The Business Edge Blog

January 4, 2011

Sleepless Nights of Entrepreneurs – 8 Causes


“My hands are locked up tight in fists
My mind is racing, filled with lists
of things to do and things I’ve done
Another sleepless night’s begun”.

Who Needs Sleep – The Bare Naked Ladies


Are You Sleeping Like a Baby?

It’s tough to be a business owner.  It can lead to stress and sleepless nights.  Whether your business is new or several years old, dealing with difficult clients, employees, competitors…there are a lot of things that can cause you to feel like you’ve been run over by a truck and keep you from getting the sleep that you need.

The good news is that you can address your sleeplessness once you know what might be causing it.  The business related causes may be:

1. Over Promising (and under delivering)

 There may come a time when you need to close a sale, or maybe you naturally promise too much to your customers.  Either way the quickest way to cause stress, disappoint your clients and get them talking about you (in a negative way) is to set their expectations too high and then fail to meet them.

Better approach: Sell them on things you know you can provide…and then ‘wow’ them!  Have you ever been to a restaurant or hired a service that was better than you expected?  You probably told several people what a great experience it was.  Great word of mouth advertising comes from clients who had their expectations exceeded and were ‘wowed’ along the way!

2.  Not truly delegating

Whether you’re a ‘control freak’ or you don’t have the time to train someone or you just know that no one could do it as well as you, not giving up responsibility is a sure path to working too long, limiting your opportunities and having sleepless nights.

Better Approach: Put the right people in the right positions, make sure everyone is clear on roles and responsibilities, and then let them do their job.  This may be tough at first, and there will be some challenges, but if you bear with it, you will substantially increase your capabilities (and get better sleep).

3. Constantly fighting fires (living in Quadrant I)

If you are consistently spending your time fighting fires, answering emails, voicemails, letters, bills, etc., then you are flying blind (and you probably feel stressed and overwhelmed since you have little control or visibility over where you’re going).  You’re trying to be a hero in your business, and that’s not your role.

Better Approach: It’s counter-intuitive.  When you feel that you don’t have enough time to get things done, that’s exactly when you need to take some time out of your schedule and work on planning and mapping out where you want to go.  Start consciously spending much of your time in what Stephen Covey refers to as Quadrant II activities.  These are the Important but Not Urgent tasks.


4. Being Afraid

The myth: the entrepreneur is fearless.  The reality:  most small business owners are everyday people, often without much of a lifeline or reserve should things go wrong.  It’s natural to be afraid, but if that fear causes indecision, paralysis by analysis, or just drives you to be overly cautious, you’re going to have problems (and it’s likely you will not get a good night’s sleep).

Better Approach: Recognize the risks that are causing the fear and develop contingency plans just in case things do go badly.  You can’t control everything, but you can plan for the worst and hope for the best.  Talk to peers, friends, a coach, or a mentor if you find yourself getting really bogged down.  The worst thing you can do is let paralysis set in.

5. Lack of Consistency

One of the biggest issues that business owners face is the dreaded rollercoaster effect – ramp up sales and marketing, land some work, take your focus off marketing, and when work slows down again, ramp up marketing and sales and hope there’s not a long dry spell in between.  If you’ve ever been a passenger in a car with a driver who graduated from the “gas on/gass off” school of driving you know how seasick you can get using this method. 

Better Approach: Implement a marketing system and make sure that you are doing some marketing and sales activities all the time.  In order for marketing to be effective over the long run, it needs to be done consistently.  Find a handful of marketing tactics that you enjoy (or at least don’t mind) and put them on your 2011 calendar as regular scheduled activities.

6. Chasing Shiny Objects (losing focus)

As a business owner it’s your nature and in your job description to look for new opportunities – different, better ways to make money.  The problem is when you start chasing all the shiny objects, you take your eye off the ball on your core business and all of a sudden you’ve got nothing tangible going on (and you’re exhausted).  You’re off the map and drifting.

Better Approach: Be very clear (with yourself and your team) about what’s most important for business success.  Know where you’re going.  If something new and shiny comes along that’s not part of that equation, take note of it, but keep your focus.  If it really is too good to pass up, then determine what you’re going to STOP doing when you start going after the new opportunity.  Realize you can’t do everything (and if you try you’ll fail).

7. Going it alone

You probably became a business owner because you see yourself as someone who doesn’t need a lot of direction or a lot of help.  You’re independent and proud of it!  The reality is that big success happens when you find other people that you can lean on, learn from and collaborate with.

Better Approach: Find someone to talk to about your business.  That could be a formal board of directors, a mastermind group, a coach, or a business or two that you can form a strategic alliance with.  Find a way to tie into a network of people who can help you see your blind spots, encourage you or hold you accountable to do the things you need to do…whatever’s needed!  Every successful business out there has someone they got help from – you can’t do it by yourself and hope to succeed in the long run.

8. Not Sleeping or taking care of yourself

Maybe it’s obvious, but the lack of sleep or just generally not taking care of yourself will lead to stress, poor decisions and poor performance, which lead to additional nights of poor sleep.  It doesn’t take long to dig a pretty deep hole.

Better Approach: Set serious guidelines and barriers for when you’re working and when you’re not working and stick to them.  Put time in your schedule for exercise (even just taking a walk).  Make sure you’re eating right.  Find time to hang out with friends and family.  You might think you don’t have time for any of this, but how long can your business run without you if you’re out sick?

2011 – the year to get some sleep!

Now is a great time to start identifying those things in your business that are causing you stress and sleepless nights and find a way to make them better.  It won’t be easy, but climbing the hill will give you the perspective you need to grow your business (and free yourself up) in a healthy way.  If you’d like help identifying what’s going on with your business or what you could do about it, contact me for a complimentary first session.

What keeps you up at night?  Share your thoughts in the comments below, I’d love to hear them



  1. I am guilty of all 8! It seems there is always “one more thing to do”. Tackling your recommendations one at a time will allow me to be more productive, work smarter, and get a better night’s rest. Thank you for your great suggestions. They will be very helpful.

    Comment by chipwellness — February 15, 2011 @ 8:21 am | Reply

  2. ZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzz

    Comment by Chief — February 28, 2011 @ 5:17 pm | Reply

  3. Great post! I resemble some of those remarks. Thanks.

    Comment by Danielle — March 2, 2011 @ 4:09 pm | Reply

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