Startups are dangerous.
Startups are beast that founders feed with their time. Feeding their beast is important; it provides subsistence so that it can survive. Moreover, feeding it helps it grow strong, learn new tricks, and maybe transform into a unicorn.
Startups are hungry though. They are all consuming. They will eat everything you offer — and come back for more. Feeding the startup beast is no guarantee that it will grow either.
Herein lies the problem. You can't keep feeding it everything — you can only "work at 110%" for so long before you have to deal with burnout. You need to manage your own exhaustion, because it directly affects your engagement.
You need to tame the beast.
1. Marathon vs. Sprint
Deep down, you know when you're near your burnout point. As a founder, the voice in your head likely motions you to keep pushing — just one more hour!
You should probably ignore it.
Unless you're putting out a fire or working against a hard deadline, you can probably finish what you're working on tomorrow. Yes, it sounds unambitious, but here me out. If working that extra hour means you lose two productive hours the next day, doesn't it make sense to optimize for the net productive benefit?
Remember, startups are a marathon, not a sprint.
2. Stop and Recover
Sports idealize the idea of putting everything you have on the line — giving it your all. Your startup will run into situations like this as well. From accelerator application to system wide bugs, there are going to be times where you'll have to sprint to stay alive.
In these situations, it's good to think of startups like a NBA season. There are 82 games in a season and 48 minutes in a game. The season itself is a marathon, but it's composed of multiple sprints.
When there's 2 minutes on the clock and the game is on the line, play your heart out. Dig deep and put everything on the line. When the game is over, stop and recover.
There are more games to come.
3. Get Support
Talking to others in these situations is surprisingly helpful. Find other founders or talk to friends. Hell, talk to your parents.
Discussing issues has a dual benefit. Firstly, it allows you to look at situations pragmatically and logically. Secondly, it can confirm that you're not crazy.
Entrepreneurship is tough. No one said it would be easy. Get support when you need it, you'd be surprised at how many people would help shoulder some of the weight.
4. Re-Evaluate Your Goals
If you're constantly pushing against the burnout barrier, it might be time to revise your goals. It's important to figure out why you're doing what you do.
Figure out the intended goal and then review whether your actions move you forward to the goal.
Why run your head against the wall when you can just go around it?
Working hard solely for the sake of working hard is stupid.
5. Know Yourself
The most important skill an entrepreneur can have is the ability to manage oneself. Managing exhaustion, like managing your own psychology, is important because it affects your engagement and motivation.
As an entrepreneur, you need to live life outside the box. Do it confidently and passionately but managing yourself.
Growing your beast (startup) is important, but it means nothing if you don't have it tamed.
How do you deal with burnout? Let me know on Twitter (@sebfung).
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