Launching a new business can often be a stressful time for anyone involved. With so much to think about, you may feel overwhelmed and drained.

Photo of Gillian Roche-Saunders

While not yet a formal medical condition, burnout has been acknowledged as an ‘occupational phenomenon’ by the World Health Organisation. We have teamed up with experts to help you recognise the signs of burnout and help you prevent and overcome some of the symptoms.

Get into a habit

Entrepreneur, Gillian Roche-Saunders, previously suffered from burnout and is now a non-executive director of mindfulness organisation, Breathworks.

"Being passionate about what you do is the fire that drives you as an entrepreneur,” Gillian said. “You have to have it. Yet that passion is also the very thing that can prevent you from noticing when you need a break, from realising that you should prioritise personal life, or for putting in the boundaries that set you up for the long-term.

“Look out for the warning signs by tuning into what your body is telling you. Digestion, immunity, and your sleep are all areas that come under fire when we're stressed. For me, if my motivation and drive is dropping, I know that something is up. As a busy entrepreneur, you may not be taking the time to check in with your body, or you may just be deciding to ignore it.

“Habit is everything. Once you find the routine that supports you, you need to stick to it. When I stick to my routine, I'm in control of the day ahead, rather than the other way around. But just like going to the gym once doesn't make you fit, I really see the benefits over a period of time.” 

Use your energy wisely

Author and leadership coach, Janine Woodcock, has first-hand experience of burnout. Her new book, The Power of Choices, explores seven steps to smarter decisions around work, life and success. 

She said: “Most people think avoiding burnout is about finding work-life balance and reducing stress, but I disagree. Firstly, work-life balance suggests an equality. If, like me, you’re driven to continually succeed, you may feel work is life - so this definition won’t even appeal as a concept.

Second, for busy, ambitious entrepreneurs, a certain level of stress is integral to success. The right stress gets you into flow state.

“To avoid burnout, rather than endlessly push on, driven individuals must learn how to make better choices about where to expend their valuable energy and actively demonstrate those positive choices. They must learn to identify where best to incorporate activities that nourish this energy, so they can sustain their success for the long term.”

Focus on productivity

Founder, Barnaby Lashbrooke, says he used to work up to a hundred hours a week when launching his start-up, Time etc.

He said: "I believe that we are all victims of what I call ‘The Hard Work Myth’. It's drilled into us from school age that to achieve more you must work harder and longer. It is hurting us and our business productivity. What I've learnt – the hard way – is that business success hinges on your ability to intelligently solve problems and implement changes with speed and has nothing to do with working harder.

"Now, I get everything done in 35 hours, but only because I'm absolutely meticulous about planning my day, down to the minute. I make a schedule in my calendar, which is shared with the whole team, so they know when I'm available for them and when I shouldn't be interrupted.

"I only look at emails once a day, in a half-hour window at the end of the day, so I'm not distracted, and I rarely read the news or social media anymore because it alters my mood and affects my concentration.

"This focus on productivity is cultural in our business, and our collective goal is to explore if we could be doing things better. Instead of managers we have coaches – one coach per six people – whose job is to help the people they oversee to reflect and find ways to improve how they work."

Get some air

Keith McNiven, founder of personal training company, Right Path Fitness, believes burnout is more intense than normal stress and it’s important to tackle the signs early.

He said: “Burnout can leave you feeling exhausted, unable to focus or even able to get out of bed, as well as present other physical symptoms like a fuzzy head, trouble concentrating and not being able to sleep.

“The best way to tackle burnout is to spot the signs early and invest in your mental and physical wellbeing. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes exercise every day - even if it’s just a walk. Try to get fresh air every few hours, as being in nature lowers stress levels - and set aside one day, or a few hours on the same day, every week, where you just do something you enjoy.”

Start out on your start-up journey by downloading the Virgin StartUp business plan template.