When you start your own business, the line between work and life can become very blurry—even nonexistent.
It can be so easy to pour yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally into the business to the point of burning out.
I had a turning point in my self-care journey as a founder only about two months ago. I was fresh off the adrenaline of finally taking my business full-time, and as a result I was working too much. I would wake up at around 6:30 a.m. each day and work non-stop until heading to bed around midnight.
But then I had a wake up call. When I met up with a friend for morning coffee, she made a comment on how exhausted I looked. And I was exhausted. I had been running on fumes at that point and not putting any energy into taking care of myself or taking adequate breaks.
That night, I stopped to reflect on myself and my business. I founded a company called Girls’ Night In that celebrates down-time, self-care, and friendship, and it felt so wrong—even disingenuous to my company’s brand—that I was talking the talk but not walking the walk.
How was I supposed to grow a business built upon prioritizing self-care and down-time when I wasn’t even practicing it myself? So I regrouped and developed some strategies for myself to practice self-care, while also building my business as a solo founder.
Now, I’ve gotten a better handle on how to balance the two. Here are some tips and strategies that have worked for me. It’s a lesson you shouldn’t have to learn the hard way.
Step 1: No screens allowed! I’ve stopped looking at my phone the moment I wake up. Why? Because it usually on-sets a wave of excitement and anxiety all at once, and once you open up that inbox, you will stay in there for a while, trust me.
It’s important to bake in some “me-time” every single day where you do something for yourself, not the business or anyone else. Develop this into a routine, and you’ll start your day in a better mental state of calm, rather than anxiety.
Here’s my morning “me time” routine: I grind some coffee beans and pour myself a cup of coffee, grab my favorite notebook and just jot down whatever comes to mind. I let my mind flow and use this time to relax in the quiet of the morning. Sometimes I also savor the moments of getting ready in the morning, rather than doing things robotically (some might call this “mindfulness.”)
I truly enjoy the experience of applying my serums, lotions, and makeup. It feels like a mini pampering session for myself. You don’t have to add really time-consuming new routines to your life to practice mindfulness; just focus yourself and commit a few minutes more to the activities you are already doing.
As an entrepreneur, it is so easy to fall into the trap of negativity, particularly towards yourself. “Why didn’t I get this thing done today that I told myself I’d get done?” or “There are five emails in my inbox waiting for a response from me. Why can’t I pull myself together and respond to them?” As a solo founder in particular, it’s very easy to blame yourself for everything, every delay, and every blocker — because that’s the reality of running a business on your own. You become everyone’s blocker.
I’ve found that this is an incredibly dangerous route to go down mentally, so I’d encourage you to acknowledge these thoughts the next time you have them. Rather than let them stew, stop them in their tracks by focusing on self-love and kindness towards yourself.
Say things to yourself like, “I acknowledge that I am behind on a million things, but I am only human. What I am doing is difficult. I am doing my best, and I feel great about that. Worst case scenario, someone will have to wait several days to hear back from me, but that’s okay.”
If I had to choose one tip out of all of these, this would be it. As an entrepreneur, you will no doubt have many requests for meetings, collaborations, partnerships, “could-I-pick-your-brain” sessions, and more. My advice is to say no to 90 percent of these, because 90 percent of requests will most likely distract you from your business goals.
One of the most important things you can do as an entrepreneur is focus on your business and the goals you’ve set out for it. I’ve had to learn to get better at saying no over the past few months, but I’m so glad when I do it. If you’re worried about hurting someone’s feelings, one tip I have for you is to kindly redirect that person to some other solution.
For example, I’ve been asked to speak on panels and at conferences since launching my business and I’ve said no to all of these requests. On top of saying no, I also tend to suggest another name (usually another woman of color) who might be a great fit. This way, it’s a win-win situation for both parties.
Related to the above—focus is difficult to come by as a founder who literally has to do everything related to your business. You’re not only the founder but also the marketing lead, editorial lead, social media lead, operations lead, etc. It can get overwhelming and it does.
One trick I’ve used in scheduling out my days is to focus on one theme or task per day. For example, Mondays could be your “content planning” day if you maintain a blog or social media presence, while Tuesdays could be your “hiring” day if you’re doing some hiring.
This approach is not only realistic, but provides clear goals for the end of your day. Not feeling like you’re making enough progress each day is a common concern I’ve heard among my entrepreneurial friends. Setting these “one big task” days can help you feel accomplished at the end of the day, and adds some structure to your week.
This feels silly to say, but when you’re in control of your own schedule and working from home, it’s easy to dive right into work without ever getting showered or dressed like a normal human being. My advice is: Never skip this!
You’ll feel much better about yourself, be better prepared to go out for any last-minute meetings or walks around the neighborhood, and generally feel more like a normally functioning member of society.
I had a moment two months ago when I felt exceptionally overwhelmed, and realized I was taking on too much on my own. I literally wrote down, “Ask for help” in my to-do list. As a Type-A person and recovering control freak, I’m awful about delegation or acknowledging when I need help.
I recently overcame this and brought on a couple of amazingly talented people who are far better at doing what they do than I am, and it’s changed my life. Every two weeks or so, I will dedicate an hour to understanding the areas in which I am doing lots of small tasks that could be delegated to someone else.
And in most cases, that person would be very excited to take on those new responsibilities and projects. Another win-win.
I joke about this all the time with my friends who are freelancers or self-employed, but sometimes we forget to go outside until 4 p.m. in the afternoon! It’s such a small thing but it can be easy to get caught up replying to emails in the morning and boom—it’s halfway through the day and you haven’t stepped outside once.
One trick I use is to make going outside an actual routine every morning. I’m still learning how to incorporate this comfortably into my routine, because I hate going outside unless I’m perfectly kempt and my hair and makeup look acceptable for public consumption.
But, instead of putting on real clothes, I’ll step outside in my leggings and t-shirt, put on some sunglasses if I have to, and take a quick walk to a coffee shop or walk around the block. One other way to assure you get outside in the morning is by walking to the gym, or taking your morning phone calls while taking a walk.
Being a solo founder (or freelancer, even) can get lonely, especially if you work from home. I’ve felt this in recent months, so I’ve been trying to set up work dates with friends where we’ll meet at a coffee shop to get things done.
If you have a long-distance buddy who is also a founder, set up a weekly check-in with her to keep each other accountable, and also just to chat and share in the struggles of running your own company. Having a support network of people who can empathize with what you’re going through is key, and will really help you manage your emotional and mental health.
I try to create routines that keep me out of my home in the mornings and/or afternoons, so that when I step back inside my home, I know that it’s time to relax and unwind versus feeling like I have to continue working.
Real talk though: More often than not, I will want to continue working into my “night shift.” Because of that, I’ve found that creating a daily “break” activity truly helps so that you don’t feel burnt out. For me, that’s going to the gym in the evenings, as it helps me break up my work days and provides health and mental benefits.
If you’re feeling burnt out, it might be time for you to take a vacation. No, I mean actually take a vacation.
When I traveled to Miami last month, I deleted many of the news, email, and chat apps that pop up in my notifications. I put a real “Out of Office” message up. I didn’t check Twitter. While it felt a bit isolating at first, keeping myself off these apps helped me feel totally refreshed when I returned. And guess what? The business did not implode on itself. Yours probably won’t either.
If you can manage, take a few days of rest, whether you’re headed to the beach or going on a day-trip. Starting your own business is an emotional rollercoaster, in ways I can’t even begin to describe. Add onto that the physical toll of working 24/7, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. If you don’t take time to take care of yourself, your business will no doubt suffer.
It’s a delicate balance when your life is your job, but sustainability is key. Take baby steps toward your goals every day, and feel positive and proud that you are creating something new out of nothing.
This is hard work and you have to remember that you’re brave for striking out on your own—never forget that!
Alisha Ramos is the founder of Girls’ Night In, a community and weekly newsletter for women who’d rather stay in tonight. Subscribe to the email here and follow on Instagram here.
January is Self-Care Month onGirlboss. Stay tuned for more stories on wellness, well-being and the ways we can all take better care of ourselves (and each other) in 2018.