Now is burnout really a thing?

I never used to believe in such a concept before I started this latest business, but events over the past 6-7 months have changed my mind a little bit on the concept and here is why…

In May 2016 I began opening a shop in the central shopping area of Barcelona and at the end of June we opened our doors to the public. Now, this shop is large enough and busy enough that we need 2 people here at all times, 3 during the busier periods. Initially we were only 3 people working and as the store is open from ten in the morning till 9 at night every day that meant 11 hours a day, 7 days a week, every week (not including the mountain of admin work needed outside of this!). Now I am not against pulling hard work and putting in a shift, but after 2 or so months of putting in well in excess of 90h (someone has to do the admin, clean, fix what is broken…) things begin to get a bit different.

At this point I began to notice things. For one, I slept a lot more. In fact all of my spare time was basically taken up by eating or sleeping. Socialising became tricky because of this (sorry to all of my friends who are feeling neglected, it’s nothing personal!) as did virtually any other activity outside of work. Fun. Moreover, I noticed that my focus diminished significantly. Where as before I could easily crush out entire days without a single slip or spend several hours staring at a spreadsheet, now it had become a challenge to maintain that focus for even 45 minutes. The will was there, but the brain didn’t want to follow suit.

After a couple of months we got more employees on board and this enabled me to start taking some time off. At first it was just a few hours one afternoon a week (during which I would basically go home and sleep before coming back to work) and after a while I ended up getting a whole day (yeh, like the whole day!) free. Generally I used this time to get out of the city, travel to the countryside and do some peaceful activities (or go to the beach), anything that would help rest both body and mind. And it worked.

By the time I returned to work the following day I was back to my energised best, smashing entire days and loving the spreadsheets once more! And so, this pattern has continued for the past 4 or so months (although admittedly i’m back on 7 days a week over christmas). But now, even with my time off, I find myself coming back tired. Focus is hard, sleep is essential and exercise is difficult (even though I truly believe this to be an essential part of good mental performance – in fact I wholeheartedly advocate trading some extra sleeping time for 1-2 hours of exercise whenever you can – more on that later).

To clarify, I love my job. I love the company I have created, the people I work with and the direction in which everything is travelling. This is merely a comment on the psychological effects of working long hours, consistently without what people would call adequate rest. Is it burnout? I don’t know. Can I carry on working like this? Yeh, of course, but I can see visible signs that my productivity has decreased markedly.

Overall I really see the purpose and effect of downtime outside of just having fun. Free time is not a waste for a driven person. It is essential to recharge and come back refuelled, ready to tackle the challenges that lay ahead. If you think i’m just being a pathetic then I challenge you… try it for 6 months and then watch your productivity scores plummet!

Too Educated?

We all know the story. Genius kid drops out of Ivy League University to start tech company that goes on to be the biggest thing in the world. But do we every really think about the implication of the first part, the dropping out of school and what we can really understand from that?

Most people when analysing the stories of Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and all of the other ‘great’ drop-outs seem to suggest that the school’s ‘rigid’ set-up and structure were too restricting for these young entrepreneurs, but is this really the truth?

From my personal experience school was never difficult. I attended a reputable high-school and went on to one of the UKs top universities achieving very high grades the whole way through. But as I was mid-way through university a thought struck me. Every time I took an exam I would cram for a couple of days before, pass with ease and then instantly forget virtually everything I had just learned. This was no learning experience, it was a game. A game with specific rules which if you followed them you were bound to win. And so I did. And guess what? I won. It was easy. I could do all of my work in one tenth of the time of most other students and yet I would still come out with the highest grades. But the reality dawned on me that I wasn’t truly learning or progressing, so I went looking for other projects, which is when I truly became engrossed in entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship presented a different challenge. A blank slate. No rules. A different game every time. Something with no guide book, no structure, an open field. It challenged me. It scared me. Everything was so open and there was no one to blame but myself if things didn’t go well. I couldn’t turn around and say the teacher didn’t help me enough or that the company doesn’t have the resources. It was up to me.

Starting companies is not school. School is not starting companies. Modern school is designed for workers. Tick the boxes, pass the tests and forego the serious task of learning about the world and growing into an independent human. Exams are not the devil, they are necessary to display progress, however making the school experience entirely about passing these exams is a fatal error which has lead to the type of ‘game’ with rules that I referred to earlier.

So finally, can one be too educated? In the sense that if you stick in school, play the game, get good grades and trust that you are being given the best education possible then yes, I believe you can be. Because you are not being truly educated. Only by breaking out of the ‘education system’ in a broader sense can you open your eyes to what a true education is. We never stop learning, education doesn’t just finish at school, and neither does it require formal classes or workshops. It is something that we do every day, and to become truly educated learning from the world around you is something you must embrace and actively pursue. School could be the answer. But for right now, I would suggest for an entrepreneur, it is not.

Getting Going.

So the concept of this site is for to be able to share quickly and easily the small insights from my life that I find interesting. I am starting out with no formatting, logos or anything else, just a simple platform. Hopefully I can use this to find and publish short posts about things that can make a difference in the lives of others as well as my own.

For now, lets keep it simple. It’s a Sunday, in December, and as I have been doing for the past 6 months, i’m working. Without hard work you go nowhere. And ‘hard work’ doesn’t mean something that is necessarily complex or requires a lot of thought but rather a clearly defined task leading to progress towards a goal. Put in the hours when the others don’t and you will move towards your goal quicker than anyone else. And hence i’m here. Sunday, my favourite day to work.