This article originally appeared in Alan’s weekly Forbes column.
Business workers, managers and leaders all have it. Entrepreneurs, especially, feel its crippling power. It’s a part of nearly every workplace and it won’t be going away soon. Stress comes from unrelenting pressure to survive, succeed and make others happy. Do you have it? Is it killing you?
In 40 years as a businessman, I have experienced the pain of stress daily. Sadly, it’s a fact of life as a serial entrepreneur and investor. Sometimes the strain has been so overpowering that I wondered how I would find relief. I am miserable, angry and irritable. Look out spouse. Look out children. Look out peers and subordinates.
Often we feel overwhelmed when we hear about layoffs or budget cuts. Or perhaps someone in authority sets expectations that are too high, totally unrealistic and will never be achieved. Do doom and foreboding enter your mind and heart when you know your performance will not meet rising expectations? Does stress appear when there’s more work to be done and not a glimmer of increased job satisfaction? Or could the constant pressure to work at optimum levels be intolerable?
Consider my approach and the added advice of noted stress experts on how to deal with the topic. I am happy to share what has worked for me.
Note the warning signs of excessive stress at work. Ask these questions: Am I going home at night exhausted and anxious? Do I worry nonstop? Is sleep a distant memory? Am I irritable and harsh with my family? If you are sensing pressures are off the chart and causing you harm, don’t ignore or dismiss what you are feeling. It’s time to act and quickly protect yourself.
Focus attention on your physical and emotional health. Regular exercise and adequate rest are essential. Take a walk every lunch hour. Go to the gym before or after work. Go to bed each night at the same time and avoid stimulants after dinner. Develop your mind and read great books or take classes in topics you enjoy. Establish new friendships with associates who are supportive and empathetic. And don’t forget humor. When used appropriately, it can relieve stress during the day.
Establish priorities and stay organized. I reduce my stress when I prioritize every task. Make a list of tasks that are critical and tackle them in order of importance and urgency. Do the high-priority items first. If you have something particularly onerous to accomplish, put it at the top of your list and complete it quickly. Once it is done, the biggest part of the pressure is gone. Breaking projects into small steps is also a stress reducer. When a large project seems crushing, develop a step-by-step action plan. Focus on nailing one step at a time, rather than trying to “eat the whole elephant at once.” Share the load with others by delegating responsibility to team members who are happy to assist. You should also seek win-win gains with fellow employees, clients and vendors. Be willing to compromise when it makes sense.
Manage your time well. Consider developing a balanced schedule that allows you to analyze time, responsibilities and daily tasks. Work to achieve balance in work, personal time, family life, social activities and personal interests. This effort requires lines in the sand that won’t be crossed and a high level of self-discipline. Avoid over-committing to anyone and scheduling too much into the day.
Be an optimist. Be positive. When you can manage to do this, stress flies away. Eliminate self-defeating behavior. Negative thoughts exacerbate pressures and reduce your energy, hope and motivation. Don’t allow your mind to dwell on what you can’t personally repair. Rather, fix your attention on what you can control and improve.
Invite your manager to reduce stress. It’s in a manager’s best interest to reduce stress for everyone in the workplace. Respectfully encourage your manager to communicate honestly and transparently about company challenges, to define roles and responsibilities clearly and allow you to have a voice in decisions on scheduling, workloads and deadlines, as well as to provide opportunities for career development and act on organizational values.
For further information, you can read "Bring Your Life Into Balance" by Jeanne Segal, Melinda Smith and Lawrence Robinson, free at helpguide.org. This toolkit teaches skills for managing overwhelming stress and emotions.
Do you have other solutions for those who suffer from stress and its negative effects? I’d like to hear your ideas at AlanEHall.com or on Twitter via @AskAlanEHall.
Alan E. Hall is a co-founding managing director of Mercato Partners, a regionally focused growth capital investment firm. He founded Grow Utah Ventures, is the founder of MarketStar Corp. and is chairman of the Utah Technology Council.
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