The ability to work hard is something that is prized in entrepreneurs and bosses, because you’re often going to have to spend longer hours in the office than the average worker. As deadlines approach and issues arise on projects, it’s not uncommon for those with more “skin in the game” to have to work into the night and beyond.
A high level of commitment to the task is always welcome – essential, in fact – and it is this kind of willingness that often differentiates between success and failure in business.
With all of that said, it does need to be balanced against the fact that such things as burnout exist. A strong work ethic is one thing, but the truly and repeatedly successful business owners are those who ally that work rate to something equally important: knowing when to stop. Taking a break every so often is essential if you’re going to have sustained success without becoming consumed by your work, so if you perceive any of the following warning signs, it’s time to step back and let yourself breathe…
#1: You’re showing signs of irritability
There are countless euphemisms used in business, which take terms that can be used completely benignly and give them another meaning. This is why being a “perfectionist” can be a double-edged sword in business. On the one hand, it’s good to want to make sure everything is right, and take care of the details. On the other, “perfectionist” is also a term euphemistically used to a boss who shouts at or belittles co-workers. If you find yourself showing signs of the latter, it may be time to look at a break.
We get irritable when under prolonged stress, because we have become so focused on the work that it takes on an unreasonable level of importance. Being able to step back from it – for an evening at least, but preferably longer – will allow you a sense of perspective that will serve you better in the long run.
#2: Your Coping Strategies Are Becoming Problematic
Speaking of euphemisms, the idea of someone who “works hard and plays hard” is one that has long pervaded portrayals of bosses and entrepreneurs. The idea is that someone who gives a lot of themselves to the job will have very small windows in which to let off steam – and when they do, they let it off in a big way. We can all think of one or more successful bosses who have found their way to binge-drinking or worse pursuits as a way to let their hair down.
If it’s to your taste, then a glass of wine or a beer every so often to unwind is perfectly acceptable, but it should never become a crutch. Losing control on this front and ending up needing to have “a bail bondsman near me” on speed-dial is unsustainable, and those who work hard and play hard are likely, eventually, to find themselves failing hard. If you find yourself tilting in this direction, a spa break is a good idea.
#3: You’re Not Feeling Well
The primary impact of overwork is that it will send stress levels skyrocketing, which is never a good thing for anyone, least of all someone who is trying to run a business. No-one should need too much in the way of warning that stress can cause and aggravate potentially serious health problems, but it is worth being alive to the signs. Many of these can appear to be just standard irritations, so it’s essential to know that they can be stress markers.
Regular headaches are common signs of stress, and if you find you are experiencing a pulsing headache with increasing frequency, you should consider it a warning sign. It’s also common for people with raised stress levels to have frequent insomnia as well as digestive issues. A general run-down feeling and a lack of energy – when you’re not being powered by pure adrenaline – are also classic red flags.
#4: You’re Not Spending Quality Time With Loved Ones
Work-life balance is – as the name suggests – a matter of give and take: sometimes you’ll have to accept that work will cross over into everyday life. On the other hand, you may need to ask yourself if you are as forgiving when the reverse happens. Sometimes, we can find ourselves being a lot less tolerant of home life infringing on our work time. In extreme circumstances, this can turn into work dominating our lives to the point where we can’t remember when we last spent time with those we love.
Whether it be your kids, your friends, your significant other or any family members, you need to ask yourself whether you have spent time with people who mean the world to you, and it needs to be quality time. That means it doesn’t count if you said “goodbye” to your spouse before heading out to work, nor if you asked your friend what time it was a couple of days ago. For sure, your loved ones will understand that you are busy with work sometimes; and they won’t judge, as long as you’re not completely absent from everyday life for long stretches.
#5: You’re Not Experiencing Joy – in Any Context
When you get wrapped up in work to the point of unhealthiness, that concept of balance can often disappear in more ways than one. Imagine yourself in a situation where something has gone wrong as a deadline approaches. Do you experience that situation as a cataclysmic disaster and feel like having a full-blown tantrum? Now imagine the reverse of that situation, where you’ve come in ahead of schedule and knocked the project out of the park.
Would your reaction be quiet satisfaction and nothing more? Would it even be that, or just a resolution to get on with the next task and deliver the same standard? If work has become a joyless box-ticking exercise, then the time may have come to step away for a while. A holiday, the chance to recharge your batteries, and a resolution to treat both triumph and disaster as temporary states, is essential.
If you find that any of the above are applying to you as part of your work, then it’s time to take stock of things and make room in your life for relaxation.