Preventing Start-up Burnout

Preventing Start-up Burnout


As I sit and write this sentence I’ve been awake since 6am. It’s the Monday after a long weekend. I’ve worked through the past three weekends so I haven’t had a day off in a month and I’m feeling the effects. I actually enjoy working on my company so I work on any day. The challenge is choosing not to work when I am physically and mentally worn out.

There is such a thing as an effective break from work but there are also people who punctuate long breaks with spurts of work. That’s not effective. Strategic breaks will increase your ability to be productive.

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Rest is Part of the Job

Our culture has lead us down a dangerous path of busyness. We all have to be busy all of the time to justify the things we own and the money we spend. It’s a strange culture because I find that my most valuable ideas and strategies come when I am not working.

Rest allows you time to step away and gain perspective; to physically and mentally get back in the game. I see rest as an enabler for my passion and my work.

I’m not taking a break to be without my work but to be better at it.

You shouldn’t skip dinner, you should take your lunch break and you should carve out time to exercise. All of these routines will help you to be more productive. Numerous studies have shown that productivity turns sharply negative as we move beyond 40-hour weeks.

Let’s compare the word ’busy‘ with the word ’productive‘. I recently met up with a friend who is one of the most productive people I know. I asked him how he was and his reply was, ‘Productive.’ I love that. Being busy means you make sure you have a lot of things to do. Being productive means you complete the tasks at hand efficiently.


Being productive is not a fallacy. It’s not something reserved for the top tier of people who we admire in fitness adverts who look like they have it all. Being productive is most often about being realistic with your time, your task list and your expectations. It’s also important to understand some basics like how much sleep you require and what you want to do in your breaks.

Sleeping more than nine hours or less than six hours a night is not the optimal sleep allocation for most people. Eight hours is generally a good target. Be ruthless with your sleep, you need it to be productive.

Taking calculated breaks helps with your overall productivity. Long hours without a break often lead to more mistakes than progress. A study from a time-tracking productivity app, DeskTime, believes that the exact work breakdown should look like this:

Work for 52 minutes; break for 17 minutes

Let’s simplify the reasoning behind this approach to work. Your brain is a muscle and muscles need recovery time after a work out. If you’re working out for 52 minutes, your brain needs 17 minutes to recover so you can get another productive 52 minutes out.

The workover

Have you ever worked through a weekend and woken up on Monday feeling like you had pummelled a bottle of tequila the night before? I call that a workover – a hangover from work.

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Workovers are a result of continued periods of work without downtime to recover. Working hard and long hours can sometimes be necessary. I’ve often heard people say that they were victims of their own success.

A workover is the embodiment of becoming a victim of success. The better your company does, the more you have to work to keep up with demand that your success is creating.

This is where many start-ups hope to find themselves after a few years of building and creating their empires. The complicated part is knowing when your success is actually going to kill your business and team.

If you like to work hard and often, your team will follow your lead. You could be putting your entire business under unnecessary pressure when all you really need to do is take a day off.

It’s important to let your team know that they can and must, take their vacation days and weekends. Responsible business owners understand that happy and healthy staff make a successful business.

Nicholas Haralambous
Founder of the luxury sock company, , CEO and co-founder of Motribe before the company was successfully acquired by Mxit in August 2012. Listen to Nic’s new podcast, The Honest Entrepreneurs Club, by going to or download it on iTunes or Google Play.