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4 tips for preventing burnout in the workplace

Conrad Ho has a passion for empowering the startup community, both from the perspective of an investor and as a technical founding team member — more on that here. Ho is active across the global open-source data science communities, speaking in and chairing various international conferences championing both technology and entrepreneurship, so, we thought, well, who could be better to talk business with?

Burnout can be a huge problem for those who work in high-pressure startup roles. As we wrap up 2021, it’ll be even more important to take care of yourself and your mental health to end the year on a high note.

If you’re working in a startup or another role where stress is a constant factor — and who isn’t, these days — here are some things to consider. Obviously, YMMV (your mileage may vary) as everybody’s situation is specific to them, but these tips may help you think about what you could implement into your own work life as you head into the new year.

“Marie Kondo” your work

The hustle is real, and there will obviously be times when you’re working under tight deadlines and putting in far more hours than expected. Even though some people talk about this like it’s a badge of honour, this “participation trophy” isn’t something you want to win — it’s simply not sustainable in the long-term. 

If you are feeling overwhelmed, take a look at what you’re spending your time on each day, and aggressively drop the stuff that doesn’t move the needle for your business. This might mean taking a step back from mentoring or speaking engagements, reducing or redistributing tasks so that everyone is focused on the most impactful work, or, if you’re able, hire another person to shoulder the load.

Startups pivot and things change. It’s normal

It’s normal for startups to pivot, or for ideas to have a maturation period during which you’ll feel like you’re always teetering on the edge of a roller coaster. Note your feelings of stress and understand where they’re coming from, then realise it’s all part of startup life. Don’t sweat the unpredictability and the constant changes too much. If you’re coming from a more structured corporate role, this mindset shift definitely takes some getting used to.

Here’s one quick tip: In, say, a sales role, if your target is three yeses, and you know it takes 15 meetings to get there, don’t focus on the yeses and the unpredictable highs-and-lows that come with it. Instead, work on your number of meetings, which is something that is consistent that you can control and focus your efforts on.

Treat yourself

Do something you love every day. Obviously, there will always be grunt work, no matter which role you’re in. However, if you do work that you love (even for a few hours a day) and get into that precious flow state of productivity, you’ll find yourself subconsciously building momentum that can get quite addictive. This helps buffer and dampen the more uphill slogs you might face in your startup life, and helps remind you why you chose the path you did on a regular basis.

I am a big believer in meditation and breath-work when my mind is all over the place; a friend of mine swears by cryotherapy when she’s feeling particularly anxious; you may find that spending time in nature or just going out for a walk puts everything back into perspective for you. Experiment and figure out what other things work for you, too.

The “Nuclear Option”: The hard reset

Everyone has their own personal preference to how much they are able to deal with before feeling the need for a break or change in routine. You may love your business but feel like you just need some time away. A pause from it all and a hard reset may be what it takes to come back to your work with fresh eyes and a new enthusiasm. Tell your team that, know that they are there to help, and talk about it with your support network.

In particular, figure out what exactly a hard reset means with your team before you start. Are you taking a full sabbatical or just doing a short digital detox? Will you still be keeping in contact or dropping in for weekly status updates? Make sure to think about key deadlines that might occur during your time away, roughly plan how work gets distributed, and lines of communication for when something urgently needs to be dealt with while you’re gone.

All in all, it’s truly important not to ignore the warning signs of burnout, because if you do, you risk being stuck there for longer than you’d like. We hope this gets you started on thinking about your own wellbeing, and to avoid burnouts along your startup journey.

Conrad Ho

Conrad is a techie entrepreneur and investor whose curiosity has led him to many places over the years: Exhibited photographer, chess national master, global data science conference organizer and community builder, diversity and inclusion advocate, angel with successful exits, and more. Happiest around water (the ocean) or alcohol.

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