Let’s talk about burnout

As a solo entrepreneur, burnout is easily among the most frustrating problems you can face. Unfortunately, I face it pretty regularly.

When you’re the only full-time person at your business, it’s a major issue. You’ll find your projects falling behind. You’ll realise you don’t have passion for personal or side projects. And there’s often no-one to pick up the slack.

I’m going through a pretty bad case of burnout right now. In fact, I’ve been going through it for a few months now. Originally, I had planned to use my December-through-January break to rest and recuperate, but that didn’t quite work out. The “resting” I was doing was really anything but; instead of resting to restore my creative energy, I was resting to restore basic bodily functions. When I was finally “back to work”, my creative energy was (is) still out-to-lunch, leaving me in the lurch.

Even though I have my illness to blame for this prolonged burnout, it’s ultimately just a bit player. This particular case of burnout stretches back to late-November, and is just the latest revival of a long-running show. Realising that the problem wasn’t going away, I started laying the groundwork in November of last year for combatting burnout.

So here’s what I’m doing, now, in 2015, to help prevent future burnout.

Outsourcing more

I’m a huge proponent of outsourcing, so this was a good place to start. There were certain procedural tasks in my business that often weighed over me, whether I accomplished them or not. By outsourcing those, I can safely “remove” them from my brain, leaving more space to focusing on tasks I actually care about.

Raising the rates

I’ve known for a while that Van Patten Media’s standard hourly rate didn’t really match up with the high quality of our work, so late last year I decided the time had come to raise our agency rate. This has the direct benefit of reducing the number of clients I need to take on at any given time, because I’m less concerned about meeting a minimum income level. And ultimately, because I’ll be working with fewer clients, the clients I am working with will experience a higher quality of service, with fewer delays and more focus.

It also means I feel more comfortable bringing on new team members and contractors, because I know the budget can safely support it. This lets me focus on the parts of the project I enjoy, so I don’t lose my steam on things that I’m not passionate about.

Reducing work time

The other benefit (and one I hadn’t originally considered) of raising our agency rate was that I’m less compelled to work quite so much. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m aiming to confine client work to roughly 4 hours per day. It might not sound like a lot, but as we’ve improved our development processes and outsourced certain repetitive tasks, we are—as the expression goes—”working smarter, not harder.”

So those are just a few of the ways I’m aiming to fight burnout in the future. For this current case, I’m fighting it as I often have: lots of sleep, lots of tea, and lots of reading. Hopefully, with these new tactics, it’ll be the last case of burnout for quite a while.

The belated “welcome to 2015” post

Hello, long-neglected blog. My bad. I have excuses, but they’re not entirely convincing. So where have I been?

The short version is “not working.” The long version is “not working and not by choice, sort of.” I went into the end of 2014 with a planned vacation; I wanted to give myself a month to recover from the insanity of autumn (lots of travel, lots of client projects, etc.) and work on a few personal projects. My “magic dates” were December 19 through January 19th. Or so I thought.

As always, life intervened, and while I was able to get through to the new year, I was hit with a pretty terrible illness on January 1st. I will spare you the messy details, but the PG version is that I was stuck in bed, unable to digest food, barely able to move (literally; I left my apartment maybe three times in a two week period), and completely and utterly exhausted. 15–16 hours of sleep per day was not out of the ordinary.

Fortunately, after multiple doctors visits and multiple prescriptions, I’m nearly fighting fit, and back to work. Although I didn’t get any time to work on personal projects, I’m being a bit smarter about how I structure my time this year. I’m aiming to dedicate around 4 hours a day to clients, and 3 to my own projects. I’m not sure yet how this will work, but the idea is sound, at the very least.

There’s a lot on the horizon too. Foremost in my mind is my impending trip abroad. I’ll be spending at least a month—perhaps two—in Barcelona. It’s my first major longish-term trip overseas in a few years, and I can’t wait. This is going to be a great opportunity to get the relaxation I missed while I was sick, and experience a partial winter without snow. I’m leaving in late February, which is coming sooner than I think.

In preparation for the trip I’m doing a lot of downsizing and minimising. I’ve always been a minimalist, but this travel is a great opportunity to take it to a new level. I doubt I’ll ever reach one-bag living—and I’m not sure I want to—but I still know I can do more with less. Even this blog has been hit; I’ve moved from my custom theme to WordPress’ default theme, 2015. I’ll probably make a few tweaks (namely fonts), but I’m already loving the extra breathing room.

Oh, and I’ve picked my three words for the year (though I’m not dedicating a post to them as in years past). The words are bold, brave, and fearless. Similar, yes, but they are going to help me focus on getting more assertive, forward, and direct. Fear is the root of so many problems we encounter and I want to devote this year to eradicating it from my life.

Anyway, that’s where we’re at so far, just a month in. Thanks for tuning in, as always, and I’ll talk to you soon in the comments, via email, or on Twitter.

Notes from WordCamp Toronto 2014

10755916_706593179448053_1303361007_nI was so happy to make my final WordCamp of 2014 WordCamp Toronto! I last spoke at WordCamp Toronto in 2012 and had a blast, even though I was fighting a nasty cold. This time was much better personal health-wise, and I hope you loved my talk!

The slides from my talk, Project Management 101, are embedded below. Please feel free to send me questions, comments, and notes.

Travel Tips

I’ve just finished off a series of speaking engagements and events that have required a lot of travel—six cities since mid-August—and have had a lot of time to practice and hone my travel skills.

Here are a few travel tips that guide my “travel philosophy”. Hopefully they’ll help you too.

1. Pack light

Packing light is the cornerstone of my strategy. For me, that means packing my entire trip into a single bag (this one, if you’re curious).

Because I restrict myself to one bag, I’m forced to make tough decisions about what stays and what goes, which is why I need to…

2. Pack smart

With so little space to fill, I need to be extra savvy about what to pack. That process starts by cutting out everything but the essentials, but also involves choosing gear that’s as light and/or multifunctional as possible.

For example, I often used to carry a single shirt for wearing under button-downs, and another shirt for wearing to bed at night. By switching to a shirt from Uniqlo’s Airism line, I’m able to get a single shirt that can do double duty, because it resists odors and wrinkles (Airism gear is also incredibly lightweight, which is just as important).

I also try to be smart about what I’ll actually need. I never pack liquids, because I know I can get them when I arrive at my destination, and it helps to avoid TSA complexities.

3. Last on, first off

When using air travel with designated seating, there’s no reason to wait in long, crowded lines, unless you need to ensure space in the overhead bins on a flight. Because I pack just one bag (that’s well within the “personal item” allowed by most airlines), I don’t have the same rush.

I also make sure I pick aisle seats (close to the front of the plane) whenever possible. Most people new to air travel go for windows, because they want to see the world from above—and that’s cool. But once you’ve become a flying pro, you quickly realise that the aisle seats are best. They give you slightly more room to stretch out (unless the flight attendants are doing drink service) and they’re easier to get in and out of without manoeuvring around other passengers.

The double whammy of packing light and choosing an aisle seat means I can wait until lines have cleared to board, because I can stow my bag under the seat (don’t have to worry about space in the overhead bins) and because I can sit down quickly without bothering the other fliers in my row.

4. Be prepared for security

The biggest bottleneck/time suck at any airport (especially domestic airports) is the security line. You can help this process along—and minimise stress—by being prepared.

I usually carry a wallet, pens, headphones, and other similar gear in my pockets. Rather than rush to take everything out when I’m loading my stuff in the security bins, I take a few moments (usually in the cab ride to the airport) to get everything out in advance and into a pocket on my backpack. The only things I keep with me are my identification and cell phone (for the mobile boarding pass).

While waiting in line to enter security, I also make sure to take off my belt and untie my sneakers. If I have enough time, I’ll take my laptop out of my backpack, just so it’s ready to go.

It may all be “security theatre”, but being prepared for the routine will help you get through quickly, efficiently, and on time.

5. Always remain calm

Travel is a great excuse to practice meditation and mindfulness. Whenever something goes wrong—whether it’s turbulence, missed connections, or anything else that’s unexpected—having a calm mindset is essential.

For example, one of my flights this past weekend was diverted. Instead of landing in Houston, we were forced to land in Austin due to inclement weather. As soon as the announcement was made, the plane erupted into panicked chatter and confusion. When we touched down in Austin, it got more pronounced as the cell phones were brought out to try to figure out what to do.

Some travellers left the plane to attempt to figure out plans. Others were on the phone trying to figure out what was going on with customer service agents who knew as little as anyone else.

In the thick of that, I focused on staying calm and continuing to read. When things had died down a bit, I got an Internet connection, used TripIt to find an alternate flight, and—by providing exact flight numbers—was able to get myself quickly booked on the next open flight. I also put myself on standby for a few earlier flights.

Because I was calm, and had a good understanding of exactly what needed to be done—and focused on that—I was able to get to my final destination much sooner than many of the other passengers on the flight. And when we did finally land in Houston, and I saw the mobs trying to get information from customer service, I was contented with the fact that my flights were well taken care of.

So those are a few of my travel tips. What are yours? Share in the comments.