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Andrew Dumont found out the hard way of what it meant to be a young entrepreneur who burned out. Here are his tips to prevent burnout
At 25, by necessity, Andrew Dumont has become a bit of an expert at burnout.
After all, he first slid headlong into burnout at 18, working flat out to launch the start-up Tatango.com, helping to take the company from two people to 20. And he has a blog with the title Always On, which captures his style and that of his readers.
Only he isn’t quite always on. Having been hammered by burnout once, he’s more careful these days, and constantly tweaking his approach to work in order to avoid a repeat incident.
It isn’t exactly work-life balance, but it’s work with a semblance of more balance, and he shared his ideas in a post for readers and a Globe and Mail interview. (http://andrewdumont.me/avoiding-burnout)
(Otmar Winterleitner/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
At 18, he was young, energetic, and life was fun. He had dropped out of college for his business opportunity, and was working 80 to 100 hours a week, drinking five Red Bulls a day with endless coffee chasers.
Then he started to notice what he now realizes were telltale signs of burnout. He would wake up some days and not want to work – indeed, incapable of movement.
Other days he was spinning his wheels, at work but not getting much done, finding it harder and harder to tackle his duties.
“Then one day it hit me. I shut off completely,” he recalls. He went home, closed the blinds, and lay there. He had to unplug from work for months before he was able to get back into the fray.
“When you’re young, you don’t listen to your body. It crept up on me,” he says.
The most important step in guarding against burnout, he advises, is to recognize it can happen to you if you are pushing hard. Beyond that, he recommends these 10 ways to avoid burnout:
He starts his day with a run or lifting weights. He argues it doesn’t have to be a long workout and the mode doesn’t matter, but he finds doing something active each morning clears his mind and provides a fresh dose of endorphins that puts him in the right physical state for the rest of the day.
This has been a critical element, since he noticed when he got home most days he couldn’t turn off and out of habit would head for his computer.
“I didn’t have closure to my day, so I simply extended it. To help with this, I started going for walks each evening before heading home after work. Not long, just enough to digest the day and clear my mind,” he writes.
He had not been a fan of fiction and when he read books they were usually business related.
But now he seeks a break, with fantasy, science fiction (The Age of Miracles by Karen Walker was a recent favourite), and other books that transport him away, like Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron, set in Rwanda.
Recently he felt he could be slipping close to burnout again, so he now takes one day a week off from work and its electronic tether, e-mail.
“It’s tough,” he admits in an interview. “I hold off on running errands during the week and save it for that day. I almost force myself to be off work that day so I don’t have the potential to screw it up.”
The break is usually a Saturday or Sunday; he tends to rotate.
He recently bought an espresso machine, in part because he likes coffee but also because it was something he could engross himself in as a hobby – stimulate his mind, outside of work, but more intellectually than escapist fiction.
He has been learning to roast beans on a little roaster on his deck and seeking to prepare the perfect latte. It also fits his schedule – he dabbles in the hobby as he prepares his brew.
“I haven’t quite got the perfect roast yet, but I am working on it. I am approaching the perfect latte,” he says.
(Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Since so much of burnout is mental, he tries to acknowledge the small wins he is having every day. He breaks big challenges into small tasks that he can complete and feel good about.
When you’re pushing hard at work you need to eat well, he believes.
He avoids junk food and a steady regimen of pizzas – the staples of his 18-year-old-self – yet at the same time stresses he isn’t a hard-core nutritional fanatic.
(Matthew Sherwood For The Globe and Mail)
Mr. Dumont was impressed by U.S. President Barack Obama’s revelation that he wears only blue and grey suits so there’s one less decision to be made each day.
Mr. Dumont believes decision fatigue can drain you, so he similarly tries to avoid decisions by building habits, such as the apple before his workout and the nutrition bar afterwards – no need to come up with a new choice every day.
His girlfriend is a busy law student, but they take one night a week for each other.
He acknowledges that were he to be married and have children the pressures on him would increase, but he also feels it might help as it would force him to take himself away from work more often.
(Laura Leyshon For The Globe and Mail)
He urges you to take time, at least once a year, where you are away from work for more than a single day.
So far the best he can manage is a four-day break, once a year, but he stresses he is young and for others it may have to be more frequent or longer.
“If I go for more that a year without an unplug I feel myself close to burnout,” he notes.
And from personal experience, he doesn’t want to go there again.