How to Avoid Digital Entrepreneur Burnout: Tips from a Digital Wellness Coach
Burnout has become somewhat of a buzzword over the last few years—particularly since the start of the pandemic. And, unfortunately, it’s for a good reason. Burnout is very real, and it affects more of us than we’d like to admit.
As digital entrepreneurs, burnout is just as prevalent, maybe even more so. But, at Beyond 8 Figures, we believe that it’s possible to be a successful digital entrepreneur without reaching the point of burnout—you just need the right tools. So, we chatted with Clo S., a digital wellness coach and founder of This Too Shall Grow, for some tips on how to avoid burning out as an entrepreneur.
While there are various techniques, tools, and healthy habits to adopt (which we get into later), mindfulness is the best place to start.
What does mindfulness have to do with digital entrepreneurship?
The digital business (aka busyness) world can be extra noisy. There’s always something to do, read, watch, and keep up with. Working in the digital space means that we’re always connected—and open for constant disruptions.
We have a constant stream of pings and flashing lights for notifications disrupting us throughout the day. They come at us from all directions: emails, Slack, social media, WhatsApp, and from the multitude of other apps on our phones.
Being stuck in the digital realm makes it even harder to ignore the constant disruptions, which is why knowing how to manage them becomes pivotal to our sanity. We need to be mindful of how we spend our time online and what we allow to distract and disrupt us.
Practicing mindfulness allows entrepreneurs to get the mental clarity and increased brain capacity needed to do their work—without being constantly disrupted.
Tip: On the topic of notifications, Clo shared a great blog post on mindful notifications and how to get on top of the endless stream of often unnecessary notifications. These tips are more applicable to designers, but we all can learn a thing or two from them.
What is mindful productivity?
We still want to be high achievers, just without burning out. So how do we play our cards right to ensure that we don’t harm our mental and emotional health while still achieving our goals?
One way is to start practicing mindful productivity.
Mindful productivity is a sustainable way of being productive that doesn’t affect your mental health, i.e. without leading to burnout or feeling overwhelmed. It’s also a way to manage your mental and emotional states by acknowledging and accepting your feelings and thoughts while engaged in work mode.
There is no doubt multitasking is a productivity killer. When you’re constantly interrupted, and your mind jumps from task to task, you’re not giving each task the attention it deserves. As the result, you end up being more stressed out. Research has shown that when people multitask, they don’t spend longer on each task, but they do work in a more stressed-out state because of jumping from one task to the other.
Mindfulness is about clearly seeing the present moment. Being mindful gives you a fresh perspective on your work, life, and creative process. It helps you enjoy the work you’re doing, gives you more focus, and helps you notice signs of anxiety and burnout earlier.
Why entrepreneur burnout is such a big problem
Burnout among entrepreneurs is often regarded as inevitable—like it’s part of the job description.
To start with, you’re not working a typical 9-5. Of course, being a digital entrepreneur might seem like you are always on the clock, even though it’s not the only option. But the lack of downtime isn’t the only cause of burnout. The issue stems much deeper than that.
As a society, we’ve started praising hustle culture. The “rise-and-grind” culture has normalized working harder, faster, and longer. And that, if you’re not spending every possible moment of your day working in pursuit of your professional goals, you’re doing something wrong. Somehow, overworking is the only way to gain respect—from others and ourselves.
We think that if we work hard enough, we’ll become more successful. And the more successful we are, the more powerful we are. So, we end up putting work above everything else.
Added to this hustle culture is capitalism and the challenging economic climate making it seem like having multiple side hustles is the only way to make enough money to survive and thrive.
Plus, entrepreneurs are renowned for being perfectionists and striving for unrealistic expectations—adding more fuel to the burnout fire.
To break out of the inevitable digital entrepreneurship burnout cycle, you almost need to defy what everyone around you is telling you to do.
But it’s possible. And it’s actually easier than you think.
Digital entrepreneurship doesn’t have to lead to burnout
At Beyond 8 Figures, we’re here to tell you that it’s possible to be successful without following the hustle culture and burning out.
Beyond 8 Figures: Is it possible to be a successful digital entrepreneur and maintain a healthy state of mind?
Clo: Absolutely! And thankfully so. I believe a lot of it boils down to setting yourself up the right way. This includes having a good support system, both in terms of the people you surround yourself with who you can go to for advice, as well as healthy and efficient routines and habits. Steph Smith has a great self-paced course on leveraging your time, called Doing Time Right.
When it comes to habits, I like to say that the ultimate goal of willpower is to not have to rely on it. If you want to journal every night but struggle to stick to it, put your journal by your bed, with a pen. This is its place now. When it’s late, and time to get to bed, you won’t have to count on your willpower to remember you want to journal, hesitate because you’re tired, search for your notebook, etc. It will already be there, waiting for you.
Accountability and stepping back are two other crucial elements of a healthy mindset. Both keep you going, except that the former is tailored to short- and mid-term commitments, while the latter energizes you and ensures your daily actions are aligned with your long-term vision.
I use two recurring meetings with different timeframes. Once a month, I have a Thinking Buddies session with a friend. We review how things have been going since our previous call, set up goals for our next one, and chat about our current challenges. These sessions pair nicely with another type of call I have, with another friend: we have a Vision session every week. In these, we tackle both longer-term plans (6 months and more) and short-term goals (the next 7-14 days). Having a more frequent basis for the Vision sessions allows me to stay energized and regularly assess the trajectory of my daily actions.
Ultimately, I believe a lot of what constitutes a healthy mindset for digital entrepreneurs comes from trial and error. By experimenting with habits, communication modes, places, and people, we find what works best for us. I’ve written about my mindful productivity framework, and I try to update this article according to my setup regularly.
Acknowledge that burnout is a possibility and actively work to avoid it
It’s easy to slip into habits that lead to burnout as an entrepreneur, which is why it’s essential to acknowledge what burnout is and how it happens. When you know what to look out for, you know how to spot the signs of burnout and take action before it’s too late.
Beyond 8 Figures: What are the early warning signs of burnout with entrepreneurs?
Clo: That’s a great question! Feeling isolated is a big one, and loneliness can show up very easily when we don’t have a team to work with. This stresses the importance of getting support from your friends and loved ones even more.
Feeling like a failure can also be a sign of burnout, and as digital entrepreneurs, we all know about insidious comparisons and feeling like an underachiever. Distinguishing tiny attacks to our ego from a sensation of being doomed to fail is key.
A lack of motivation and an impression of being stuck and helpless in our situation are also signs to look out for. If you think you might experience burnout, please take a break, all the rest you need, and seek professional help if necessary.
Here’s how to avoid burnout using the PARI system
Clo suggests using the PARI system to raise your productivity levels by incorporating mindfulness into your productivity system.
PARI contains four stages: Pact, Act, React and Impact.
Pact: This is your commitment to yourself to dedicate time to your goals. Commit to dedicating a certain amount of time or a certain number of repetitions towards your goal. For example, if you want to improve your writing, commit to writing 500 words a day. Make it a simple, repeatable activity that gets you closer to your goals.
Act: Now’s the time to do what you committed to doing. One way to do this is to time-block slots in your calendar to make sure you execute on your commitment. Make sure to be realistic—you likely need to lower your expectations a bit. Otherwise, if your daily tasks are unattainable, you’ll end up frustrated.
When scheduling your calendar, become aware of your fluctuating energy levels. You aren’t operating at full capacity at all times; schedule tasks during times that you know you have sufficient energy (and time) to complete the task.
In addition, when time-blocking in your calendar, give specific outcomes. For example, “Complete lesson 5 of the course.” Having an outcome allows for smaller wins and makes it easier to feel satisfied by giving you a sense of progress and productivity.
React: The react stage is about creating small, repeatable goals. It’s also about making the time for self-reflection to consolidate what you learn and adapt your process if needed. For many, this comes in the form of sharing your progress with others. For example, it could be keeping your friends and family updated, sharing your progress on Twitter, writing blog posts, or sharing your updates with your team on a Slack channel.
What matters is that you produce content that will serve as a repository for your thought process and a way to reflect on your experience. While sharing your challenges and progress publicly can be daunting, it helps you remain accountable and be more mindful of your productivity.
Impact: Once you start getting closer to your goals, it’s time to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Over time you can combine and condense the skills you’ve accumulated into a more significant, more impactful project. For example, if you’ve been writing every day, you can send a pitch to a publication or set your sights on combining everything into a book.
The best thing about the PARI system is that it’s flexible. During the “react” phase, you’ll quickly realize what’s working and what’s not. And you can easily go back to the previous step to figure out what can be improved.
Following this mindful productivity process is a great way to achieve your goals and learn more about yourself. Soon, you’ll have a collection of productivity strategies that genuinely work for you that you can use to achieve any goal you want.
A few additional tips for avoiding burnout as an entrepreneur
We asked Clo a few more questions on avoiding digital entrepreneurship burnout and improving digital wellness.
Beyond 8 Figures: How can entrepreneurs use digital technologies to support their mental health?
Clo: There are many digital tools out there to support entrepreneurs’ mental health, tackling journaling, meditation, note-taking, bookmarking, learning, memory, as well as the entire world of health-related wearables.
One of my favorite applications is Daylio. Every day, you enter your mood and the activities you did. You can customize these to your lifestyle – for instance, I don’t have “Exercise” as a global activity, but I have two different ones for weight-lifting and cardio. I’ve been using it for 1273 consecutive days – I checked! – without it ever feeling annoying because it takes no more than a minute per day. I now have over three years of data on myself, which is great because Daylio gives you statistics on correlations between activities and mood. There’s a lot you can learn about yourself that way. I also enjoy Otto; it’s a great browser extension that combines a Pomodoro timer with site-blocking. Forest is a pretty application that prevents you from using your phone by growing trees for as long as you don’t touch it.
We tend to forget about them, but our devices also have useful native features. I’ve turned the notifications off from most of my apps, and I regularly use the Do Not Disturb mode that blocks all remaining notifications. This lets you focus and check your phone on your own time rather than when it calls for you. As entrepreneurs, I think you’ll agree that our personal and professional lives are often mixed. If you wish to separate them better, you can use different inboxes to handle professional and personal emails or even create a professional and personal session on your computer.
Beyond the digital tools helping our mental health, being aware of our external and internal triggers to use digital apps and to give in to distraction can also have a huge impact on how we spend our time and mental energy.
Beyond 8 Figures: If you could recommend only one technique/practice to incorporate into one’s workday, what would it be?
Clo: I think refueling our attention is something we tend to neglect. According to the Attention Restoration Theory, two essential elements are: experiencing soft fascination and spending time in a restorative environment.
Soft fascination happens when we engage in a low-stimulation activity, such as doodling, daydreaming, or looking at a calm landscape. It dissolves our internal noise into calm. A restorative environment is also low in stimulation, it’s one where we don’t have to be constantly scanning for new information, so that could be a forest, a calm café or library, but not a busy city. Having a restorative environment away from home might help, because by finding yourself in an unfamiliar place you might more easily detach yourself from your usual thoughts.
So, my advice is to practice soft fascination in a restorative environment and let the calmness in.
Use the right tools and processes
As an entrepreneur, you know all about the importance of using the right tools and processes within your business.
Apply that same principle to managing your mental health. Figure out what tools and techniques work best for you and incorporate them into your digital wellness routine. Maintaining healthy well-being is possible while still delivering the required output to build a successful business. It all comes down to being mindful about how you spend your time and what you put your energy into.