How to Avoid Burnout: 3 Startup Bosses Talk Work-Life Wellness

For most startups, long-term success requires not just a shrewd business plan, but blood, sweat and tears, too. So how do you avoid burnout while tackling a never-ending to-do list? We asked three Toronto goal-getters—Julie Harrish of 6ix Cycle, Lauren Toyota of Hot for Food, and Kate Taylor Martin of Nutbar—to share their strategies for work-life wellness, despite the nonstop demands of running their own show.

Julie Harrish, Co-founder of 6ix Cycle

Julie Harrish of 6ix Cycle in Toronto
Julie Harrish of 6ix Cycle in Toronto (Photo: Adam Deunk)

Julie Harrish, 35, was a technical sales rep for an Alberta oil and gas company when a visit to Toronto inspired a total career pivot. “The economic downturn in Alberta created a spark for my husband, Sheldon, and I to start looking for opportunities outside the industry. I came to Toronto on a business trip in June 2016 and noticed a lack of options for indoor cycling, particularly in the inner city, and over post-work cocktails with a colleague, the idea of 6ix Cycle was born,” says Harrish. “Then a meeting with my boss in mid-July lit the fire for us to pursue the idea when he asked me, ‘What’s next for you? Where do you see yourself in the next five years?’ Those simple questions were enough of a push to start this journey.” 6ix Cycle (1163 Queen Street West, Toronto) opened its doors in April 2017, with the goal of delivering spin classes with the vibe of a Vegas night club.

On the most rewarding part of startup life:

“We found our original group of instructors by posting on Instagram and asking people on the street or at businesses in the area if they, or someone they knew, would be interested in teaching spin. Our family started with 15 instructors training in the living room of my Parkdale apartment to a handful of riders, and has grown into the strong community we have now. Watching that community [grow] has been worth every ounce of effort.”

On fighting fatigue with a good sweat session:

“No matter how bad my day is going or how tired I am, a spin class will turn my day around. I walk out of the room feeling recharged and ready to take on the world. We call that a spin high.”

On eating well when life’s chaotic:

“Eating clean, organic whole foods with appropriate supplementation ensures my body is fuelled to perform and self-maintain. I take branched-chain amino acids, electrolytes and magnesium to repair my muscles post-workout, a multivitamin and the basics (vitamins C and D) to get what I’m missing from food, and a probiotic for my digestive system. When my life became chaotic, I hired a local meal prep company, Eat Train Live, to ensure my husband and I would have properly balanced meals. The jerk chicken and the Thai basil ground beef are my favourites, but the menu changes weekly.”

On making “me time”:

“Everyone defines this differently. I love to hit the weight room or jump into a CrossFit class at Academy of Lions to release stress and re-focus my thoughts.”

On finding zen at a great bar:

“Taking a step away from the studio to enjoy food and drinks with friends helps me manage stress. One of my favourite spots is a bar called The Beaver, right across the street from the studio on Queen Street. The staff are very friendly and they have a pretty cool hidden gem of a patio in the back.”

On mastering the catnap:

“We are fortunate enough to live within walking distance of the studio, so on those days when I’m dragging, sometimes heading home for a quick nap is the answer. I have also set the bedtime reminder on my phone to go off at 10:30 P.M. The alarm goes off and I head to bed half an hour later. I’m usually in bed around 11 P.M. and up at 5:45 A.M.”

Lauren Toyota, Vegan YouTuber, Hot for Food

Lauren Toyota of Hot for Food
Lauren Toyota of Hot for Food

You might recognize Lauren Toyota, 35, from her days as a MuchMusic VJ, interviewing stars like Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift. Today, as Canada’s top vegan influencer and one of YouTube Canada’s Women to Watch, she puts her on-air gifts to work on her own channels, Lauren In Real Life and Hot for Food (which is also the name of her vegan food blog). With her down-to-earth, all-access candor, Toyota dishes on her plant-based lifestyle, meditation rituals and travel adventures. Her super laid-back approach to cooking, often tossing together whatever fresh ingredients she has in her fridge, has drawn a growing fan base; her most popular recipe, Cauliflower Wings 3 Ways, has been watched more than 865,000 times. Coming soon is her irreverent new cookbook, Vegan Comfort Classics: 101 Recipes to Feed Your Face (think: vegan mac ’n’ cheese and raspberry funfetti pop tarts), which launches February 2018 (you can pre-order on Amazon). 

The best part of having her own business:

Having total creative freedom.”

The hardest part of startup life:

“Taking on too much and feeling like I’m not doing enough to grow my business. Also, just saying no.”

The health habit Toyota considers a life-changer:

“I swear by meditation. It’s helped me a lot with staying focused while running this business from home and trying to manage anxieties and stress. I have a room in my house set up for yoga and meditation and it’s amazing. I created a little sanctuary in there with candles, crystals, pillows and plants. I usually use an app called Insight Timer. It’s basically a social network of meditators, and there are thousands of free meditations on it. There’s so much, you’ll never get bored. I also recommend listening to a podcast of meditations by Sarah Blondin called Live Awake. It’s life-changing.” 

Kate Taylor Martin, Founder of Nutbar

Kate Taylor Martin of Nutbar
Kate Taylor Martin of Nutbar (Photo: Nathalia Allen)

Little did Kate Taylor Martin, 32, know that a PR stint at St. Michael’s Hospital would change the trajectory of her career. “It was at St. Mike’s that I really realized the full-blown health epidemic we are facing—the rates of heart disease, diabetes and obesity are skyrocketing, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so too are the terrible foods we’re consuming. It was there that I realized we have the power to take our health into our own hands and can control many of the ailments facing us today.” Motivated to create change, Martin signed up for night courses at the Institute of Holistic Nutrition. She then took note of Toronto’s lack of healthy, on-the-go food options and started dreaming of a beautiful space with a nutrient-dense yet delicious menu. Her concept has come to life with Nutbar, a Toronto-based “superfood snack café” in Summerhill (1240 Yonge Street, Toronto), offering energy balls, sweet and savoury toasts, bowls and assorted drinks—including, most famously, the $16 SmoothieA second Nutbar has just opened as part of the massive, new Assembly Chef’s Hall downtown (111 Richmond Street West, Toronto).

The best part of having her own business:

Knowing my team and I are working to improve the health of our community.”

The hardest part of startup life:

The 24/7 nature of running your own business—it never stops.”

Martin’s top five anti-stress strategies:

1. Disconnecting from digital: “It’s essential for my mental state to make a conscious effort to put away my phone. It is so easy to never stop thinking of the business, trying to stay on top of it all and responding immediately to e-mails and calls, but carving out some time to disconnect for a mental break is essential.” 

2. Making kid time: “I had my first child in July and being with him is the ultimate stress reliever. He slows everything down and brings so much joy.”

3. Practicing yoga: “I crave the sweat, stretch and stillness. I make going to a few classes a week at Moksha Yoga at Yonge and St. Clair a priority.”

4. Hanging with family and friends: “I’m happiest with my family and friends, so being with them feels like the best way to take care of myself.”

5. Deep breathing: “I love the idea that taking deep breaths can instantly switch your body from ‘fight or flight’ to ‘rest and digest’ mode. Any time I feel my heart race, I remind myself of this and focus on deep breathing. It instantly changes how I feel.” 

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