/ 11 minutes
Jun 23, 2023
As an entrepreneur, your business is like your brainchild — it’s what keeps you up at night, consumes your every waking moment, and perhaps even infiltrates your dreams. But all too often, this unfettered dedication results in burnout, a state of chronic exhaustion that can devastate your physical and mental well-being. How can one recover?
We spoke to two e-commerce entrepreneurs who navigated burnout and came out stronger.
Looking back, Fernando Cortez — who built multiple brands, selling thousands of products on Shopify, eBay, and Amazon over 7+ years — embraces it as an opportunity for growth:
"Putting myself through those tough times made me the person I am today and I love the journey."
“Social media glorifies all aspects of life, but especially entrepreneurship. It’s not often that you see business owners who are struggling to make it sharing their stories. It’s only the people who are setting sales records who share their Shopify dashboards. It’s not reflective of reality.”
In this article, we’ll explore:
tools and options for work-life balance,
effects on your sleep, health, and wellbeing,
decision-making and innovation,
timing of breaks,
financial considerations, and
taking a sabbatical.
When you're knee-deep in the trenches, it's hard to see a way out. Let’s say you have an e-commerce store and you’re grappling with inventory management, customer service, and marketing strategies like Fernando:
"I was stressed out all the time, wondering if my supplier shipped the product, if my ads are getting rejected, if ad accounts are going down, customers complaining, dealing with fraud, and the list goes on."
To keep this up, entrepreneurs face challenges such as sleep disruption or little time to spend with friends and family. Fernando’s resilience underscores the transformative power of adversity, where tough times contributed to his growth. However, the question remains: can success be achieved without compromising mental and physical health?
Breaks and vacations are not only beneficial for your health but also for boosting creativity and innovation in business leadership. As per Fernando’s experience, vacations often led to heightened motivation and unique problem-solving approaches. Similarly, Dov found value in time away from work, leading to fresh perspectives and improved business strategies.
This hints at the importance of incorporating ‘pauses’ in your burnout recovery. But for how long? And how practical is it to step away from your business?
Being an entrepreneur often implies juggling multiple roles and responsibilities, but this comes at a cost. As a bootstrapped solopreneur, Fernando admits, “I would wake up, work on my business, go to bed, and that was my routine for a few years. I felt like I didn't have enough time in the day.”
Dov echoed the sentiment, describing how constant pressure-packed periods like executing and planning for Q4 in e-commerce can lead to 16-hour workdays:
“One year it involved driving a car full of packages to the main UPS distribution center to ensure packages would get out in time. You want to do everything you can to squeeze out every last possible dollar. The period from Black Friday through Christmas can literally make or break your entire year so it’s worth doing whatever it takes to make it successful.”
But it’s not just holiday periods, there’s a constant feeling of always being “in the thick of it" — he explains:
“You’ll solve one problem in one area and then another will pop up somewhere else. You often feel like you’re not doing a good job, questioning how you could have it happen. In reality, it's just the nature of the job — lots of moving pieces to coordinate. As long as you’re learning from those mistakes, it’s just part of the process.”
This can strain the concept of work-life balance. Here’s how to avoid burnout as an entrepreneur:
This isn't an easy feat. As Fernando explains, developing standard operating procedures (SOPs) and building a competent team was a game-changer.
"As the years went on, I learned how to build a team with SOPs, which eventually made things easier. It took discipline to learn how — by reading books, taking courses, and having coaching calls. It helped me focus on the most important things in my business which were high impact"
Leveraging technology and delegating can be crucial aspects in time management for entrepreneurs. Both can help manage the demands of running a business and for a better work-life balance. Delegate less critical aspects of your business and leave more time for strategic activities.
“If you’re so hyper-focused on execution, which you of course need to be at times, there’s no time or energy to think about strategy, long-term vision, planning.”
As Dov explains, take a small step back from your day-to-day operations to concentrate on strategy and innovation. This is a central tenant for Keith Rabois, OpenStore’s CEO:
“Focus on inputs over outputs — such as the quality of ideas you’re generating over how much you get done. You’ll want to consistently focus on things that have the greatest impact.”
By establishing efficient systems and processes, entrepreneurs can reduce the number of hours they need to work, freeing up time.
A robust management team is critical for business growth — not only for continuity when you’re away. Fernando reflects, "I wish I had trusted more people and hired the right people for certain tasks." We also spoke to renowned entrepreneur Keith Rabois on his extensive roadmap on building a team and hiring solid executives.
Keith’s career and early investments in the likes of PayPal, LinkedIn, Square, and Xoom has led him to work alongside Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Jack Dorsey, Reid Hoffman, and other legendary entrepreneurs.
When hiring those one or two key people to lighten your workload, here is a selection of many in-depth tips:
Focus on complementary skills: identify the largest risks to your business, assess which of these risks the current team can handle, and then hire team members to fill in the gaps. If someone is enthusiastic but inexperienced, Rabois recommends pairing them with someone more experienced.
Build the right DNA: an early team isn't just there to develop a product but also to shape the company. In Rabois' words, "the team you build is the company you build," instill the ethos you want from day one. Transparency is vital for enabling smart decisions, and a merit-based culture ensures the best person is running a discipline, which can reduce politics and frustration. He insists on treating colleagues as teammates, pushing each other towards excellence.
Look for these 3 things: ownership mentality, efficient strategic thinking, and ability to attract other talent. They should own their mistakes and constantly seek better processes with your business plan in mind.
Manage with focus: a leader's job is to help the team concentrate on what's crucial. Drawing from his experience working with Peter Thiel at PayPal, Keith insists on everyone having a primary focus and limiting distractions.
If you already have an in-house team, avoid burnout by distributing responsibility and authority:
“Let your team fail sometimes — especially when it enables them to learn. If someone’s excited about an idea that you know won’t work — let them find that out for themselves. That doesn’t mean you let them make terrible business decisions. It means that, when the consequences are minimal, you should actively let your team run into and grow from mistakes.”
It’s not easy, but the end goal is to get close to a place where, if you decide to step back for a period of time (hours, then days, and then weeks), the business doesn’t grind to a halt. Rather, aim to build a team that can grow the business.
The pressure to constantly perform can push you to unhealthy extremes. The perils of entrepreneurial burnout are many, manifesting as physical ailments and mental health challenges. These will not only harm you, but also your business.
At times, e-commerce entrepreneurs Fernando and Dov experienced:
constant tiredness and physical exhaustion,
a poor diet,
high caffeine consumption, and
being easily irritated by small problems.
In addition, according to the American Psychological Association, entrepreneurial burnout can also lead to:
increased levels of stress and anxiety,
where chronic stress can escalate into significant mental health issues, like depression and anxiety disorders,
and even lead to cardiovascular diseases, metabolic function changes, and a weakened immune system.
As other researchers across the field emphasize, this emotional exhaustion can spark feelings of being emotionally overstretched, effectively draining one's emotional resources.
There is a critical need for rest, not just for the sake of the individual, but also for the productivity and success of their businesses. Entrepreneurs who manage to overcome these hurdles and prioritize self-care often find their productivity and creativity levels boosted.
Yes, sometimes you need to slow down to speed up.
Some studies have underscored the importance of taking time off, finding that people who detach from work during off-hours are more productive and demonstrate higher job performance, and time away from work fosters creativity, providing fresh perspectives and ideas. Fernando can corroborate this:
“When I’d come back from vacation, I would feel super motivated to take on any problem. My performance and productivity were through the roof! I’d come back with different ideas and solutions to problems that I could not figure out.”
Dov adds that conferences and outings also serve as useful time off. This not only allows you to step away from the immediate pressures of the business, but also offers an opportunity to learn from other entrepreneurs' experiences.
If you want to start today:
busy periods might mean a sudden break is not practical,
start with including regular breaks in your day for self-care or even just 5-15 minutes of light exercise.
One symptom of burnout can be hasty or faulty decision making, so keep an eye out for personal burnout signs. The gold standard for measuring burnout and understanding what qualifies and what doesn’t is the MBI.
You may initially face increased anxiety when trying to switch off and fully rest. The apprehension often arises from the fear of your business breaking from an absence, but this anxiety tends to decrease with time.
As Fernando, an experienced entrepreneur and digital native, recalls how burnout cost him $2,000 on one occasion:
"Since my suppliers were overseas, I would always stay up pretty late to talk to them via WeChat. One time I got a message from ‘my supplier’ saying he did not get my wire from the day before. So I ended up sending another wire. The next morning I woke up and found out that the person who said they never got my wire was not my supplier but a scammer.”
Burnout not only cost him a significant sum of money but, more importantly, it highlighted a rare lapse in judgment of a savvy entrepreneur — brought on by exhaustion.
This experience isn't unique to Fernando, it's a recurring pattern among many business owners and entrepreneurs. Research supports this, showing that burnout can:
impair decision-making and cognitive functioning,
reduce individual creativity,
diminish emotional attachment, business involvement, and
even inhibit innovation.
The ultimate aim of entrepreneurship is to make a difference and be profitable, not self-depleting.
Recognizing the need for a break and acting on it is not a sign of weakness but rather a wise business strategy.
A real challenge is taking a break without negatively affecting your business. This could range from small vacations to detach from work or a longer time off, especially after intense periods such as a business launch or a major project completion.
Exclusively for Shopify entrepreneurs: OpenStore's Drive solution offers a unique alternative: facilitating a paid executive sabbatical for 12 months without compromising the health of the business.
Benefits you could expect include:
a rejuvenated perspective on your Shopify business,
heightened motivation and productivity upon returning,
fresh, innovative ideas to improve your marketing, operations, supply chain, product, or customer support.
Outside of OpenStore’s offering, entrepreneurs considering a sabbatical should come to terms with a potential loss of income. For example, from missed opportunities, leading to slower growth due to your temporary absence. There’ll also be costs for hiring temporary staff or outsourcing services to cover your roles and responsibilities, or costs associated with unforeseen business problems that could surface while you're away.
Your living expenses may remain the same, or even increase if you plan to travel without subletting your accommodation.
Despite these potential financial hurdles, entrepreneurs like Fernando and Dov attest to the benefits of rest periods, which often lead to a surge in motivation, productivity, and fresh perspectives on business problems.
As outlined by entrepreneurs Keith Rabois, Fernando Cortez, and Dov Quint:
Build out standard operating procedures to guide your team (in-house or external) through tasks.
Hire individuals that showcase ownership mentality and strategic thinking, and a network to build a team themselves. Train your team well for specific roles and tasks.
Implement alerts for critical updates or issues requiring your attention, Dov recommends at most weekly while you’re taking time off.
The key to successful time off is ensuring that your business can run without your day-to-day involvement.
For Shopify entrepreneurs teetering on the brink of burnout, it is essential to prioritize rest and rejuvenation in your business strategy. A sabbatical can offer this reprieve, providing the time and space to regain balance, recharge, and ultimately return with renewed energy and fresh insights.
Put your Shopify store on autopilot
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