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!

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