. The chances are your business will be able to cope without you for a few days.


A final point about breaks – they are also a great opportunity for a spot of positive self reflection. Stop once in a while, and look around you. Enjoy how far you have come and what you have achieved. And give yourself a well-earned rest.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *