Business owner burnout: Why, when, and how to take a break

Headshot for Amanda Graber, Content Marketing Specialist for ComplYant, a business tax tool for entrepreneurs and small businesses.
By Mandy Graber

Did you know that only 57% of small business owners take a vacation during the year? And when they take a vacation, 85% still work while away. With the daily stressors of owning a business, it may be harder for business owners to step out and take a break. If there’s a time that’s the most difficult to step away, it may be during tax season. The added pressure of taxes and the end of Q1 can pressure you to maximize your performance. 

If you find yourself in a place where you constantly burn out and deny yourself a break, this article could be a push to do just that. And we already know what you’re thinking. My business can’t afford for me to take a break! We won’t just tell you it’s time to step away. We’ll actually provide some practical advice so you can feel comfortable doing so and avoid business owner burnout.

Burnout is real 

It’s no surprise that most business owners feel mountains of stress at nearly every moment. You may even be so used to it that you don’t realize what’s happening until it’s too late. It’s essential to recognize the signs early. Again, you may feel the urge to push through because you “have to.” Stick through till the end, and you’ll learn a few strategies to make stepping away from your business possible.

Here are some signs of burnout:

  • You feel exhausted no matter how much sleep you do or don’t get.
  • You aren’t as interested in the work that used to interest you.
  • You lack empathy for your clients, customers, employees, and others.
  • Your head’s spinning with negative thoughts about yourself.
  • You stop prioritizing your physical and mental health.

Business owners tend to put themselves last after the needs of their customers, employees, and family. This sacrifice can chip away at the spirit behind your business, causing your performance and mental health to dip.

The vacation test

Last week, we discussed how to systemize your business so you can get more work done in less time. Building systems in your business will allow you to build a business that serves you rather than you constantly serving your business.

Most business owners know they can’t leave their business for an extended period of time because everything is built around them. For solopreneurs, inflation and other economic factors give them no choice but to work longer hours to stay afloat.

Let’s be real for a moment.

What would happen to your business and income if you took a one-week vacation away from your business (100% off-grid with no connection)? 

How to take a break without your business imploding

Know your numbers

We say this so much that we might sound like a broken record. Step one to take control of your business is to know your numbers. How much money do you need to live the life you want? How much do you need to charge for your services, accounting for your expenses and time investment?

Let’s face it.

Money is the #1 thing that keeps you up at night as a business owner. Having more of it would allow you to solve 99% of your problems in business immediately. And not having enough of it worries you, leading to the burnout we discussed above (as well as stress and poor performance).

Even if you take a vacation without knowing your numbers, the insecurity of not knowing when the next bill is coming or what missed client payment will put you in overdraft won’t allow you to truly step away.

What are the numbers you need to know in your business?

  • Profit, profit margins, and cash flow are the main metrics you should obsess over.
  • You should worry about the number of qualified leads you get monthly for marketing.
  • Consider your average customer's lifetime value (LTV) for fulfillment. A high LTV means a satisfied customer, so if you have a number like a Net Promoter Score to track customer satisfaction, you should also measure that.
  • If you have a team, find ways to assess their happiness and performance.

Figure out how long of a break you need

If you’re dealing with business owner burnout, you need a break. How long of a break should you take to feel recharged when you return and are not away from business for too long? The answer depends on many of the factors we share in this blog. If you know your numbers and are having a good year, you can justify taking an extended break. If you’re in a slow season, that can factor into the length of your vacation.

Communicate with your customers

Most (if not all) business owners feel a sense of duty to their customers or clients that supersedes their needs. Do you fear taking time off from your business could jeopardize your working relationships with clients? Instead of going MIA on your clients, communicate often and early with them when you plan to take a break. You’re human, and your clients should never hold that against you. 

Delegate as much as you can

A trait many entrepreneurs possess is the inability to say no, causing them to take on too much at once. They also believe that if you want something done right, you must do it yourself. With these mindsets combined, you reach a point where your burnout causes you almost to stop caring about the quality of your work or if it even gets done.

Look, it’s ok to ask for help.

And your business could experience tremendous growth when you add the right people to your team.

The one question to ask is, “When should you delegate?”

Know when you should delegate work:

  • A team member or contractor can do the job better and faster than you
  • The work is essential but “below your pay grade”
  • You can save significant time if you train someone to do this job
  • The risk of failure or needing to redo it is lower than the potential gain of time saved
  • There’s a significant upside to letting someone else gain experience in a particular area
  • You’ve documented the processes for tasks you’re ready to delegate

When you successfully delegate your business tasks, you free yourself up to invest your time elsewhere. You also lay the groundwork for eventually trusting critical business operations to others so you can take time off.

Take a vacation every day with a nighttime routine

According to the NIH, 50-70 million Americans struggle with chronic or ongoing sleep disorders. Sleep is essential, meaning not getting enough could be the sole cause of your burnout.

There’s a big reason why many people, especially entrepreneurs who are shackled to their phones, struggle with falling asleep.

First, a quick science lesson

Our bodies produce a hormone called Melatonin in the pineal gland, which is then released into the bloodstream. Melatonin, also known as the sleep hormone, helps with timing our circadian rhythm and sleep. Melatonin secretion slowly ramps up after the onset of darkness and peaks between 2-4 AM.

Electronics produce a specific type of light called blue light, which is known to inhibit melatonin production. Research suggests putting your electronics away at least one hour before bedtime to maximize melatonin production.

Work hard and play harder

“Work hard, play hard” was popularized in business and pop culture. Few business owners achieve a work-life balance that allows them to maximize their lifestyle away from work. As a result, they feel like they’re on a neverending hamster wheel of obligation to clients and customers. If you never see a reward other than “surviving another day, " how can you motivate yourself to always give your best effort?

To change this, you need to audit how you spend your time.

Estimate how much time you spend working and how much time you spend on hobbies. You may find that you spend a lot of time mindlessly scrolling through social media when you could be enjoying a hobby.

Next, create a list of hobbies you enjoy doing. The key is to link your work goals with a tangible reward you can give yourself when you achieve a big goal. Treat yourself to dinner, go to a concert, or even take a vacation.

| Owning a business requires a heightened level of discipline. Nobody will make you work, hit your goals, or take time off.

Plan vacations around slow periods

The best vacation time is during a slow season in your business. If you have a team, slow seasons are also a great time to review systems and update processes so your team can cash in during the busy season. Taking a vacation can give you a much-needed break but also allow you to test your team in a low-stress environment.

Work less to earn more

Hitting the wall is a scary feeling for an entrepreneur. Months and months of working 12-hour days (including weekends) can take a toll on you. Consider taking a break if you feel your business isn’t growing as it should or have no work-life balance. Knowing how to avoid burnout as a business owner is a skill that takes time to develop. 

With so much to deal with, putting yourself first is hard. You may need to check off a long list of things before you feel comfortable taking a break. If your taxes are one of those things, a tool like ComplYant can help you take that stress away.

Headshot for Amanda Graber, Content Marketing Specialist for ComplYant, a business tax tool for entrepreneurs and small businesses.
By Mandy Graber
Mandy is a seasoned content creator with experience in a wide variety of industries. She works alongside our ComplYant Tax Experts to help make tax-related content more accessible to everyone. In her long tenure as a writer and content creator, she has covered a wide array of topics, including insurance, education, financial technology, and more.

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