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The ugly symptoms of entrepreneurial stress.
Poor sleep habits, anxiety, weight changes and health issues to name just a few.
But it does not have to be like that!
You don’t have to make yourself miserable to be successful.
17 Top Tips For Avoiding Stress and Anxiety As An Entrepreneur
Entrepreneurial stress causes smart people to do stupid things.
Putting a brave face on things, even when they are on the edge of bankruptcy.
I should know, I was one of them…
My Personal Route Map For Handling Entrepreneurial Stress
# 1 Keep perfectionism in check
Perfectionism is exhausting!
A start-up entrepreneur gets stressed about the wrong font on a business card…
Or that their website is not perfect.
Sure, if you are Apple or Google, the correct font matters but for most of us, the priority should be to get our minimum viable product (MVP) to market ASAP.
Get some perspective, determine what matters for your business and focus on that, rather than stressing over trivial things.
Of course you should do your best – but don’t let perfectionism hinder your progress.
Striving for excellence feels wonderful because you’re trying your very best. Perfectionism feels terrible because your work is somehow never quite good enough. Perfectionism has nothing to do with what perfection actually looks like, but has everything to do with the elusive idea of “enough.”
Ready, Fire, Aim ~ Zero to $100 Million in No Time Flat
# 2 Action beats anxiety.
‘Seven out of ten adults in the United States say they experience stress or anxiety daily’
A surprising statistic which I imagine is much worse for entrepreneurs.
Anxiety and stress make even the most talented entrepreneurs unresourceful.
But there is a solution…
When the whole world is against you, don’t go and hide – take ACTION.
Action beats Anxiety!
It is remarkable how much impact taking action has on your mental state.
There is no need to hide or escape…
After all, that is what cowards do and you are not a coward!
Action beats Entrepreneurial Stress
# 3 Invest in staff
Seriously, get help!
Stop doing $10 tasks or even the $100 tasks.
Your job is to concentrate on the $1000+ tasks and the bigger picture.
If you want to build a successful and sustainable business you must delegate.
Stop handling the simple tasks that you had to do in the beginning and hire talent.
Don’t be cheap when hiring.
It is always better to pay more for an exceptional member of staff than to pay average for an average member of staff.
Paying more for talent in the short term will improve your mental state in the long term.
If you hire staff, allow them to do they work they were hired to do. Stop being a control freak!
If you find yourself saying to yourself, that it is easier to do a task yourself, than show someone else how to do that task – hire a business coach!
Repeat after me: you cannot do it all, and you do not need to do it all.
Entrepreneurs who micromanage every detail of their business will end up spreading themselves too thin. Taking time-consuming $10 and $100 tasks off your plate, will allow you to target the things that really matter.
Environment Matters: Create a Healthier and More Productive Home Office
# 4 Make a To-Do List
Overwhelm is common.
Make a list of everything that needs to be done and prioritize each task.
Can any of these tasks that can be delegated?
Are there any tasks that you could avoid or delete?
It is remarkable how many things take up space in our heads that are not that important or don’t even need doing.
Recommended Tool: Commit to your 3 most important tasks each day
Often when an entrepreneur makes a To-Do list they discover:
a) Things are not as bad as they thought.
b) They can see the end of their worries
If something is really bothering you – Write it down!
Never underestimate the serenity that comes from writing down what’s bothering you, or getting the issues that are on your mind off of your chest. This can be an important outlet for emotions and will help you get clarity.
# 5 Batch your work
Have specific times to do emails, make phone calls, and do focused work.
“The man who chases two rabbits, catches none”
Maximize your magic time…
Most people have a period of the day when they are at their most productive.
Record when you are your most productive and make that the time when you focus on your top priorities.
It may also be, that some tasks are best done at certain times of the day. In my case for example, any activities that include physical activity such as site meetings or exercise are best done in the mornings, but writing on the other hand, is best done in the evenings.
a) If you have issues keeping focused you may want to investigate the Pomodoro Technique.
This is a time management method that uses a timer to break down work into intervals, usually 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. Of course there is an App for this!
b) RescueTime – a tool that helps you understand your daily habits – allowing you to focus and be more productive.
# 6 Set Boundaries
In addition to having a To-Do list, have a Not To Do list.
Learn the power of saying N0.
This is a powerful lesson from Warren Buffett:
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
And saying NO can also include saying NO to customers!
Create your own personal set of Life Rules – your own personal philosophy of life.
Use these rules as your guiding principles in everything you do and stop worrying about what others think. You will spend less time ‘thinking’ and agonizing over a response because you and your closest friends know your position on the important things in life!
Want some inspiration for creating your own set of life rules?
I especially like his No 6 rule:
I do not engage in confrontations with anyone, in-person or online. This is a waste of time and energy. If I have caused harm, I apologize and fix the situation. And then I take a deep breath, relax, breathe out, and re-focus my efforts back on my work and goals.
You may already have a set of rules in your head that you follow, but I encourage you to put them in writing.
A set of rules for every aspect of your life – HEALTH, FAMILY, BUSINESS and FINANCIAL.
With this set of rules it is so much easier to set boundaries.
Best thing, is your staff and social circle will be aware of your rules, values and boundaries, meaning conflicts are less likely to happen.
# 7 Know When To Say I’ve Done Enough
Sometimes the best thing you can do is rest, stop for a while or even go in an entirely different direction.
Yes, action beats anxiety but sometimes the action you need to take is to make the decision to restructure your business, lay staff off or even close the business.
Most successful entrepreneurs has experienced a business failure – it comes with the territory.
Dust yourself down and start again.
# 8 Don’t Borrow Money From Family.
Entrepreneurs often borrow money from family, or fund their business with home equity.
I had not thought much about this before writing this article but while doing research I found a number of articles suggesting you should not borrow from family. After all, it’s stressful enough to start and run a business without the added worry of losing your house or leaving family members in financial ruin.
I am in two minds about this, especially if you offer those family members some equity in your business in exchange for the cash. I can imagine that if you borrow money externally and go on to great success, some family members may be annoyed that they did not get a chance to share in that success.
I would say that as long as you are transparent and ensure your friends and family understand the risk, then borrowing startup capital from family is fine. However it is important to explain that should they want the money back, it may not be easily available. Explaining that is usually enough to scare away most potential family investors.
One of my first sales mentors gave me this tip.
He said, “Barry, never sell anything to friends, relatives or neighbors!”
I was young and struggled to understand what that meant, especially if you offered a good product and a good solution that benefited your friends, relatives or neighbors.
But time has shown me the dynamics of these situations can often be problematic and stressful.
So perhaps there is some merit in this advice after all?
# 9 Trust your team
Closely related to # 3 Invest in staff
Early on in my entrepreneurial career I ran a contracting business, building home extensions etc. It was a successful business, but it was slowly killing me and I had health issues.
All because I did not trust my team.
Or more accurately, I had not learned to delegate.
I recall one vacation when I promised my family I would switch off and had over the reigns to Gerry C – the company General Manager.
We enjoyed a 14 day vacation and when I got back I had a debrief with Gerry…
Everything had went swimmingly in my absence.
When I asked if there had been any issues, there had indeed been one. Gerry explained the ‘problem’ and what he had done about it. Interestingly Gerry approach to the problem was entirely different to what I would have done. Indeed, I doubt I would have thought of his approach.
But remarkably and most importantly the client was happy and they had settled their invoice.
Even though I referred to Gerry C as my General Manager I rarely let him do that job. Almost every decision had to be run by me first.
This is no way to run a business.
Repeat after me: you cannot do it all, and you do not need to do it all.
# 10 Take a Break
Work life balance is essential.
You don’t have to make yourself miserable to be successful. It’s natural to look back and mythologize the long nights and manic moments of genius, but success isn’t about working hard, it’s about working smart.
~Andrew Wilkinson, founder of MetaLab
Do not neglect holidays, vacations and family time.
That is a PRICE you should not pay.
Even if it is only a few hours, take time to unwind and relax with family and friends.
Better still, make time to help others
If you are struggling, stop feeling sorry for yourself and go out and help someone. Add value to the world. Turn your moping into mentoring and help someone climb the ladder in your world. The best thing you can do for yourself is to make everyone around you better.
# 11 Exercise Regularly — Sweat it out.
It is a know fact that exercise will burn away the stress hormones that create anxiety.
Exercise tires your muscles, reducing excess energy and tension.
Exercise releases endorphins in your brain which can improve overall mood.
Ten years ago, I and a number of friends had the good fortune to spend a week on Necker Island with everyone’s favorite entrepreneur – Richard Branson.
Richard Branson must be the worlds coolest and most relaxed entrepreneur.
He is also very fit!
He plays tennis (very competitively) and starts each day with a walk around his island.
He is also an accomplished swimmer!
Vishen Lakhiani who was part of our group in 2009 recently returned to Necker Island and wrote a superb article about swimming with Richard Branson – it is a seriously good read with important lessons for entrepreneurs:
By comparison, I was one of the least fit people on the Island!
I had just sold a business and was comfortable financially but I knew I wasn’t performing at my best and there was still plenty of stress in my life despite the financial success!
I am not saying Necker Island fixed me – but over time and through the company I have kept, my fitness has improved considerably and stress is something I rarely experience these days.
Indeed, exercise is virtually guaranteed to eliminate any stress should it ever happen.
While I may not be as cool as Mr Branson, daily exercise has made me a much happier and chilled person.
A far cry from the stressed entrepreneur I once was.
The only regret?
Why did it take me so long to make the connection between Stress and Exercise?
High-intensity cardio, or even just taking a brisk walk, is a great way to release endorphins and give yourself an instant pick-me-up.
Next time you feel stressed go for a hike, walk in a park, or Hit The Gym!
Or better still, make exercise part of your daily routine and avoid stress in the first place.
# 12 Do a values and beliefs audit
Closely related to # 6 Set Boundaries
Give yourself permission to let go of values and beliefs that no longer serve you.
This is a big subject and a personal one.
Suffice to say, that most of us still carry around beliefs and values that we obtained years ago, often as a child.
Values related to family and money in particular.
Of course many of these values are admirable and those who shared them came from a good place.
However, have you ever asked yourself does this belief still serve me?
Often the stress and ‘shame’ we experience as entrepreneurs relates back to our past.
For many years I carried ‘shame’ and stress related to the collapse of a business I started as a young entrepreneur.
These days however, I look at it quite differently, almost to the point of being proud of the experience and the lessons learned.
Don’t let old values and beliefs related to money, stress you out as an entrepreneur.
Cast them aside in the same way that you no longer believe in Santa Claus.
The same principles apply to relationships…
Do the people in your life assist you or hamper you?
Does the site of a “so called friend” make you feel empty and uninspired?
Reflect on any relationships that draw energy away from you and start distancing yourself from them.
Accept fewer invitations to social gatherings etc.
Or be ruthless about it and disconnect completely!
# 13 Don’t Do Regret and Stop Comparing Yourself To Others
Regret can seriously damage your mental health.
Regret turns to guilt, disappointment, frustration and stress about the past.
But we can’t change the past …
Let go. Why do you cling to pain? There is nothing you can do about the wrongs of yesterday. It is not yours to judge. Why hold on to the very thing which keeps you from hope and love?
~ Leo Buscaglia
Almost always this ‘regret’ is as a result of our values and beliefs.
You cannot undo the past but you can change what they mean to you.
You cannot go back an undo that bad financial decision – but you can ask yourself what have you learned from that experience? After all, successful entrepreneurs think differently and there is always a positive to be found.
You cannot go back and recapture that family time – but you can ask your family for forgiveness and more importantly, FORGIVE yourself.
You were doing the best you could do!
Stop Comparing Yourself To Others
More incredible wisdom from Craig Ballantyne
Stop putting yourself through the emotional roller coaster of comparison. Yes, some people are richer, smarter, prettier and fitter than you. Get over it. We’re all dead in the end. So start living your life now.
Focus on your journey, be OK with imperfection and don’t knock others down.
# 14 Break Down the Problem
When you have a problem, break that problem down into manageable parts.
• What are the issues?
• List all the possible solutions you can think of.
• Evaluate those solutions.
• Select an option or options. (and document)
• Agree on contingencies, monitoring, and evaluation.
# 15 Become a Stoic Entrepreneur.
Stoicism teaches how to keep a calm and rational mind no matter what happens to you and it helps you understand and focus on what you can control and not worry about and accept what you can’t control
~ Jonas Salzgeber
More than any other philosophy, I have found Stoicism offers the best philosophy for overcoming the stresses of being an entrepreneur. The best antidote for entrepreneur stress!
This article is not about Stoicism – I will leave that for another day.
What I will say though – is that this philosophy has made the occasional stress of entrepreneurship much easier to cope with. It has taught me to focus on what I can control and not too worry about what I can’t control.
Stoicism has brought me contentment and peace of mind – I recommend it wholeheartedly.
Peace of mind is that mental condition in which you have accepted the worst.
What Is Stoicism? [One of the best articles online related to Stoicism]
Distinguish between good, bad, and indifferent things. The only good is virtue – living by wisdom, justice, courage, and self-discipline. The only bad is vice – folly, injustice, cowardice, and intemperance. Everything else is indifferent and does ultimately not matter for a happy life.
As an entrepreneur being able to practice misfortune makes you stronger in the face of adversity; flipping obstacles upside down turns problems into opportunities; and remembering how small you are keeps your ego manageable and in perspective.
The Obstacle Is the Way ~ The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph
You are not growing unless you are failing.
Mistakes happen on the easy side of life.
# 16 Find your Zen state.
Getting rid of non-essential mental baggage is crucial to stay focused, motivated and productive.
It is also essential for reaching a Zen state.
I appreciate this will appear woo-woo to some of you.
That is not my intention.
Being in a Zen state means different things to different people.
Finding your Zen basically means finding your sense of balance, allowing you to feel in harmony with the world around you. It’s a way of quieting your mind and your body.
It is also the best way I know to eliminate entrepreneur stress!
For me, being in a Zen state has been about being calm and slowing down.
That is when I am my most creative.
Being a stoic entrepreneur has made it easier to reach a Zen state.
But is the Stoic path is not for you, many people find Meditation is great at creating a Zen state.
YouTube offers a lot of Guided Meditations such as this guided sleep meditation which claims to help reduce your feelings of anxiety and prepare you for a great day ahead. Or try this 20 Minute Mindfulness Meditation.
Consider having Regular Massages for Entrepreneurial Stress
Perhaps the best way a stressed entrepreneur can fast track a Zen State!
Regular massage increase mental clarity, reduce mental stress, promotes better sleep, induces mental relaxation, calms temper, and enhances capacity for calm thinking. It also releases large amounts of endorphins into the bloodstream.
The mind, which before massage is in a perturbed, restless, vacillating, and even despondent state, becomes calm, quiet, peaceful, and subdued after massage. In fact, the wearied and worried mind has been converted into a mind restful, placid, and refreshed.
~ Dr. Dowse
# 17 Pay attention to your body’s stress signals
Entrepreneurs often find it difficult to differentiate between private and business life.
The ensuing stress manifests itself in many different ways.
a) Poor sleep habits
b) Appetite and weight changes.
c) Throbbing headaches,
d) Sore and tense muscles,
e) Feeling edgy and irritable,
f) Things you used to find fun, no longer excite you.
Entrepreneurial stress wrecks lives.
It damages your businesses, it damages your relationships and it makes you ill!
Recognize the symptoms before it is too late.
Entrepreneurial Stress – Some tough love!
Know that you alone, are responsible for who, what, and where you are in life.
Your stress – your choice!
Nobody makes your decisions for you.
The life you lead is because of your choices.
How you take care of your health, is up to you.
The friends you choose, is up to you.
The stress you experience is a result of your choices and what those choices mean to you.
You can choose to be a stress-free entrepreneur.
That is my sincere hope for you.
Being an entrepreneur is about making the world a better place.
That is easier to do as a STRESS FREE entrepreneur!
Be a stress free entrepreneur!
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