THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Innovation and enterprise blog

09 October 2017

Growing your business without burning yourself out

Starting and growing a business can be exciting and very rewarding, and at the British Library’s Business & IP Centre we can help you to achieve all of your entrepreneurial goals. However, there are factors that aren’t often spoken about when we talk about the life of a business owner. Entrepreneurs typically dedicate long hours and lots of energy and effort to building their company and there is a risk that this can lead to burn-out unless care is taken. As today is World Mental Health Day, we would like to take the opportunity to challenge the assumptions about mental health and equip ourselves with the necessary tools to maintain balance.

Tom Costley, Operations Director for Mind in Camden, explains why he thinks entrepreneurs are sometimes at risk of developing poor mental health and suggests some practical tips and strategies that entrepreneurs can employ to protect their mental wellbeing and maintain a work-life balance.

Mind

Why might there be a risk of an entrepreneur experiencing issues with their mental health?

Entrepreneurs typically have a high sense of purpose, meaning and drive in their lives, and this is actually great for positive mental health.  However, there can be a downside to this if the drive to succeed comes at the detriment of other things which help keep us in balance.  For example, if building the business becomes the only focus of the entrepreneur’s world and they pour all their energies into it, then they risk neglecting some other important factors which help sustain their good mental health, such as our personal relationships or downtime for relaxation. Often entrepreneurs can feel so driven to succeed that they imagine they are immune to the consequences of neglecting their wellbeing and ignore tell-tale signs and symptoms.  Lack of sleep, for example, can lead us to feel irritable and frustrated and affect our decision making.  Business owners may feel we can ride through this and carry on working, but ultimately it will negatively impact on how effective they are in their business and on their chances of success.  For example, they might unintentionally be snappy with an important client, forget an important deadline or experience ‘brain fog’ and lack of clarity when making an important decision with long-term implications.

Entrepreneurs can also be emotionally high-risk takers, investing 100% of themselves in their business to the extent it becomes an extension of their personal identity and it is difficult to see where the business ends and the person begins.  We see this a lot currently as the trend for social media and video content creates an expectation for business owners to be more visible than ever before, which creates additional pressure.  This may not be a problem when the business is working well and experiencing success, but should the business then take a dip that entrepreneur can find that their self-esteem is so closely entwined with their work that they experience a disproportionate reaction and fall into a ‘slump’.  This is why preserving a sense of self which is separate from the business is vitally important in enabling us to ride through challenges and maintain perspective.

World-Mental-Health-Day-10th-October-2016

For an entrepreneur, having their identity very closely connected to their business can also compromise their emotional honesty.  This may be particularly true for people who are at the early stage of building a business when the appearance of success and confidence is everything and we are taught to ‘fake it until we make it’.  Of course, there is an element of this that may be necessary as part of a business strategy.  However, to safeguard against becoming disconnected from reality it is important to have someone who you can be more revealing with, and share what is really going on: your fears and anxiety as well as your hopes and ambitions.  This might be a great friend or partner, or perhaps even a mentor figure or a counsellor.  Whoever it is, make sure you allow time in your busy schedule to connect with them.

What are the warning signs of poor mental health that entrepreneurs should look out for?

It’s important to remember that mental health is personal: it’s about understanding ourselves. We all have different warning signs which may indicate to us that we are heading out of balance.  One useful way to approach this is to be aware of how we are when we are feeling ‘ok’ and then to consciously monitor ourselves if we feel some of these things are noticeably worse. Typical warning signs that things are tipping in the wrong direction might include:

  • Poor concentration
  • Altered sleep pattern or lack of sleep
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of confusion or compromised ability to make decisions
  • Levels of sociability
  • Sense of connection to those close to us
  • Ability to see the ‘bigger picture’ and maintain perspective

It’s important to take account of our individuality when monitoring our mental health; we need to compare ourselves to what is healthy and normal for us rather than for other people.  For example, whilst social contact is important for good mental health, we all thrive off different levels and types of social engagement depending on our personalities.

Do you have any tops hints and tips that you could recommend to help entrepreneurs/business owners look after their mental health more effectively?

Again this is personal, so knowing yourself is essential.  Identify what keeps you resourced away from your business and ensure you build in time to do this with full presence and commitment.  Preserving time to switch off and be with the important people in your life, or simply spending time doing something which gives you joy and helps you connect with life beyond work, really can make all the difference.  This could be a sport, gardening, walking, reading or just being with friends and family.  Because they don’t keep set working hours, business owners can have a tendency to feel tremendously guilty about taking time out for themselves. In order to commit to doing this, you may need to keep reminding yourself of the benefits:  switching off from your business every once in a while will increase your creativity, give you renewed energy and ensure you are keeping fully charged in order to make your business a success.