A few people have asked me lately how I’ve managed to last 10 years in the startup industry without burning out.
My advice for avoiding burnout applies to all industries, not just startups: You work hard and you play hard.
A wonderful mentor once told me that in 20 years, no one will remember that I worked through my kid’s school play to prove my dedication to the company. But my kid WILL remember that I missed that play because work came first. And this doesn’t just apply to people with families to support. It applies to individuals too.
If you’re working at a startup that is going to penalize you for taking time off, you have to take a hard look at your life, and make some tough decisions.
Why do you work? Are you working because you’re a workaholic? Or are you working to support yourself and/or your family and to provide yourself and/or your family with an incredible life?
If you’re a workaholic, you need to knock that ish off. Life is short. You need to enjoy the time you have.
If you’re working to fund your life, don’t forget to actually live it. What’s the point of working your tail off if at the end of the day it’s the only thing you do? Working yourself into an early grave isn’t going to benefit anyone. Your productivity is going to tank when you get overwhelmed and burnt out, which is going to hurt you AND your company. No one wins.
Are you leading a team? Keep your team intact by encouraging vacation time. In the long run you’ll save the company money, because replacing a high quality employee that burns out and quits with a new one is EXPENSIVE.
Getting someone new up to speed with your product and processes and systems and tooling takes time. And that is time that could have been spent actually getting work done if you’d only given your employee a break in the action and time to breath. The most talented employees on your team aren’t going to stick around if you don’t treat them right and give them time to live.
I’m incredibly fortunate to work for a company that fully supports and encourages us to use our vacation time. We actually have an unlimited vacation time policy here at InVision. Unlimited vacation for some companies would be a complete train wreck, but our team is made up of incredible people who don’t abuse the policy so it works.
When you’re on vacation, unplug.
One of the best decisions I’ve made during my career is to unplug during holidays and vacations. My kiddo requested it a few years ago, when I was starting to teeter on the workaholic ledge. I’ve done it ever since, and it’s kept me sane and motivated and excited to come to work each day. Knowing you can break when you need to makes a huge difference in maintaining sanity.
Delete your social media apps from your phone while you’re out. Delete your work email account from your phone while you’re out. Let your team and clients know that if there is a dire emergency they can text you. Is disconnecting going to give you occasional bouts of anxiety? Probably. But taking a step back once in a while to enjoy life is the only way you’re going to continue enjoying what you do for a living.
Your company is not going to fall apart if you take a week off twice a year. (Unless you’re a one man show, in which case it still won’t fall apart if you set the right expectations with your clients and make sure you have someone to keep an eye out for disasters while you’re gone.) The entire earth doesn’t revolve around you being at your office 24/7.
What’s the point in working hard if you don’t get to play hard too?
Skipping vacation time is a horrible idea. If your employers are going to look down on you for taking the paid vacation time you’ve earned each year, you’re working at the wrong company. That’s a mega toxic work environment with legit awful work culture. Exit that place at a rapid speed. If you stick around you’ll likely hit a point where you hate not only your workplace, but also your career.
Financially strapped? I get it. At one point in my life I was working 3 jobs simultaneously to survive. Guess who didn’t get a vacation? That would be me. But I DID make sure I protected my down time fiercely.
And if you’re that financially strapped, use that downtime to learn new skills to move up in your career path. If you don’t like your current financial situation, find a new gig that pays better. It doesn’t have to be DRASTICALLY better in the beginning, take baby steps. Over time, they really add up.
Also, remember that you’re never as trapped in your career as you think you are. There are millions of jobs out there ready to be applied for. If you hate yours, try something new for a while.
If you love your job, but your workplace is completely stressing you out, keep applying for new gigs to move up the ladder or across the ladder or even down the ladder until you’ve reached a point that you’re financially comfortable and feeling sane/enjoying life again. (And if necessary, adjust your lifestyle to fit your means.)
To sum things up, just remember: Life is not work is not life. Work hard, but don’t forget to actually live your life too.