You could say that stress is one of those #firstworldproblems. But if you're an entrepreneur, stress is far more than a hipster hashtag on Twitter. It can be distracting, lower your productivity, affect your leadership, and even damage your health. (The last comes from my own experience years ago of developing pneumonia and shingles simultaneously after a tough time trying to get a consulting business off the ground.)
Author Heidi Grant Halvorson, associate director for the Motivation Science Center at the Columbia University Business School, has a list of sound strategies that can help reduce stress and let you focus on what is important, not what is nibbling at the edges of your peace of mind. Here are four of them. I've translated them from psych talk to regular business English.
1. Stop beating yourself up.
Halvorson talks of having self compassion, but let's get to the real heart of the matter. Entrepreneurs are typically driven people and they often make the mistake of assuming that flogging the horse that has tripped will make things better. It won't. Beating up yourself (or others, for that matter) rests on an assumption that the person who makes a mistake is just lazy or intentionally dense. But no one is perfect, including you. Admit you're human and focus on finding solutions to a problem or developing systems that will shore up where you fall short.
2. Put things into context.
There are all sorts of activities that are time consuming and grinding. Anyone who disagrees should open their email and see how many unexamined or unanswered messages they have. But the proper context can make things more bearable because it helps you remember not just what you're doing, but why you're doing it. When staying late in the day to answer those emails or inputting expenses and invoices into your accounting system, remind yourself that it all goes into building your business. Suddenly what was an annoyance is a lot more important.
3. Use routine to cut unnecessary decisions.
Halvorson points out that the invisible in life--making decisions--can create as much stress as dealing with those emails and accounting systems. It's the mental tension of wrestling among a number of options that tires you. As she writes, "This is why shopping is so exhausting--it's not the horrible concrete floors, it's all that deciding." So use routine to reduce the number of decisions you have to make. For example, President Obama uses routine to make his days less complicated. "'You'll see I wear only gray or blue suits,' he said. 'I'm trying to pare down decisions. I don't want to make decisions about what I'm eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.'"
4. Add when or where to the to-do list.
I recently wrote about the legendary time management tip of prioritized to-do lists. But Halvorson offered a new intriguing variation: adding the location and time at which you'll do things. Apparently, many studies have shown that deciding in advance where and when you'll perform a task--whether working out or returning phone calls--can double to triple the chances that you'll do it. It further reduces the number of decisions you make and sets up your unconscious to look for the opportunity to complete the task. Of course, if you're using prioritized task completion, where the most important one gets done first, this may not always work. So do it when it can, even treating the task as a scheduled appointment.