Whether you're a freelancer working from home, or the director of your own company, when you're self-employed, YOU are your business. This means that if you don't invest in your own health, you're essentially neglecting a major part of your business.
I get it, running a business means you're already overwhelmed with trying to do all of the things and getting them all done by yesterday. It's so tempting to skip a workout, go to bed late or work through the weekend in order to stay on top of your workload. But this will backfire big time further down the line when you become too burnt-out or ill to work. In this post, I will cover how to recognise burnout, come back from it, troubleshoot your daily routine, craft a workday routine that promotes healthy habits and tweaks your working environment for good health too.
When you overwork yourself and neglect your health and personal life simultaneously, you're at a very high risk of becoming burnt out. Burnout leaves you feeling drained, uninspired, depressed and tired. You may have thoughts of quitting your business entirely. If you've reached this stage, what you actually need is a holiday. Not necessarily the suitcase packing kind, but at the very least a mental holiday.
Start by stopping what you're doing right now. Your business will not fall apart if you take a short break. Don't believe me? Think about it this way: You'd have no choice if you became so ill that you ended up in hospital. Your professional reputation, contacts and public profile will not disappear overnight and neither will your business. As for your emails, these can be replied back to with a simple "apologies for the delayed reply" when you do return to your desk.
Delegate urgent tasks to your team or a VA, or simply automate the routine tasks. Push back timescales on anything you need to. Then put your out-of-office on before you make any drastic decisions about the fate of your business.
Remind yourself of Your Reasons for starting a business
No one starts a business because they want to run themselves into the ground. So if that's what you're doing, it's time to remind yourself of why you started your business. I'm guessing it was to have more flexibility in your daily routine. Perhaps better work/life balance? Hours and locations to suit the life you want?
So let's work on that right now from a health-comes-first angle.
Take stock of your current health habits
Take some time to review your current health habits. The most common issues I see with entrepreneurs and a freelancers is a lack of sleep (either by going to bed too late or getting up too early to fit their work in), not taking time out to relax, eating at their desks and not making time to get out into fresh air each day for some exercise.
Running a business, particularly single-handily, can make you feel like there's so much pressure on you to hustle, succeed and bring money in, that until you do this, you're not 'allowed' to rest or prioritize your health, but the reverse is true. Taking time out to rest and recharge means you'll be able to come back to your desk with a clearer mind, much more energy and that entrepreneurial spark you first started out with before burnout dampened it.
You need to organize your work around daily routine which promotes your health, and as the owner of your business, there's really no excuse for not being able to do this. Be honest with yourself at this stage - are you really being productive for every hour of your workday? Or do you feeling fatigued and end up losing focus and procrastinating by a certain time in the day?
For the next week try to keep a time log to monitor how you're really using your time and think about how you can slot in breaks for food, exercise and rest. I've created a time log worksheet which you can download and print to help with this.
Start meditating and journaling
I found it was much easier to focus on my work and enjoy exercise and leisure time whenever I began the day by clearing my mind of the millions of thoughts I have flashing through my mind at given moment. To do this, I started using the Headspace smartphone app for 10 minutes each morning as soon as I wake up. I've been practising mindfulness and meditation for about 5 months now and my ability to focus on one task without getting distracted has gone through the roof! This means I get a lot more done in my business, in less time, which means I can easily finish work on time, go to bed at a reasonable hour and fall asleep quicker instead of fretting about all the work I still haven't finished.
Alongside my morning mediations, I also take 10 minutes out of my morning to listen to a guided success visualization I downloaded from the Female Entrepreneur Association (which I'm a member of). I use this as a mid-morning break to re-inspire me and keep me going up until lunchtime. This has replaced the mid-morning snack I used to reach for out of boredom or stress!
Sometimes when I'm meditating, listening to a guided visualization, exercising or even just in the shower, I'll be hit with a brainwave for my business. I use Evernote on my phone to capture these ideas for use later so that I don't forget it or become distracted from whatever I'm doing at the time. I also keep a journal in Evernote for capturing anything like personal dreams, overall business goals and any insights I've had on my thoughts and emotions while meditating.
Set up a great daily routine
You're probably wondering how on earth you're supposed to fit all this 'thinking and writing' around eating, exercising and running a business. That's why you're going to look over the time log you created earlier and use it to start mapping out the ideal daily routine for your health and business. Don't forget, you can download the free routine planning sheet to help you do this.
Here's an example of my average working day to give you some idea of how I fit exercise, meals, childcare, rest and personal development into an average business day:
6.00am - Wake up and meditate for 10 minutes. Drink water, stretch and if I need to, capture any thoughts I have in my Evernote.
6.20am - Eat breakfast
6.30am - Get my son ready for nursery. Get myself dressed & pack my gym or swimming bag. Then I'll spend some time with my son before we leave
7.15am Take my son to nursery and play a business podcast to inspire me for the morning.
7.30am - Drive over from the nursery to my gym to either to swim or attend an exercise class. Hit the gym showers afterwards
8.45am - Drive home while listening to a podcast
9.00am - Sit down at my desk and jot own my do to list. I pick three main priorities for the day. I Begin working on my first of the three priorities. I power through on this for one hour and avoid checking emails!
10.30am - I take a 20 minute break, get up from my desk and away from my laptop, listen to a guided visualization and drink some water.
10.50am - I check emails to see if there's anything urgent. I reply to urgent emails and anything that is important (but not urgent) I move to a 'response required folder' in my inbox to come back to later. I then begin my second priority task for the day. I block out 1 hour to power through this.
12.00 noon - I stop working and begin cooking my lunch. If my husband is home, we cook, eat and wash up together. I'll take a little longer for lunch to catch up with him. If he's at work, then I'll cook leftovers from the night before as this is quicker (and less washing up).
12.45pm - I answer the emails in my 'response required' folder.
1.15pm - I head on out to pick my son up from the nursery. I then spend some time with my son and put him down for a nap.
2.30pm - I head back to my desk to power through on the third and final priority task for the day.
3.30pm - Time to get up from my desk and have a stretch, some water. When I sit back down I'll check all of my social media channels and schedule anything that needs promoting. If I'm working through a business course then I'll also use this time to briefly study too.
4.30pm - My son usually wakes from his nap so I'll hang out with him before we have dinner.
6.30pm - Bathtime for my son followed by a bedtime story.
8.00pm - Head downstairs to watch Netflix with my husband, or read or study if he's on a night shift.
10.00pm - My bedtime. Sometimes I read or listen to a bedtime mediation to help me fall asleep.
When drawing up your ideal day, think about how long you would like to have for lunch, morning breaks, and time for family. Be sure to plan for bedtime and waking up times too, and slot in time for exercise and self-care. Once you have a framework in place, you can then work on reducing your workload down to fit into manageable chunks. It may be that you need to work on your productivity, create some automated systems or even hire help to free up some time.
Improve your working environment
With the ideal working day routine put in place to promote healthy habits, let's start looking at your work environment. It may be that you're running a business from your kitchen table, a desk in the corner of your living room, or a spare bedroom in your house. You may even have an office of your own. Either way, take a look at how it's set out and how you sit at your desk.
Having poor posture can result in sore muscles, neck aches, back pain and headaches, spinal curvature, blood vessel constriction (increasing the risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis) and nerve constriction (causing problems like sciatica).
Did that make you sit up straight? If you're conscious about your posture right now, but know that the second you're busy with work you'll forget all about it, you can try wearing a sensor like a Lumo Lift. This is a really frustrating but genius piece of wearable tech that you clip to your shirt using the magnetic clasp. The companion app will buzz when it detects that you're slumping over your desk.
If you find yourself slumping over your computer and hunching your shoulders a lot of the time, then you'll need to adjust the height of your computer screen using a monitor riser or adjust the size of your desk chair. Laptop computers can be quite troublesome for posture, as the screen and keyboard can't be adjusted independently. One workaround for this is to use a standing desk and a separate USB ergonomic keyboard and mouse like the ones offered by Posturite, allowing you to place your laptop higher and keep the mouse and keyboard at the correct height for your wrists.
A standing desk like Varidesk allows users to quickly move from sitting to standing in under 3 seconds (thanks to very handy spring assisted levers on either side of the desk). You can also use a smartphone app (Like Varidesk's own app (US only) or Desk Job - Office Health & Fitness (available on Apple and Android) to give you gentle reminders for when to sit and stand throughout the day. If you were to stand for 30 minutes on and off throughout 9-5 business hours, you will have stood for 4 hours per day, increasing physical activity and reaping health benefits.
As well as promoting better posture, standing at your desk increases blood flow, reduces the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and much more. Standing desks have even been shown to increase productivity by 46% in a study by Texas A&M.
With the Varidesk, be sure to research which configuration would suit your desk best. There are many different models and colours to choose from on the Varidesk website. Varidesk kindly sent me the ProPlus 36 to test out. It's a great, robust product and I really love the ease of adjusting it. There's also no assembly required and it can support multiple monitors and up to 20kg of equipment!
When choosing a standing desk to place on top of your original desk, be sure to look at the configuration and take into account the size, style and shape of your desk. With my configuration is that my desk isn't quite deep enough for the Varidesk feet to rest on and with having drawers on the right-hand side of my desk, I'm not centred when I sit down which makes using the Varidesk ProPlus 36 a little awkward. Having looked on the website, however, I can see that laptop user would really benefit from the SoHo compact standing desk.
So know you know how to come back from burnout, create a workday routine to promote healthy habits and tweak your office environment to solve common health problems caused by being slumped over the computer all day.
It's time to get to work!
*This post contains Amazon affiliate links for recommended products in the Amazon store. As always, I wouldn't recommend these products if I didn't use and love them myself. I receive a tiny commission (at no extra cost to you) for any purchases you make on Amazon via these links. This helps me keep running BTBS.
**The Varidesk Pro Plus 36 picture was sent to me as a sample for the purpose of reviewing the product. I was not compensated in any other way for this article and my opinions are, as always, honest and constructive.