Ask small business owners why they started their own business, and in amongst the desire to make a difference or to deliver a better service for people, you will also find a hunger to have a better work/life balance or live an improved lifestyle.
My own journey into business had the same blend of reasons. In my early days as a single mum, traditional wages employment was simply not working in making the balancing act work.
So, I went into small business.
The biggest secret kept by small business owners is how many hours of work they do each week. Study after study shows that small business owners work significantly more hours than their employees. Most small business owners regularly work a 50-hour week.
Then there are a significant proportion of small business owners who work 60-80 hours a week. Being in small business is not something you get into if you are looking for fewer hours of work!
For years the balance of hours of work in my business was about right. Then this year my working time clock started to increase. First by an hour or so each day, then over the past few months by hours and weekends.
The past 6 weeks have seen me at the 80-hour end of the spectrum, over 7 days each week with no days off, and there one week of 98 hours! I had small business owner overwork syndrome.
How I got to that point was a Tsunami of big projects that all suddenly tripled in scope all at the same time, combined with some clients that were a tad more disorganised than expected, coupled with saying Yes instead of No to a few significant things.
And while it was fine to start with, it rapidly turned into a vortex of swirling hell!
10 Symptoms of Small Business Overwork
Long hours at a desk staring at a computer is only one symptom of overwork. Here are a few others that may sound familiar if you are a small business owner.
Coffee, energy drinks and caffeinated products become the first things that go into your shopping trolley, and your consumption rivals Uni students during end-of-semester assignment time.
Comfort food replaces real food
You have your local pizza delivery service on speed dial, and you can’t remember when you actually cooked anything that didn’t involve a microwave, the reheat button and a cardboard box.
You turn into a Vampire
You know daylight happens, but the only daylight you experience is walking to the car when you get the mail, and even then, you vaguely worry if you will turn into a pile of ash when the sun hits you.
Irritability and annoyance
Clients you previously liked and enjoyed working with suddenly are the equivalent of hearing Justin Bieber’s “Baby” played loudly on permanent repeat.
Sleep is something that other people do
The rest of the house may be blissfully slumbering, but you see more midnights than Cinderella and drag yourself back out of bed again at dawn.
Stupid mistakes start to pile up
You need to triple check details that magically change before your eyes, strange spelling is the norm, and you find yourself putting freshly brewed coffee in the fridge and defrosted mince you were meant to cook for dinner into pet bowls.
You disappear from all social interaction
Facebook, networking events, parties … you are suddenly “404 not found”. Your friends start to worry that you have run away to an obscure South American country to sell Margaritas by the beach.
Your sense of humour turns Goth
Cat videos no longer cut it to make you smile, and your humour turns darker than the rings under your eyes.
Your office chair welds to your butt
You spend so long sitting down that your legs have to be reminded that they know how to walk and that the indentations in your chair are not from memory foam.
You stop marketing
You stop marketing your own business and doing all the essentials you need to do to keep business humming along.
Coming out the other side
I would like to tell you that I am going cold turkey, that I have seen the light and am heading back into normal balance. I would like to tell you that … but I would be lying.
You see, I am still overcommitted for another 3-4 weeks. However, I have booked and paid for 3 days away from the office in just over a week’s time. The world will just have to turn without me.
I have also booked in a few days of professional development at the end of the current batch of work, as one of my personal ways to come out of burnout is to learn something new.
I have regular massages already booked in and am going back to old school strategies of leaving the mobile phone locked away in a drawer to stop answering it after hours.
One of the essential skills in life is learning how to bounce back after a stressful time. These personal strategies will get me through of this current allocation of overwork. I then I have some serious thinking to do in terms of my business and my approach to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. Keep me honest please to make sure I do it!
Finally, I could not have made it through these past few weeks without my daughter and marketing assistant Rachel and my youngest daughter Teagan (who helped with some data entry where she could). The families of small business owners are often the unsung heroes. Mine is no exception!