Entrepreneurs have always had a lot on their minds, but the ubiquity of modern technology adds a layer that can be exhausting. In between strategizing inventory challenges and expansion plans, business owners are also barraged with customer emails, Slack messages, and social media notifications. It’s a quick recipe for burnout without appropriate breaks and self-care.
Square recently hosted a virtual discussion on this topic called “Refresh, Recharge, Repeat” at the Fast Company Innovation Festival. Leann Livingston, senior international marketing manager at Square, and Nora Tobin, health and wellness partner to Marriott International and CEO of Nora’s Naturals Coffee Company, examined the importance of prioritizing breaks, ways to free up time for self-care, and how to recognize early signs of burnout.
Here are four takeaways from their discussion:
1. Self-care is a business imperative that should be prioritized.
Time is money, so the idea of a 30-minute lunch—or even a five-minute walk outside—might sound impossible at first blush. “We’re wired to be productive,” Tobin says. “Yet I always find that being productive does not necessarily equate to the best performance.”
Through that lens it’s clear that self-care is a smart business investment. Trying to work through periods of low energy or feeling overwhelmed typically leads to tasks taking longer and subpar work. “Five minutes a day can add up to significant change in our mood or mindset,” Tobin says. “[It’s about] being okay taking that time, knowing that … it’s all going to be there, but you’ll be even more creative and productive when you get back to it.”
Livingston takes a daily half-hour lunch break away from the computer, during which she puts down her phone, goes outside, and focuses on a meal—a routine she describes as life-changing. “It never feels like you have time to take out of your day,” she says. “But you will always be better off for it. [Even] if you just sit outside for 30 minutes, it will help you get through the rest of your day much more efficiently, versus kind of just dragging through the rest of it.”
As for the notion that self-care is selfish, the pair wholeheartedly disagree. “You are doing what you need to actually be your best version of yourself,” Livingston says, “and that helps support others and those around you.”
2. Know thyself: Recognize your individual signs of burnout—and what makes you feel energized.
By the time you’ve hit total burnout, it’s probably been building for a while, Livingston and Tobin agreed. But since everyone has different businesses—and lifestyles—individual signs of stress will vary. For some it might be keyed-up anxiety and finding themselves snapping at family members; others may feel sapped, like it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning.
“For me personally—and … a lot of our small business owners as well—it’s [about maintaining] energy levels. The things I really like doing no longer seem enjoyable,” Livingston says. “You’re no longer energized by the thrill of having your own business. Or things that you used to enjoy start bugging you in a way they wouldn’t normally. That’s when the warning [lights] start to go [on] for me: You might need to take some time out.”
What one does with that time out also ties back to energy. One business leader’s idea of a reenergizing day off may be a massage followed by a night out with friends. By contrast, an entrepreneur who has young children may prefer a quiet reading night. It’s about what leaves you, personally, with more energy to tackle the day.
3. Delegation and automation are your friends.
For Tobin, delegating tasks to staff is crucial for her—even though many owners may find it hard to let go. “We can only do so many high-level…tasks versus low-level work,” she says. “I [like] outlining those two categories and then breaking them up within our team.… Having that organization, and then knowing that we don’t have to do both categories all the time, has been really helpful.”
Livingston notes the importance of automating routine tasks. Square, for example, offers tools that can automate sending marketing emails and basic communications with customers, as well as other software that assists with inventory, team management, payroll processing, operations, and more. Technology, Livingston says, can “help free up your time, help you prioritize those tasks that need to be [not just done], but done well.”
4. Incorporate small strategies for quick boosts.
As Tobin puts it, “It’s really nice to be able to go to yoga class for an hour” at lunch, but many business owners could never do that. But a minute here and there adds up. She recommends walking around for one minute every hour, for example. And when she’s overwhelmed, she uses a jade roller that she stores in the fridge, running the cool stone over her face for a “physical stimulus [that] can really snap you out of it.” As for Livingston, she has adopted a daily 30-minute screen-free lunch before diving into the afternoon’s tasks.