Hustle culture is alive and well—and I fell victim to it.
To be clear, there needs to be a certain amount of hustle, especially at the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey, to build a solid foundation for your business. Heck, I’d even argue that you need to hustle to sustain and grow it even more.
Yet, working 24/7 (or at least what feels like it) comes at the cost of your mental, emotional, and physical health. It also takes time from your loved ones and even the things you enjoy doing outside of work.
Working at all hours can also lead to burnout and take you away from your best work, defeating the purpose of working so hard in the first place.
Sadly, I experienced a terrible bout of burnout. Here’s my experience, and hopefully some lessons you can incorporate into your working life so it doesn’t happen to you.
How I reached burnout
As someone who has a total Type A personality, I was very ambitious in terms of what I wanted from my freelance writing business. Not only did I want to replace the income I made as a former teacher, but I thought I could balance that with working from home with my young son.
Transitioning to a completely new career is hard enough, but becoming a new mom came with its own set of challenges. On average, I was working around 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week.
The fantasy of working idly while my son was sitting on my lap is a total myth. I was severely sleep-deprived, as all new parents are, and trying my best to produce high-quality work for my clients. Sure, my clients told me I did great work, but behind the scenes I was interrupted every few minutes by my son wanting food or attention.
Here’s what a typical day looks like: I would wake up around 5 a.m. from a few hours of sleep to tend to my child. Throughout the day, I would write articles, try to grow my business by pitching new ones, and make sure my son was fed and loved. I would cook dinner and collapse into bed around 10 p.m., praying my son wouldn’t wake up in the middle of the night (which was quite often).
This went on for a few years until I finally got part-time child care. Thinking I had more time to work, I crammed even more into my schedule, taking on more clients and even launching a podcast. Thinking I had it all figured out, I went to sleep at 8 p.m. one evening and woke up unable to physically get out of bed.
The time I couldn’t work for a month
That day was one of many days where I physically laid in my bed or couch, unable to do anything. The thought of turning on my laptop was too much to bear, as well as any little decision I was asked to make.
As in, one night when my husband asked where I wanted to order takeout from, I cried for an hour.
After my husband suggested I seek professional help, I sought therapy and cleared out my work schedule. I hired virtual assistants to do many of my tasks (except writing articles for clients) and a local college student to take my son to and from preschool. My husband took over my household tasks and we ordered so much takeout I’m embarrassed to look at my credit card statements from that time period.
After a few weeks, I began to emerge from the fog. I started taking on client work again and felt more myself. Knowing that I never want to return to that state again, I created clear rules and boundaries for myself so I had a much better work-life balance.
How you can create a better work-life balance
I’m well aware that my story can seem extreme, but any form of burnout is still detrimental to your health. Wouldn’t you want to be able to feel rested and excited to work on your business? Or be present for your family and loved ones when you’re spending time with them?
Creating a work-life balance will help with that. Think of it as integrating healthy habits and routines in order to feel your best, no matter what you’re doing.
Ask for help
Yes, it’s an obvious step—but as business owners, we tend to have trouble asking for help. Doing so doesn’t mean you’re weak; it means you’re strong enough to know that there are others who are just as invested in your well-being as you are.
Asking for help can mean hiring a nanny while you’re working or a proofreader to look over your work before submitting it to clients. It can even mean asking your partner to take on some household duties if you’re up against multiple deadlines.
All of the above examples help create more breathing room in your schedule so you can take care of yourself.
Schedule in some fun
While it sounds strange to pull up your scheduling tool and literally put in “fun time” on your calendar, doing so means you’ll probably do it. Think about all the times you wanted to visit that cute little coffee shop in your neighborhood but never got around to it. Or there’s a gardening workshop held at the community college you want to check out.
Besides, scheduling in fun activities reminds you that you have a life outside of work. Knowing that you have something to look forward to can also motivate you to get your work done faster—it’s still your best work, right?
Maintain a separate work space
Don’t be like me and work from a dining room table. Every time I had a meal with my family, a list of things I needed to work on in my business kept popping up in my head.
If you work from home (which most of us are doing these days), physically separating your work space means you’ll be less likely to think about your business during your off hours. Plus, you’re not tempted to work on a few things while you’re hanging out catching up on the latest episode of your favorite TV series.
Establish clear boundaries
Setting boundaries enures you’re not thinking about work when you’re not supposed to or about personal errands you need to run during work. In essence, boundaries simply means creating rules or guidelines to follow.
For example, I do not work on weekends. I close the door to my home office Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. and don’t do any work until Monday morning. Or if I need to run errands, I do it all in one day so it helps me be more productive during my working hours.
Create personal goals
You’re probably really good at creating business goals or milestones you want to achieve—this could be why you think about work all the time. Creating personal goals helps you carry that same ambitious energy in all areas of your life and serves as a motivator to stop working so much.
Take some time thinking about hobbies you want to restart, books you want to read, or even weekend trips you want to take. Can you start making a list with the goal of crossing them off?
Take care of your body
Like the cliche goes, health is wealth. If you’re physically unable to work (or you’re too tired), is it really going to help your business?
Simple actions like staying hydrated throughout the day, eating healthier foods, and maintaining a simple exercise routine will do wonders.
Listen to your gut
Your intuition isn’t something you should ignore. If your gut is telling you to stop working or to quit doing something in an area of your business, listen to it. You never know if it’s your body’s way of telling you to slow down because you’re at risk of burnout. Journal it out, talk to a trusted friend, or do whatever you need to do to explore these feelings.
Your business is meant to serve you and your goals of helping others, not the other way around. Maintaining a better work-life balance will help you do just that.
Here’s to more relaxation and fun in your life.
Sarah Li Cain is a finance writer and a candidate for the Accredited Financial Counselor designation whose work has appeared in places like Bankrate, Business Insider, Financial Planning Association, Investopedia, Kiplinger, and Redbook. She’s the host of Beyond The Dollar, where her and her guests have deep and honest conversations about money affects their well-being, and Podcasting Q&A, a branded podcast from Buzzsprout.