Rise & grind: The pitfalls of hustle culture and how entrepreneurs can prevent burnout
As an entrepreneur, you’re probably familiar with the phrase “rise and grind.” This motivation mantra is splashed all over the #startup community - endlessly repeated across TikTok videos and Instagram feeds posted by small business owners wearing their busyness like a badge of honor.
If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you’re spending your days jumping in and out of meetings, wooing customers, and finding new opportunities to build your brand. And yet somehow, between the daily hustle and bustle, you still find yourself holed up in the office late into the night trying to balance the books.
Burning the midnight oil is just par for the course, right?
There’s no question entrepreneurs work hard. A Gallup survey found roughly 39% of small business owners regularly clock over 60 hours a week, turning their entrepreneurial dreams into veritable reality.
Yet, more than pulling long hours, ambitious entrepreneurs are also struggling to manage the pressure that accompanies running a small business. From navigating financial uncertainties to managing everyday stress, entrepreneurs are accustomed to the art of juggling. That is until all the balls in the air come crashing down to the floor.
Welcome to small business burnout.
Causes and consequences of entrepreneurial stress
Entrepreneurs face unique challenges when it comes to balancing life and work. While many small business owners strike out on their own because they crave freedom and flexibility, others find themselves caught up in an endless work stress cycle.
Job-related stress or “burnout” refers to an occupational phenomenon leading to physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance, and negative attitudes toward oneself or others. While burnout isn’t a diagnosable medical condition per se, it is the result of prolonged stress which can lead to a laundry list of serious health risks, including:
- Chronic insomnia
- Mood swings
- Depression and anxiety
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Stroke and heart attack
Researchers say entrepreneurs are at especially high risk for burnout due to a culmination of stress factors. According to a survey by Harvard Business Review, entrepreneurs “tend to be extremely passionate about work and more socially isolated, have limited safety nets, and operate in high uncertainty.” Not to mention the mental wear and tear that comes with the compulsive desire to prove one’s worth, making it hard to turn the work switch off.
Entrepreneurs see their work as a labor of love — but it also means they are regularly overextended. Though few entrepreneurs expect to work 9-to-5 when they become their own bosses, many are unprepared to balance the sheer volume of work demands. It’s unsurprising then that nearly all of the entrepreneurs who participated in the survey reported feelings of burnout, with roughly one-third reporting feeling “moderately or extremely burned out.”
There are several warning signs of burnout. Red flags can include many symptoms:
- Avoidance of work
- Tension headaches
- Feeling a loss of control
- Depersonalization or cynicism (struggling with professional or personal identity)
- Loss of motivation or satisfaction in your work
- A drop in work performance
- Feeling “blah” or numb
- Feeling stuck
Carrying a load of mental stress can quickly extinguish a founder’s fire. So, how can a small business owner get back their spark? The first step is to understand where work stress is coming from — and to find strategies to escape entrepreneurial burnout before it closes in.
| Roughly one-third of entrepreneurs feel moderately or extremely burned out.
Avoiding back-office burnout
For many early-stage founders and small business owners, elevated stress levels stem from wearing too many hats. These include all of those long hours spent in the back office managing tax and accounting tasks.
And we’re not talking about a few hours here and there. Executives spend an average of 16 hours a week, or two full work days every week, trying to keep up with the red tape.
It’s no wonder then, that roughly half of small business owners reported that bookkeeping and taxes were “the worst parts of owning a business.” Administrative responsibilities often feel like a heavy burden — and on top of everything else small business owners are balancing — can quickly create a recipe for burnout.
So, how can owners get back to working on their business, rather than in it? Two words: automate and delegate.
In today’s fast-paced work environment, scribbling all of your work tasks on Post-It notes just won’t cut it. With the growing availability of workflow automation, small business owners can take advantage of the organizational benefits for everything, from project management to tax and accounting, to keep their businesses running smoothly — and keep burnout at bay.
Know where your time is going
It’s hard to know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’re starting. That’s why it’s important to identify your biggest time-sucking tasks, and figure out where and how you can minimize overload. Time-management tools such as Clockify, Toggl, or Harvest can help you track your schedule, prioritize tasks, and boost your productivity so you reduce the time you spend on back-office duties.
For example, if you find yourself scrambling to wrap up your books at the end of the month, you might uncover time on your calendar to dedicate an hour or two each week to managing EOM tasks — rather than pulling an all-nighter before the first of the month.
Put bookkeeping on autopilot
The days of manually tracking business finances in a paper ledger are over. If you’re still thumbing through piles of unorganized invoices, checks, and bank statements on your work desk, it may be time to invest in a bookkeeping platform.
Bookkeeping solutions such as Quickbooks Self-Employed, Wave, or Freshbooks can help you track revenue, store receipts, record expenses, manage invoices, and enable you to file your estimated tax payments. These tools allow you to stay organized and can save hours of time that may have been spent trying to track down a missing payment or file.
As your business grows, it may make more financial sense to hire a bookkeeper or a Certified Public Accountant.
Never miss a tax deadline again
Small business owners spend countless back-office hours trying to manage their business taxes. If you’re looking to save time and money, investing in a business tax management tool such as ComplYant can help you stay on top of your tax responsibilities.
Not only are business taxes overly-complex, but many entrepreneurs simply aren’t aware of their tax responsibilities. Unfortunately, this lack of insight can lead to missed deadlines and panic-inducing tax fines and penalties. Besides being at risk of tax audits, small business owners risk a hit to their bottom line.
Unlike individuals filing for annual taxes, small business owners are often on the hook for multiple deadlines throughout the year, such as estimated tax payments, business license renewals, and end-of-month taxes. Being able to track these key tax deadlines and receive automated reminders can help you file on time — and put any tax anxiety at ease.
Delegate, delegate, delegate
For many entrepreneurs, their business is their baby. Because their identities are so closely tied to their venture, it can be hard to let others step behind-the-scenes. However, delegating tasks to trusted team members or outside contractors is key to freeing up more time and mental energy. This allows small business owners to reduce daily stress and focus on more important aspects of the business, such as growth tactics.
It all comes down to letting go of control.
As a company grows, it’s simply impossible to do it all. And most likely, you’re probably not the best-suited person to handle certain work tasks. While it’s difficult to trust your business in the hands of others and invest in the time for training, it will pay off in the long run.
If you’re looking to grow your business, delegation is a necessary step to increase operational efficiency, develop your team’s skill set, and reduce your stress levels. You’ll be a better entrepreneur because of it.
Take a step back and prioritize self-care
As if being responsible for a company’s growth and success weren’t stressful enough, many entrepreneurs struggle to prioritize time for self-care, exacerbating their levels of stress.
Even on vacation, many small business owners find themselves answering emails, taking business calls, and thinking about work. This penchant for non-stop work is a slippery slope into chronic burnout, something that can take months or even years to recover from.
While burnout tends to be a slow and gradual process, it can be especially difficult to dig your way out once it hits. A Friday off or a short weekend away isn’t often enough. That’s why it's critical to set boundaries and to take breaks — before it’s too late.
To tackle small business burnout, experts recommend entrepreneurs start by creating a list of their stressors and use these insights to create major changes to their lifestyle. They also recommend:
- Journaling: Writing down your thoughts can help you track the root sources of your anxiety and worry, and identify negative thought processes. Many entrepreneurs also find that writing down areas of gratitude improves their life outlook.
- Exercising: Sitting for more than eight hours a day without physical activity is equivalent to the risks of smoking, but it’s also bad for your mental health. Making time for exercise at least three days a week for 30-minutes can improve your mood and help fend off stress.
- Sleep: Sacrificing sleep is one of the quickest ways to land in burnout. Sleep experts recommend adults get between 7-9 hours of sleep to prevent sleep debt and associated health risks.
- Boundaries: Entrepreneurs have a knack for spotting opportunities. Unfortunately, this can lead to an overextension of their time. Learning to say “no” is just as important as saying “go.”
- Fun: Don’t forget the reasons you launched your business in the first place. Be sure to find time to chase your passions, enjoy your hobbies, spend time with family and friends, and do the things that bring you joy.
When you first launch your business, it’s easy to get swept up in the downside of hustle culture. Unfortunately, embracing a “rise and grind” mindset can put you at risk of small business burnout. Learning to reflect on your company’s priorities, find areas to delegate and automate back-office tasks, and make time to prioritize self-care is key to charting your course to entrepreneurial success.