If you’ve ever caught yourself snapping at loved ones or stuck between two alternatives in a business decision, you’ve probably experienced entrepreneurial fatigue.
Startup culture programs us to think that it takes nearly nonstop work to make it to the top. People think of sleeping pods in offices, hackathons and unlimited coffee. Sometimes, this pressure to be always on can disguise itself as a flexible work schedule. In reality, the fact that you can work from anywhere is just an invitation to work no matter where you are. As an entrepreneur building a lifestyle business, I find that directing a 100-percent remote company can easily turn into an exercise in being a workaholic if I don’t put limits on myself. I learned this the hard way with my first few businesses, where I used to work myself into the ground thinking that that was what productivity meant.
No matter how driven you may be, your body simply wasn’t made to be on 24/7. Pushing yourself beyond the point of fatigue is not a sustainable strategy in the long term.
If you want your business to thrive, then you have to give it the very best of yourself. That doesn’t mean putting in grueling 18-hour days amped up on caffeine, ordering fast food for its convenience and sitting the whole time. It means giving your business focused, productive energy — and doing whatever you need to do to replenish that energy.
Stand by Your Quitting Time
You should give your business a significant portion of your time every day, but you don’t have to be on call all the time. Have a hard stop every day. Mine is around 4:30 p.m. After that, I spend time with my family or hang out with my friends.
It’s amazing what this has done for my productivity. Compared to when I was first starting out building businesses, when I used to work any time I wasn’t sleeping, forcing myself to stick to a hard stop gives my day more structure. I might put in fewer hours of work overall, but the ones that I do put in are hyperfocused. My overall productivity has remained the same, and I have more time to spend on other things I love.
Studies show that people who get between seven to eight hours of sleep every night perform better in cognitive tests. That’s why I’ve stopped believing in all-nighters. I’ve found that the one-time increase in hours worked is something I wind up paying for days afterward. It’s like sprinting the first two miles in a marathon — your overall movement becomes slower even though you really push it for a short stretch. Your business is like a big marathon for your brain, so do what you need to do to get enough sleep for your body and wake up rested. The quality of your sleep matters, too. Sleep in complete darkness, and avoid screen time before bed (that means no checking your phone or tablet while the lights are off). Your brain maintains itself, heals damage and organizes information while you’re asleep.
Exercise produces endorphins that boost your mental state and calm you down, helping you focus and make better decisions for your business. By improving your mood and lowering stress, you’ll avoid making rash decisions motivated by anxiety instead of clearheadedness. Exercise boosts energy and reduces fatigue by helping you sleep better. This study shows that these benefits can even come from low-intensity exercise, as long as it’s regular. For me, playing with the kids, taking a brisk walk around the block, or even doing some yard work all count if I’m moving around and I break a sweat. Make an effort to get fit by exercising in the morning or during the mid-afternoon slump, and you’ll have much more mental energy for your business.
Reduce Decision Fatigue With Routine
Decision fatigue is an inevitable result of having to make decisions every day. When the volume of decisions you have to make is too high, your mental energy gets depleted, and your brain experiences a short-term burnout. Entrepreneurs who try to work through decision fatigue experience greater lapses in judgment, have difficulty staying focused and tend to be more pessimistic.
The key to reducing decision fatigue is to schedule all your important decision-making moments earlier in the day when you have more mental energy. Then implement as many routines as you can in your workday, so that you have to spend less mental energy elsewhere. I find that scheduling time to review my employees’ work, answering emails or any other easy tasks are best done at the same time each day, ideally in the afternoon. At this point, because I know they come at the same time every day, those tasks are like brushing my teeth — something I just “do” instead of deciding to do.
No matter which of these techniques you choose for reducing mental fatigue, think of these tips as energy boosts instead of breaks. Productivity doesn’t come from being glued to the helm of your business every waking moment. It comes from energized, focused bouts of work, balanced with well-deserved rest.
Dave Nevogt is a co-founder of Hubstaff, a time tracking software for remote teams. Hubstaff allows managers to see time spent on projects, screenshots, activity levels, in-depth reports and timesheets. Dave has been founding companies since 2004 with his first success coming at 23. Follow him at @dnevogt.
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