How to Manage Stress and Anxiety as an Entrepreneur
A couple of nights ago, I woke up at 3 a.m. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I had a sales call and a client meeting scheduled back to back later that day — and how I needed to figure out a way to cut the sales call short by 30 minutes to fit both in.
First, a few related facts about me: I have a team of 25 at Web Profits, and a salesperson to lead the sales call. I’ve been on hundreds of these calls before, and I’ve managed hundreds of clients in my career. And that day, I even had other client meetings on my calendar. None of this was out of the ordinary.
So why was I so stressed out in the middle of the night?
I haven’t really shared this often, but I’ve had crazy anxiety and stress my whole life. Becoming an entrepreneur has forced me to find strategies to manage these reactions so that I can remain productive and effective in my companies.
Whether or not you too are naturally inclined to stress, you’ll need to adopt some strategies if you’re serious about the success of your own business. Here are a few of my favorites.
I work 10 to 12 hours a day on average, so I try to start my day with exercise. I’m happier, and calmer throughout the day, when I exercise. And I have my pick of multiple options: I love kickboxing, running, kayaking, surfing and paddleboarding. But while you won’t have those options in an office setting, you can still find something that gets you away from your computer — if even just for 10 minutes. Why not, for example, take a walk at lunch?
You’ll get away from the source of your stress, while also benefitting from the endorphins exercise releases.
Separate Your work and your sleep.
I work late — as many entrepreneurs do. But I’ve found that the closer I work to sleep time, the more I think about work issues when I’m trying to get to sleep.
To help separate my work zone from my sleep zone, I saw a sleep therapist who helped me create a night-time route. Now, I make sure that, one hour before bed, I stop working and turn off all of my devices (or, at least, turn on features that block their blue light). I’m also a big fan of the Oak app for doing some guided breathing during that time and making sure I’m prepped for the next day.
Unload your to-do list.
A while back, I started making a list of all the things I do. Then, I looked at who else could do those things besides me. That led me to:
- Hire an administrative assistant to remove all things payment-related from my to-do list
- Hire another content marketing person to take some output off my plate
- Cut down the number of speaking engagements I’m taking on to to four to five total in the same time period
- Use my company Pick for calendar scheduling instead of going back and forth
It’s easy to get caught up in doing a bunch of things because they need to be done. But be ruthless about protecting your time and solving productivity problems for the long run.
Set aside a “catch-all” day.
One of the biggest things that’s helped me manage stress is the way I use my Sundays. Throughout the week, things continue to pile up and my to-do list just gets worse and worse. Anything that’s not going to move the needle for me in the moment, I either decide not to do (maybe because I’ll put it on somebody else’s plate), or schedule it for “Sunday time.”
On Sundays, I’ll get up early and spend three to four hours in the morning going through all of my low-priority tasks. By clearing out this list and prepping for the week ahead, I’m able to start the next week really fresh. It also helps me relax on Saturdays, because I know I’m going to get rid of all the little things on my to-do list on Sundays.
Build systems based on your strengths.
Figure out what makes you tick. Some people — and this is not me — can have an inbox that’s full of, say, 5,000-plus unread emails. But for me, any time I have an inbox with more than a double-digit number of unread messages, I’ll get really stressed out.
That’s why I use two tools to manage my inbox: Boomerang and Things. If I know I don’t need to address something, I’ll Boomerang it to a time when I know I’ll be able to handle it (usually Sundays). Or, I’ll use keyboard shortcuts to turn my emails into to-do items with dates on them, using Things. That way, each email has an action on it, and it’s no longer left unread and causing me stress.
Find your people.
One final suggestion: Join a group of entrepreneurs. I joined the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), and I host regular gatherings in Austin for marketers, startup execs and others. Once a month, we’ll do something fun, like go-karting. We don’t talk about business all the time — it’s more about getting a group of people together who understand and can relate to what you’re going through.
That alone can really help solve your stress and anxiety.