Articles written by guest contributors

Jeremy Martin
Jeremy Martin
Avoiding burnout
Some ideas for dealing with record consumer demand.
By Jeremy Martin

For the majority of readers, I don’t need to explain why I’m writing this article. Back in Spring 2020 things were a little slow due to Covid concerns. With just a few calls trickling in, we worked on annual landscape maintenance and hardscape projects that were scheduled pre-pandemic.

While it was a concerning time, it was great to have more family time in what is normally a busy, stressful time of year. But, by August 2020, we were hit by a spike in demand that hasn’t abated yet.

The phone doesn’t quit. The website leads keep rolling in. Existing clients want more work done. Referrals keep coming. The projects have grown in scale, and often we are the general contractor managing subs such as carpenters, electrical, plumbing, gas, HVAC, etc. While exciting, those projects demand a lot more time both during design and build. And burnout is real.

What IS burnout?
Mayo Clinic defines job burnout as “a special type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity. ‘Burnout’ isn't a medical diagnosis.”

Fire is a wonderful thing (short of burnout). Mankind can’t live without it. It keeps us warm, cooks our food, and comforts us. Think about it. How many outdoor living projects include grills and fire pits? We crave the sight and warmth of fire, even today. Picture an old oil lamp, burning bright with polished glass. It can burn for many hours, needing only to be refueled to keep generating light for people nearby.

Compare this to fireworks. Fireworks have LOTS of light. Noise. Drama. They attract huge crowds. Each one lasts seconds, and the show is over in less than an hour, leaving only smoke and a traffic jam of people trying to leave the area.

When dealing with this record streak of consumer demand for our trade, how do we keep shining like a lamp and avoid flaming out like fireworks? Please, when you figure it out, send me your solutions because I need them too!

However, it’s not just crazy demand that burns us out. There are other stress factors at work that can cause burnout, and certainly I’ve felt it at other times over my career. Here are some things I have found over the years that have helped.

Find a friend to vent
It can be tough to find a friend who really gets it. Most friends from my social circles wouldn’t really understand it, and while I might share some things, I’m not going to touch the deep stuff.

A fellow contractor can be the perfect fit, because they get it. I’m fortunate to have one such friend, and we joke about being 2 guys hitting their mid-life crisis and grumbling about anything and everything. Nevertheless, it’s nice to have that kind of friend.

A spouse might also be a good sounding board, but use some caution. Not that we’re trying to hide issues from our spouse, of course, but dragging workplace problems home isn’t always a great idea.

Regardless of whom you choose, make sure the conversation is confidential. There’s an unwritten rule (and in some cases, it is written!) that employees can complain about their boss, and clients can leave negative reviews everywhere. But it’s a one-way street: employers aren’t supposed to be bashing their crew or their clients! Never let others find out your frustrations except directly from you in a professional manner.

Delegate some responsibility
Delegating might include assigning more project management tasks to the foreman. Maybe it’s hiring some additional people. Look at all the tasks you’re responsible for now. What can you easily delegate? What do you enjoy the most or least? At which tasks are you best? What tasks sap most of your energy?

Perhaps delegating means hiring a secretary, or a designer. It may require giving up certain processes that you really love. Recognize where you’re creating your own pain and limiting growth, and make a conscious decision to sacrifice control in some areas to reach your business goals. Business owners tend to get in their own way.

Mentor somebody
This can have a wide range of applications. Maybe it’s a contractor new to our industry that you connected with on social media, and you’re there to answer his questions. Maybe it’s a new guy on your crew; I love seeing somebody learn new tasks and grow in confidence. Perhaps it’s teaching installer courses; I’ve been doing that for a few years now and love it.

Or, maybe offer to teach a shop class at the local high school; there’s nothing like teaching a group of energetic young people who are fascinated by our trade and are just about to enter the workforce. In short, pay it forward. “It’s better to give than to receive” is a biblical concept that’s thousands of years old, but it still works today.

Volunteer
Bonus points if you can include your crew in your volunteering activities. Pay it forward and get a crew bonding experience at the same time. Win-win. Just like mentoring, this makes you feel better! Depending on where you’re volunteering, you realize just how good your life really is compared to others!

Eliminate stressors
Remember the 80/20 rule… 80% of our problems are caused by 20% of our clients (or employees). Recognize that and refuse to tolerate it. Fix or eliminate it; easier said than done, but the relief afterwards is worth it.

Choose your projects wisely. Maybe it’s the huge, exciting projects that drain you; the headache of managing multiple trades on each project may not be worth it. Maybe it’s the small projects that frustrate you. Perhaps having to explain project details to the foreman and mobilizing equipment to another site every 3-5 days is annoying you.

Take a break
Maybe it’s a trip with family. Maybe it’s a road trip with the crew to a show. Make a deliberate decision to leave work behind and avoid checking messages.

Learn to say no
We want to please others. But if we over-commit, we satisfy nobody and exhaust ourselves. If you’re booked out 9 months, tell prospective customers you’re booked 11-12 months. You’ll lose many of them, but you have plenty of time to fill that funnel in the next 9 months! Under promise, over deliver.

Limit meeting new clients when you don’t need much additional work. If you have insufficient time to follow up with a quote in a timely manner, don’t schedule the initial consultation.

For us, we shut down new sales for 2 months to allow us time to catch up on projects already in the funnel. Voicemail and auto responders were changed to alert clients that we would begin processing new leads again on a certain date. This allowed us to ignore new leads without feeling guilty, as they knew they wouldn’t receive a quick response.

No pain, no gain. If you look at the above suggestions, some require hard decisions. Others take more of your time now, and pay back in the future. It may get worse before it gets better.

Take time to recharge in the off-season (if you have one), make strategic decisions, and get ready for the following spring refreshed. If you’ve got some tips for dealing with burnout, I’d love to hear it! Nobody ever reaches a point where “they’ve figured it all out”, and writing in a magazine doesn’t change that!

Jeremy Martin co-founded Willow Gates Landscaping in 2005. He became an ICPI instructor in 2016, NCMA in 2018. He also founded Dust Killer Tools to help his company meet 2017 OSHA silica standards. Email Jeremy@DustKiller.tools. Visit WillowGatesLandscaping.com and DustKiller.tools

Digital Edition
June/July 2022