Shield your business and yourself from pervasive stress

By Michelle van Schouwen

As a small business owner, you have a great deal of responsibility resting on your shoulders. You must meet everyday needs to develop and keep good customers, make payroll and pay bills, and address a variety of other obligations. You should also be planning for the future of your company, predicting and addressing market changes and competitive forces, making staffing adjustments and growing revenues.

Along the way, stress may become a serious factor in your ability to manage. Stress triggers can include anything from driving too much (or too far) too often; coping with cash flow fluctuations, dealing with difficult employees or customers; or having several competing problems at once.

Unfortunately, stress has a way of spreading to the point that even issues with which you could cope in the past feel insurmountable. You may become anxious, worried or angry more often. Maybe you lose sleep, eat or drink too much, or take more pain or mood-changing pills than you used to. Life becomes a lot less fun. Your business ultimately suffers.

Clearly, it’s important to take steps to manage your stress before it takes too great a toll. Following are actions to consider:

-Pinpoint the biggest stress triggers. Tackle those problems or situations first, on the premise that if you don’t, other areas of your business and personal life may take a hit, too.

-Take steps to contain your concerns to the areas that merit it. If you are working overlong hours, assign some jobs to others, prioritize better, put an end-date on this overwork, or simply slow down a little. As you take such actions, remind yourself of the parts of your business or personal life that are going well.

-Get support. Talk to a friend, another business owner you trust, an understanding family member, or a counselor. Going it alone is too often a way of life for business owners, and that doesn’t always benefit us.

-Take breaks. Enjoy some weekends without working, or take a few days off for a mini-vacation. Stop checking your email or phone constantly during your downtime, or at least, postpone responding. Don’t be “on” when you are taking time off.

-Keep a business planning journal. I’ve found having a dedicated forum in which to keep notes about business plans and ideas allows me to be more creative in my thinking, and to more easily revisit, expand or revise concepts I’m starting to hatch.

-Similarly, use a “10 ideas for…” tactic to solve vexing problems (inspired, for me, by serial entrepreneur and writer James Altucher). For example, “10 (or 5) ways to get better performance out of Employee Y”. I’ve solved dozens of business problems using this personal brainstorming technique. Solving big problems can reduce stress.

-Practice new time management skills. You probably know them already, but do you implement them? Set chunks of time for each job on hand, keep lists so you don’t have to juggle everything in your head, delegate more tasks, and perhaps “single-task” rather than constantly multitasking. Time is typically the most precious commodity we have.

-On the personal side, try yoga, meditation, mindfulness, or an exercise program you like. Even a daily walk is useful. Spend quality time with friends and family. Eat well and don’t turn to intoxicants as an everyday problem-solver. Take care of yourself.

Remember that in addition to providing services, employment for others, and income for you, your business should be at least reasonably enjoyable much of the time – and hopefully better than that. Make the changes that help assure that your company yields more reward than stress for you.

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Michelle van Schouwen enjoys an “Act 2” career as principal of Q5 Analytics, providing advocacy and communications for climate change mitigation. See Q5analytics.org.

For the past 32 years, Michelle has been president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC (vSA), a B2B marketing company. In October 2017, van Schouwen Associates was acquired by Six-Point Creative Works, Inc. of Springfield, MA. Michelle supports the Six-Point team in an advisory capacity.

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