How to Avoid Entrepreneur Overload

Last Updated Apr 4, 2011 3:03 PM EDT

By Joe Robinson
Overwork went straight to Douglas Heddings' back. The founder of Heddings Property Group in New York City, Heddings has suffered from chronic stress-related back pain for more than a decade. Even as he recuperated from spine surgery, the pace didn't let up. His inbox filled at the rate of 50 e-mails per hour. The back problem "has a great deal to do with the fact that I feel I have to be on call 24/7," Heddings says.

"This is not good for my mental and physical well-being."
Researchers agree. Frequent long hours can increase stress and touch off a host of health hazards, including insomnia and high blood pressure. Poor decision-making starts to creep in. And unlike your laptop, your system doesn't have an internal fan to cool it down.

A 2006 study at the University of California, Irvine found that chronic workweeks of more than 51 hours can triple the risk of hypertension. And, after looking over the data from a British study of civil servants, Marianna Virtanen of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health found that workdays of 11 or 12 hours increase the risk of coronary events by 56 percent. Stress is the culprit, triggering the release of hormones that help contribute to plaque build-up inside arteries. Long days were also linked to sleep problems and depression.

Constant work can lead to what the Japanese call karoshi--death by overwork. Researchers in Japan have found a link between long hours, high blood pressure, heart disease and an unhealthy lifestyle--no exercise, sleeplessness, poor eating habits, fewer medical visits and increased anxiety and strain. Sound familiar?

"I get a lot less sleep [than I need]--less than six hours a night," says Katie Danziger, whose New York City-based company, nomie baby, sells parent-sanity-saving washable car seat covers and stroller blankets. Like many overloaded entrepreneurs, Danziger doesn't get any exercise. Instead, she turns all her time over to nomie baby and her three kids.

If you don't take of yourself, you can't take care of your business. But that bit of common sense usually gets trampled by overload and its partner, stress. Stop for a second? Not possible. Delegate? It would take too long to explain the how-tos to a staffer. Take a break to refuel? Too much to do. Shut off the BlackBerry at night? Might miss a sale.

Entrepreneurs are, of course, an action-oriented bunch by definition. That's usually a good thing. But a bias toward action can get in the way of the thinking needed to set limits and work smart. Too many entrepreneurs default to reactive behavior, reflexively jumping to the chime of a new e-mail, the pressure of a ticking clock and other external pressures and interruptions. They let technology and time manage them. This leads to the burnout model of work--they just keep going until the paramedics arrive.

The reality is that no matter how driven you may be, your body wasn't built to take on a 24/7 world. Endless work hours don't lead to increased productivity or innovation. That comes from a rested, refreshed and energized brain. You can get more done in less time when you know when to say when.

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