It’s a recipe that can take 12 to 18 hours a day on full-throttle as you juggle the demands of human resources, accounting and budgeting, sales, customer service, webmaster and marketing.
If you’re one of those small business entrepreneurs who feels the pressure of time and you don’t take breaks for yourself, you are on a slippery slope toward ineffectiveness or, worse, a health crisis.
We’ve been there. When John owned his sound production studio, Montage Multi-piste, in Montreal, he was responsible for sales, production, mixing, maintenance and money. Working 18 hours a day was absolutely normal – until he ended up in hospital with stress-related health issues and he saw the damage he was doing.
When Boni was a cub reporter and television anchor at a small station in Prince George, B.C., producing and hosting a daily live talk show at 9:30 a.m., then anchoring live newscasts at noon, 3 and 5 p.m., her boss would tell her she needed to get out of the newsroom for a break mid-day. She rarely did. Years later, Boni was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a stress-related autoimmune disorder.
But you’re strong as an ox, right? Your health and your immune system can hold up to that constant pounding and self-driven pressure, right?
That may be, but by not taking a break, you’re harming your business, too.
Cynthia Barlow has been coaching leaders and entrepreneurs for nearly 30 years. And she often warns about the business perils of not taking breaks.
“When you’re on at work too long for too often, you drain your energy reserves – like a battery – and need to recharge,” says Barlow, president of C3 Conversations. “The brain becomes fuzzy, unable to focus, the body becomes lethargic and the soul becomes numb.”
Operating a business while your brain and body are in this suppressed state will affect your ability to make sound decisions. You won’t be able to step back out of the day-to-day minutiae to think about the big picture, to set your vision and strategy or plan for the future.
Here are a few signs you’re in this no-grow zone, simultaneously doing too much (at work) and doing too little (no breaks):
- Waking up in the wee hours of the night with worry or stress;
- Loss of joy;
- Loss of sense of humour;
- Losing track of the status of projects;
- Making decisions that turn out poorly or that backfire;
- Require several shots of espresso throughout the day;
- You’re too busy to take a break.
“Taking a break, a real break with no iPhone, emails or laptop allows space for the right brain to emerge, which is the creative, feeling part of you,” explains Barlow. “Entering this space is what replenishes your battery.”
Barlow says there are two approaches to taking breaks.
Building them into your day.
- Do walk-and-talk meetings. Get out of the office. Move your body. The brain works better.
- Desk yoga: Every hour or so, stand up and stretch your arms to the ceiling. Bend down and touch your toes. Turn side to side in your chair and twist your spine.
- Take five-minute breaks – no calls, no email – and just breathe: inhale to count of four, hold for two, exhale for six.
Taking an actual vacation.
- It doesn’t have to be costly, try a staycation.
- Put your email and phone away.
- Read books, watch movies.
- Let your right brain play: pull out your guitar or your paints.
Barlow stresses (no pun intended) the importance of leaving your work behind if you do take the family away for a vacation.
If you take your work with you, “It’s no break at all, in fact it has counter effects. The smartphone negates the break, the family resents your absence, you feed your guilt machine, which further exacerbates the stress cycle.”
So add another important job to your long list of responsibilities: director of self-care. Your body and your business will love you for it.
Between them, Boni and John Wagner-Stafford have five decades of experience as entrepreneurs and/or providing consulting services to other small businesses across Canada. Their latest book is Rock Your Business: 26 Essential Lessons to Plan, Run, and Grow Your New Business From the Ground Up.