Written by Tom Ewer on 02 September 2013
At some point in our lives we all have to deal with stress of some sort. For self-employed people, underlying personal worry and tensions can be compounded by the stress that inevitably comes as part and parcel of running your own business. While it is natural to fret over finances, clients and even performance, the way in which you manage your anxiety can help to reduce your stress levels. In this post I will highlight some of the most common factors that cause us stress in our business lives and look at the best ways to combat them.
There’s no doubt about it: managing your time effectively can have a huge impact on productivity. Sitting at your computer for nine hours a day may feel productive, but it won’t always produce the best results. This can lead to an overwhelming feeling of being 'swamped' and the sudden realisation that you can’t possibly meet all of those fast-approaching deadlines. The key here is advanced planning. At the end of each working day, set aside time to plan your activities for the next day. Break your day into manageable slots and set yourself a start and end time for each task. This kind of targeted focus will allow you to work in short but highly productive bursts. Taking small breaks in between activities will also help rest and refocus your mind for the next task. It may sound like an overly simple technique but try it -- I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.
It is remarkable how quickly administrative tasks can build up. What started as a few unsent invoices can escalate to a tray full of unopened mail or an inbox crammed with unanswered queries in no time. These tasks won’t go away and setting aside time each day or even once a week is vital in maintaining an organised working mind set. Trying to focus your mind on important jobs is very difficult with the nagging thought of two weeks of unfinished administration hanging over you. If you are really struggling for time then consider outsourcing some of your more routine tasks. Skilled, reliable and highly affordable administration assistants can be found on freelance broker sites such as Elance and oDesk.
When you work from home you’re bound to get the odd distraction and disruption -- be it the window cleaner, a delivery man or even the dog barking. If you’re in the middle of a project or working to a tight deadline, every break in your concentration can seem huge and cause you to get wound up and stressed. The best remedy here is to always make sure that you work in the quietest spot in the house -- even if this means alternating between your office, the dining room and the loft space. You can’t be productive in an environment that makes you tense.If you have kids, work intensively while they are at school. If you have a noisy neighbour or your street is undergoing construction work, try some background music or using ear plugs. If all else fails, consider working at the library or hiring a desk at a local dedicated co-working space.
Sickness and Absence
Periods of illness and unexpected life events are guaranteed to affect you at some point. Businesspeople are not superheroes -- we get sick and experience loss and difficulty just like everyone else. What you shouldn't do in this situation is panic. It will make you feel worse and will lead to unnecessary stress. Instead, look carefully at your schedule and cut out any non-urgent tasks. Prioritise deadlines and identify possibilities for pushing them back. If you have someone you trust, consider outsourcing some of the work to them. Finally, if it is likely that your absence will last more than a day or two, contact your clients. They are real people too and should be understanding of your situation.
Worrying about the Future
As self-employed workers we’re all familiar with the rather aptly named famine and feast cycle. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a sufficient number of long-term, regular clients, the stress of wondering where your next pay cheque is coming from can be immense. Some of this stress can be reduced if you are careful to implement a continuous marketing strategy for your business. By maintaining your presence via your website, social media and other networking opportunities you can ensure you remain at the forefront of potential prospects minds. It’s no good waiting for the lean times and embarking on a frenzied period of submitting proposals and contacting clients. Not only will this make you anxious but could lead to a glut of new work which you are unable to handle which in turn will only serve to perpetuate the cycle of stress.
Let’s be honest, in all probability it is impossible to totally eliminate stress from your life. Some stress and pressure can even be good for you and as freelancers, entrepreneurs and business owners we accept it as part of the territory. Learning to recognize when stress is becoming an issue and taking the necessary steps to lessen it is crucial as it can prevent more serious mental breakdowns and burnout problems in the future. By working more effectively you can reduce stress to a manageable level, eliminate overwhelming feelings and be a happier, more productive person.