WHO Classifies Burnout as an Occupational Phenomenon. Here’s How Entrepreneurs Can Avoid It.

Getting tired of your spouse's nonsense doesn't qualify as burnout.

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    Burnout: A syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently classified burnout as an occupational phenomenon and defined it as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

    The organisation outlined the three symptoms

    1. feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
    2. increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
    3. reduced professional efficacy.

    WHO clarified that burnout “refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life”, so by this definition, you can’t get burnout from, for instance,  your unreasonable, naggy spouse.

    It further advised that physicians should rule out stress, anxiety, and mood-related disorders first.

    Entrepreneurs are particularly susceptible to burnout because there’s often lots to do, long working hours, financial constraints and uncertainty. These factors tend to converge and compound, putting stress and draining the energy off founders, eventually culminating in burnout, or worse, depression (studies show that entrepreneurs are more susceptible to mental conditions).

    Having been through a few startups and ran SBO’s entire editorial operations on my own for almost a year, here’s how I managed to avoid burnout.


    Here’s a fact: you’ll never be able to finish work. There’s always something more to do. Taking them all at once is going to overwhelm you. Just deal with the important ones and procrastinate on the rest until you have the bandwidth to pay attention to them. There’s no need to pay attention to everything on the day itself.

    Hell, there’s no need to pay attention to everything.

    Hell, there’s no need to pay attention to everything.

    Taytay got it right.

    Practise it

    Take some time before you start the day to gather all the things that you need to do, rank them in order of importance and check them off as you go. Not done with the list by the end of the day? That’s okay. Call it a day (read tip 5) and create a fresh list of to-dos again tomorrow, taking into account the things that you’ve put off. With your time constraint, the least important things may be put off for a couple of days until you really have time to deal with them.

    Then again, if you’ve been deferring a low-priority task for more than a week, is it even important?

    Be deliberate

    When you choose to engage in a conversation or meeting, be sure of what you want out of it. If there’s nothing you’re going to get out of it (not even some good advice), then don’t spend time on it. It sounds mercenary, but when you can’t even catch up with work, you’ve got no time to waste. It’s also likely that the person that you’re meeting wants something out of you too, so don’t be ashamed to want something of value to you in exchange.

    Practise it

    There are plenty of time-wasters with nothing valuable to offer yet want things from you, so always arrange for a call first before agreeing to a meeting. If things can be settled over the phone, good. Otherwise, try to arrange for meetings at your convenience. Only go out of your way if it’s really important.

    Learn to say no

    It’s easier to say “yes” rather than “no”, because it’s simpler to avoid conflict than to get into one, better to satisfy or agree than to disappoint and safer not to burn bridges (because Singapore is so small, that the person on the other side of the bridge is probably your cousin’s boyfriend’s best friend’s sister’s crazy rich crush).

    But saying “yes” to everything leaves us overcommitted and overburdened.

    Particularly for entrepreneurs and salespeople, FOMO (that’s Fear Of Missing Out for you non-millennial folks) on opportunities drives them to take on every possibility. There are also times when clients step over the line and ask for more than what has been agreed upon. You may feel obliged to yield to their whims for fear of losing them.

    But saying “yes” to everything leaves us overcommitted, overburdened and sometimes grumpy.

    Practise it

    Take a leaf from point 2 and ask yourself: Does it do me any good to say “yes” to this person? Will it cost me anything if I say “no”? If the answer to both questions is “no”, then decline the opportunity or request, but do it nicely. It is possible to reject someone while keeping the bridge intact.

    Things are a little more complicated when it comes to handling clients, but it’s still possible to reject them while maintaining a good relationship. Make sure you outline the scope of work in the contract carefully, so when the time comes, you’ll have an easier time saying “no” firmly yet politely.

    Give thanks

    Before bed, think back on your day: What are some things that you can be thankful for? Write them down in a book.

    There were multiple points in time when I felt like giving up on SBO, but when I think about the encouraging signs that appear every now and then, I feel more settled.

    That was when I started journaling little victories along the way. Whenever things get rough, I’ll think about what significant things that happened to my business that I can be thankful for, then I’ll write them down and at the same time review the great things that have happened in the past. It never fails to keep me going until the next incredible thing happens.

    Practise it

    Before bed, think back on your day: What are some things that you can be thankful for? Write them down in a book.

    While we should be thankful for every little thing that we have, don’t go easy on those things that you choose to write down. Only record the good things that happened to your business that are not directly within your control or those tangible things that bring your business forward.

    For example, in my case:

    • I give thanks for the chance to meet people at an event, but I only record the blessing of closing a deal as a result of meeting someone at the event.
    • I give thanks when a lead comes in, but I only record it when I close the deal and get my money.
    • I give thanks when someone wishes to collaborate with us, but I only record it when the collaboration is successful.

    Those criteria also make for great reality check of the health of your company. If you haven’t been thankful for significant things for a long time, perhaps it’s time to take other actions the rejuvenate the business or even consider moving on.

    Schedule breaks

    For most people, their days are planned by fitting in activities. But activities comes included with the entrepreneur’s life. There are endless things to do: Marketing, sales, networking, meetings and the list goes on. It seems like if you stop, the business will wither.

    It’s perfectly normal to feel the need to do more to keep things going and improve the business, but that’s a sure way to get ill. Even robots need a break some time.

    Practise it

    If your life is governed by activities, then it’s time to take back control. Fit in time to rest. Schedule (and I mean put it into your calendar and actually stick to it) coffees and meals with people you should be catching up with, including your friends and loved ones. Read a book or wander around in between meetings. Even a five-minute toilet break helps.

    Try to limit your working hours as well. If you can afford it, protect your evenings and weekends. Trust me, you need a break.

    Take a holiday

    Your entrepreneurial instincts will do whatever it takes to make the trip happen without tripping your business.

    Even better, schedule a holiday. Fix a date a few months later for a trip, even if it’s for a few days. It gives you something to look forward to and strangely makes you more productive, especially one to two week before and after the trip.

    Travelling overseas also relaxes the mind and open your eyes to possibilities. You may even come back with better ideas on how to run your business.

    By the end of the holiday, you’ll also realise that you can afford to take a break while the business cruises along, just that you’ll need to be more prudent with time right before that big trip and perhaps deal with some little things during the trip.

    Practise it

    Just book a holiday. Your entrepreneurial instincts will do whatever it takes to make the trip happen without tripping your business.

    Be in the moment

    focus on what you can do right now to make things better and not think about things that are not within your control.

    It’s hard not to worry about how your business is doing or the future of the company every waking moment, but this fear prevents you from being mindful of the present, especially when you’re supposed to be enjoying the moment with your loved ones. Furthermore, there’s nothing you can productively do for your company when you’re engaged with someone (well, unless it’s a business meeting). So whatever you’re doing, engage people wholeheartedly.

    Practise it

    Turn off your phone and focus on the present interaction. Be actively involved. If your mind wanders off to work, you’re not involved enough. Go deeper in conversation or do an activity, those should help you take your mind off your business.

    If you can’t stop panicking about the future of your business, focus on what you can do right now to make things better and not think about things that are not within your control.

    Pace yourself

    Entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint.

    Remember: Entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint. To last long in the race, you’ll have to pace. After all, most of us chose this path in pursuit of various forms of freedom, not to be enslaved by entrepreneurship itself.

    Featured image by Sebastian Sørensen from Pexels

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      I'd rather write how-to guides and stories than about myself, unless absolutely necessary. Also, ironically, I hardly write with a pen and paper.

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