Entrepreneurial stress – it’s a real thing. If we’re going to talk about stress (which we are), then I think it’s fair to first acknowledge that everyone faces stress at work. We live in a time where we’re expected to be available 24/7, do jobs faster (and better!) and have the right people skills in place to manage colleagues, managers and stakeholders.
But for an entrepreneur, it’s all that – and more.
As an entrepreneur, it’s safe to say that by nature, you’re a hard worker. You couldn’t build a business if you weren’t. But when you’re building and running a business – your business, no less – it’s all too common to find yourself getting involved in all the jobs, across all the initiatives, with a to-do list that keeps growing, while important people and self-care get sidelined. In fact, sometimes it can feel like you’re working all the time but not making the proportional amount of progress.
And all that will inevitably lead to an immense amount of stress and a ton of overwhelm.
So what can you do to take control of the situation, be efficient and effective with your time, and still create space for yourself and your loved ones?
1. Celebrate your small wins
Really celebrate them! It’s not enough to cross the item off your to-do list (but of course, do that too – it is very satisfying, isn’t it?). This is about taking the time to revel in the accomplishment of a win, whether it’s getting your website up, signing on a digital marketing agency, or getting your first paying client. Whatever your win, you deserve to celebrate it. In fact, you should celebrate it, not just because you deserve to, but to also get into the habit of acknowledging the progress you make along your journey.
You can treat yourself to something you’ve been looking forward to, like a glass of wine, some online shopping, or a long walk around the park or neighborhood.
You can also share the news with someone who will celebrate your accomplishment with you, which can be anything from jumping up and down in excitement with you or throwing a party to celebrate it.
By focusing on what you’ve accomplished rather than what still remains to be completed, you relieve some of that entrepreneurial stress and overwhelm that is always focused on how much work remains to be completed and how many problems still need to be solved.
2. Maximize your strengths, delegate your weaknesses
This is a real time-saver, but something most entrepreneurs and small business owners (and, if we’re honest, a lot of other people in general) have difficulty with.
There is such pride in building and running your own business that at times it feels like asking for help takes away from all the hard work you’ve put into it. Or worse – that someone coming in to help you won’t do as good of a job as you would.
Whichever the reason, it’s worth remembering that you should always be maximizing your strengths, and that means also delegating your weaknesses. When you take your precious and limited time and spend it on tasks that are not your strengths, you are literally taking time away from doing more of the things that you are best at.
Entrepreneurial stress and overwhelm is exacerbated by having to do work on things that you’re not particularly great at, or that you have to learn from scratch. So instead of letting that happen and affect you negatively, ask for or hire help if you can and focus on what you’re best at. It’ll be better for your business in the end.
3. Have a clear plan
One of the best things I’ve found is having a clear plan that I can refer to in order to make sure I’m working on tasks that are going to help get me to where I want to be.
Essentially, this should be the output of your strategy and business plan. It should be a big list of your action items, split by strategic pillar or another grouping of your choice, that rolls up to the overall goal or objective that you’ve set for your business.
If you want more on how you can create a strategic plan with action items, you’ll find Make Your Strategy Actionable helpful.
A clear plan will take away a massive amount of the entrepreneurial stress and overwhelm that you’re facing by providing a roadmap and a comprehensive set of tasks and activities to get you from where you are today to where you aspire to be.
Your plan should be updated (which means crossing off completed tasks, and adding new tasks that have come up), but it shouldn’t change significantly within short periods of time. It’s important that you know what you need to do over the next little while but it’s equally important that the goal post doesn’t keep moving. If it does, then it’s probably time to hire someone to help you with your strategy and strategic planning.
As you might know or have guessed, your master list can have hundreds of tasks in it, so…
4. Don’t schedule more than 3 tasks per day
Once you have your master list in place, trust that you will get around to all the tasks in the list in due course, but for now, focus on 3 items at a time.
Every evening, choose the 3 tasks that you’ll focus on the next, and write them down. You don’t want to be writing down your 3 tasks in the morning. Why? For starters, things will come up that will seem more urgent, so you’ll end up doing those and pushing the other 3 items to “tomorrow”.
Another reason to plan your tasks the night before is so that you don’t waste any time on the day trying to decide what to work on. You can just jump right in.
And lastly, having 3 tasks to choose from gives you enough flexibility to work on something you feel like working on at the time. I like to give myself a variety of tasks – design/creative, writing, planning, networking etc, so that I can choose activities that align to how I’m feeling at the time. If I don’t feel particularly creative at the time, for example, I’ll leave my social media tasks for later in the day and instead do some planning or writing – picking from whatever is on my list.
5. Focus on the activities with the biggest impact – prioritize
You’ve been here – you look at your long list of things to do, take a deep breath and then just dive right in. And after a day, a week or even a month of working long hours, you look around and realize: not much has changed in your business.
What happened to all those hours and all that work that you put in?
The truth is, you might be spending your time on activities that are important, but that won’t have the biggest impact on your business at this time.
To be effective with your time, you need to identify and work on the tasks and activities that are going to have the biggest positive impact on your business today. In your long list of action items, identify the top 5-10 items that are going to leapfrog you towards that future vision. Those are the items you need to focus on now.
As you work your way through your list, continue to identify the top 5-10 items (or the top 20% of outstanding items) and make those a priority.
If you continue to do this day in and day out, you’ll find yourself making visible progress towards your goals – because you’ll be spending your time on the activities with the biggest impact.
And what better way to manage entrepreneurial stress and overwhelm than to see positive progress towards your goal?
6. Make exercise a priority
In life, I like to focus on no more than 2-3 big goals at a time. For example, my business, health and fitness, and perhaps one other thing (moving homes, spending time with family, learning a new skill, etc). Having only 2-3 big goals at a time helps massively with general stress and overwhelm. When you know you only have 2-3 big focus areas on your plate, you stop trying to do it all and you have more time to focus on and pour into those top goals.
As an entrepreneur or small business owner, you might find that you business takes up all your time, and that you only have that one big goal to focus on. You might think this is great, but it’s not, unfortunately.
One of the top 2-3 big goals should always be health and fitness. I’m not saying you need to have a goal to run a marathon, but set some goals to take care of yourself. Even if you don’t particularly like to exercise, plan a long walk a few times a week with a friend or family member, or go on your own and take in the scenery or listen to a podcast.
Some of the greatest ideas will come to you as you take time away from your desk and your work and allow your mind to wander. You can also use this time to connect with your friends and family – a two-in-one!
We all know that exercise helps alleviate stress, so don’t be afraid to schedule in some time for a short or long walk early in the morning, midway through the day, or at night – whenever works best work you.
7. Keep a list of your accomplishments
You’re doing everything above, but are you writing down all your wins and accomplishments? If you’re not, it’s time to get that list going!
Start by writing down everything you’ve accomplished to date. This can include steps you’ve taken to get your business up and running, clients you’ve signed on, a-ha moments that have shaped your strategy, feedback you’ve received and anything else that makes you feel good about how far along you’ve already come.
Keep this list of your accomplishments – big and small – for those days when the entrepreneurial stress and overwhelm kicks in and you need a little pick-me-up, a reminder of how far you’ve come, and proof for yourself that you’ve already done so much.
Sometimes you just need to stop and acknowledge that you’ve already accomplished a lot to calm that stress and overwhelm, and then pick up where you left off with the knowledge that you can do this.
A final note on entrepreneurial stress and overwhelm
We’ve all been there. There isn’t a single entrepreneur or small business owner who doesn’t feel stress and overwhelm at some point in their lives (but more realistically, quite often in their lives). Just know that you’re not alone, and that getting clear, organized, focusing on accomplishments and taking care of yourself will go a long way in relieving some of that stress and overwhelm.
Can you share your experiences of entrepreneurial stress and overwhelm? What additional tactics and strategies have you used to overcome this? Post your comments and any questions below, and if you can help anyone else out with an answer, don’t hesitate to do so! As always, if you’ve found this article useful, share it with someone who’ll benefit from it as well!