Attorney Jessica Vittorio Shares Her 4 Tips for Entrepreneurial Wellness

With so much focus being placed on working hard and getting things done, there’s little attention paid to the overall wellness of entrepreneurs. But not paying attention to your well being can harm your productivity at work and your personal life. Labs mentor Jessica Vittorio, managing attorney of The Law Office of Jessica Vittorio, held a session to discuss her four tips for combating stress, recognizing burnout, and reaching out for help.

Tip #1: Create a to-do list to start your day

Getting your day off on the right foot can make a huge difference in your mood and overall well-being. To help, Vittorio recommends taking out a few minutes to create a to-do list that notes the top three things you have to get done that day and the five things you’d ideally like to accomplish. “It’s important to recognize that you can be done with work, and it's okay to be done once you accomplish these things,” Vittorio says. “Instead, what a lot of entrepreneurs do is have this endless running to-do list, and they never feel that sense of, okay, I've done what I need to do for today, and now I can close it. There's a lot of guilt associated with that feeling of, I've accomplished what I need to for today, so I'm going to set my work down.”

But to-do lists can lose their usefulness unless you prioritize your tasks efficiently. Vittorio recommends splitting up your to-do list into three categories: high-priority, medium-priority, and low-priority. “High-priority being, if I don't get it done today, there's going to be some sort of tangible, negative consequence to that. Everything seems high-priority, especially as your business is growing quickly. But these need to have tangible consequences based on deadlines,” Vittorio says. Medium-priority tasks are those that are still important but can be completed within the next week or two. “And then I categorize low-priority as tasks that are one-off thoughts,” Vittorio says. “Anything that you think would be cool to do and have an interest in, but won’t have negative consequences as a result of not doing it.”

Tip #2: Make sleep a priority

Not getting enough sleep can lead to inefficiency at work, stress, and, eventually, burnout. It may not be possible to sleep the recommended 8 hours a day, but trying your best to get as much sleep as possible is essential. “Sleep is one of the only things in a given situation that I think entrepreneurs feel they have control over. They can control whether they sleep three hours or eight hours a night. I can't control the number of tasks that I have coming in,” Vittorio says. “It’s important to recognize that sleep is important, and it does serve a role. Once sleep starts to diminish, there’s a trickle-down effect. You can still be working ten hours a day, but because your brain isn’t sharp and rested, you're not being productive.”

But even if you’re getting 8 hours of sleep a night, establishing a consistent “go-to-bed” routine can be a huge challenge. “Set an alarm on your phone to signal, ‘at 9:00 PM, I'm stopping work.’ But that alarm needs to be a hard stop,” Vittorio says. “After you’ve ended your day, reading a book or meditating can be a great way to transition to sleep time. Something that is still engaging your brain, but allows you to disconnect from whatever it is that you were working on and disconnect from that stress.” But if you decide to read a book, try not to read something business or entrepreneurship related. “Reading these types of books is going to trigger all of those to-do lists in your mind, and you’re not going actually to wind down,” Vittorio says. “So do your personal reading in the evening, and work-related readings in the morning.”

Once you lay down in your bed, it signals to your body and brain that it’s time for rest. But if you continue to work even while you’re in bed, it can confuse your body and disrupt your sleep routine. So try to leave your work computer or any work-related tasks out of the bedroom. “There are a lot of studies on that show that it helps to create separation mentally between where you sleep and where you work,” Vittorio says. “If you mix those things in your mind, then you’ll end up creating a physical response when you lay down for bed. Your body won’t know if you’re sleeping or working.”

Tip #3: Recognize the signs of burnout

With the hustle culture that surrounds startups, burnout is something that ends up affecting a lot of entrepreneurs. Some of the symptoms of burnout are mental and physical exhaustion and is a result of long periods of stress. “I think burnout is something that a lot of us deal with. I think it's a combination of the two things that we just talked about—an inability to prioritize and this constant feeling of being overwhelmed. And then not physically taking care of yourself or sleeping well,” Vittorio says. “For me, burnout looks a couple of different ways. I'll get really unmotivated, and I'll start procrastinating a lot, and I just don't feel inspired or excited about anything. Those are generally signs of burnout.”

Some of the leading causes of burnout are stress as a result of not getting enough rest and not giving yourself time to do things enjoy outside of work. “This hustle culture that's been created in the startup community is just not healthy. You’re not doing you or your business any favors by hustling 24/7. It's significantly better, both for you and the business, to hold some time for yourself as sacred,” Vittorio says. “I think that taking some weekends off, absent emergency situations, holding your weekends as your own is very important to give yourself time to prioritize you, your family, or anything you hold close to you.”

Tip #4: Ask other entrepreneurs for help or advice

As an entrepreneur, whenever you’re feeling stressed or just need some advice, it’s essential to realize that you have a large community of people to talk to. “I think that it's hard to have conversations about burnout or stress with individuals who aren't familiar with the entrepreneurial experience because it is really unique,” Vittorio says. “Someone who has a traditional 9 to 5 may be tired, but they don't understand the constant pressure, anxiety, and emotional roller coaster of entrepreneurship.”

Whether you have a mentor who you ask for advice every month or a friend who you meet for dinner once a week, don’t be afraid to ask for help and talk about how you’re feeling. “I sometimes think, just having someone else who's been there to acknowledge that what you're feeling is not unique, and what you're feeling is acceptable, and it doesn't mean that you're failing,” Vittorio says. “I think we, as a community, should have honest conversations about the difficulties of entrepreneurship.”

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This post is based on content from a WeWork Labs programming session.

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