Over the years, I’ve made several career decisions that may not have made much sense to the people around me. From quitting a steady office job to going all-in on business ideas no one else thought would work, I’ve suffered my fair share of entrepreneurial stress and anxiety. After all, living a life of financial uncertainty was not something I personally looked forward to. But then again, neither was the idea of slaving away for something that I didn’t feel passionate about.
And although my path has led me to a place of financial stability, creative freedom, and the privilege to choose projects to which I will dedicate my time, I still utilize the same tried and tested techniques to manage my stress levels. The following are my top tips for fellow entrepreneurs.
Set Realistic Goals
When you’re looking to launch a business, it’s easy to lose touch with reality. The very process of starting a company requires you to dream up things that could be, things that might change the world. Most business owners I encounter tend to do just that: they make the mistake of focusing on the end of the road, then become overwhelmed by their vision’s magnitude.
Not that I haven’t done the same thing to myself in the past. But now that I’m older (and slightly wiser), whenever I get to work on a project, I make myself define the goals I want to focus on achieving. Sure, starting big is an inspiration, but giving proper attention to short-term goals is the key to actually getting to the finish line. And staying sane in the process.
Here’s what I do:
- I take a piece of paper and write down my vision.
- I go through my long-term goals and define the smaller things I will need to do for them to become possible.
- Finally, I create actionable to-dos, along with realistic timelines.
The final step in the process provides me with a clear map that will lead me to my destination. Instead of allowing me to become stressed or anxious about the assignments that need to be done, it’s giving me clear instructions. Ones that I can follow without feeling lost.
Weed Out Distractions and Time-Wasters
As an entrepreneur, one of the scariest things that can happen to you is realizing that you can’t dedicate the necessary amount of time to all your to-dos. I’ve definitely found myself guilty of this. I’d take on too many projects, become extremely anxious about the future, then increase my work hours, sacrifice my health, and finally, bring myself to the brink of burnout.
But lately, I’ve started applying a productivity method that works really well for me. What I’ve found to be a great approach to tasks is to consider whether they are worth my attention in the first place. I follow the 80/20 rule in both my personal and business efforts. This principle helps me identify the tasks that truly matter (and focus the majority of my energy on them), as well as those that don’t offer as much value.
The key here, however, isn’t just to discard the less valuable aspects of my life. It is to optimize them so that that they take up less time, fewer resources, and don’t cause unnecessary stress.
Business owners will agree with me: there’s always something that requires our attention. The thing is, however, putting too much pressure on ourselves to perform is not only causing us stress and fear of not getting things done. It’s also lowering our capacity to do quality work.
This is why I strongly believe in setting boundaries. This includes determining my work hours, being diligent about taking at least one day off every week, and stopping all work-related activities at 5 PM so that I can spend time with my daughter.
I also don’t let myself work from anywhere but my desk. I’ve found that it interferes with my productivity, and often causes me to think about my job when I should actually be resting or focusing on other important areas of my life.
As for my morning and nighttime routine – I stopped checking my emails first thing when I open my eyes and last thing before I go to sleep. I now spend those hours reading. This way, I’m still doing something that is helping me grow, but I’m not starting or ending my day in my cortisol-induced problem-solving mode.
Take Care of Yourself
A study I recently came across showed that 52.9% of entrepreneurs feel like it is necessary to sacrifice sleep in order to achieve success. A couple of years ago, I was part of this 52.9% as well. But then, I made the conscious decision to change my approach to my wellbeing. I finally took up a sport, made changes in my diet, and have started paying better attention to my sleeping habits (no more Netflix before bed).
As a result, I’m feeling better than ever. Not only am I more relaxed, but I’m finding that my motivation and creativity have increased, and I have fewer days when I’m in a bad mood. Of course, there are still days when I feel under pressure or worry about a certain aspect of my job. But I’m more capable of recognizing the ways in which these instances are affecting me, and I can make the conscious effort to allow myself to relax.
Talk to a Coach, Mentor or Trusted Friend
Finally, my last tip for coping with stress and anxiety is to talk through the issues that are causing negative emotions in the first place. Are you feeling overwhelmed by your workload? Are you in a constant state of worry about your future? Perhaps you’re facing a problem you don’t know the solution to?
In situations like these, I’ve always found it best to seek the advice of people I trust. Whether your go-to person is a certified career coach, a fellow entrepreneur, or just a friend or family member, you will surely find that talking to them about these issues will help you look at them from a different perspective. Who knows, maybe the challenge that’s been causing you to lose sleep is actually an opportunity in disguise.
As a business owner, you may feel like success and stress go hand in hand. After all, making it in today’s economy does take a lot of work and even more sacrifice. But, what my experience has taught me, is that taking a more mindful approach to your job, life, and the problems they come with, yields much better results than worrying about the things that cannot be changed.
And the best part is that by practicing a stress-free approach to work, you’ll inevitably find the focus and drive to concentrate on what matters the most.