Much like gravity, entrepreneurial pressure is a fact. And just like gravity, it can hold you down – albeit in a very different way.
There’s a psychological and physical price to entrepreneurship that simply needs to be acknowledged by every entrepreneur, both novice and experienced. Building and running a business is more stressful than you initially imagine or anticipate
There’s always the pressure of failing – as simple as that. Not every business goes well. You’re taking responsibility for a team of partners and employees. You make promises you’re not always entirely sure you can deliver.
Even when you’re experiencing success, it’s not entirely a 100% sure thing. I almost shut down a business that was profitable because I didn’t count on it growing so fast. It’s a great thing to see and experience but my cash flow deficit was nine times more than in the beginning. Once that ball starts rolling, it’s difficult to stop it. You scramble to find money and solve the problem (which is a bit absurd as the business isn’t going under) in real time, all the while taking care of your employees who are hanging by a thread of your actions.
The thing is – you can’t really shake off their pressure and incoming stress because they want to feel secure, and you project the image of that security.
Even though entrepreneurs are a self-determined and intelligent bunch, many feel the profound and influencing pressure effects that the surroundings exert on them. Yet, they also feel they can’t be leaders and at the same time admit they’re struggling.
Whether as a group we are embarrassed to admit we’re vulnerable, see it as a weakness, or whatever the reason is, entrepreneurial pressure isn’t discussed nearly enough.
That’s a mistake. Don’t be fooled by the successful image the leaders you look up to convey. It’s like social media – people only show the highlights. But I assure you – all entrepreneurs struggle with pressure and the sooner you address it, the faster and better you can manage it and become a better entrepreneur.
Too many times as entrepreneurs we get so focused on success that taking care of ourselves takes a backseat. Such MO takes a toll on the wellbeing of an entrepreneur. The very nature of this job is to juggle many roles while facing the constant risk of failure, various setbacks and ongoing voices in our heads and around us telling us we must succeed. And every single one of us, regardless of how experienced or inexperienced we are, face some version of these defeats along the way.
Being aware of the amount of pressure this line of work entails is an important first step in managing and mitigating the potential negative effects. For some, this is still a taboo topic despite recent efforts to popularize discussions about mental health. It shouldn’t be and we mustn’t let it be.
9 things that can help
Even though my journey has led me to a place of certain privilege as I enjoy financial stability and freedom to do things my way, I nevertheless use the same tried and true methods to manage high-pressure situations. Maybe it’s largely because of these that I am where I am now. In any case, here are my tips (in no particular order) for fellow entrepreneurs that I hope will help in the long run.
1. Manage your time
Effective time management may be the most obvious answer but it works. I plan about 90% of my weekly schedule ahead. It’s my way of making sure that there aren’t many surprises and that I can focus on things at hand without getting sidetracked.
In other words – I maximize the output while minimizing the time spent. Who hasn’t been at the receiving end of a tight deadline or looked at the schedule only to see it jam-packed with meetings, activities, and tasks that you’d need a clone to perform efficiently?
For those who operate in conditions similar to those I just described, properly organizing time will be a challenge, no doubt. Start by sorting your to-do list and focus on the most urgent and pressing tasks (e.g. project with tight deadlines or more important meetings). It’s important to take a step back and remember that despite how it might look like, not everything is a crisis.
If it’s an option, consider having someone organize your time. I have that someone and I know for a fact I’d struggle managing without them. The least you can do in this ever-connected world is to sync everything to Google Calendar or any other similar app. Having everything in one place with reminders popping every so often will do wonders for your productivity. Which leads to:
2. Set and prioritize your goals
You can think of this as another form of time management.
There are different ways you can prioritize. For instance, a lot of entrepreneurs (myself included) use the Pareto principle or the 80/20 rule where the goal is to identify inputs that are potentially the most productive and make them the priority. Meaning, 20% of priorities usually account for 80% of results so you should prioritize the 20% of factors that will produce the best results.
I sometimes also use the Eisenhower Matrix – is a simple 2×2 table or box that helps you separate ‘urgent’ tasks from ‘important’ ones. Basically, urgent tasks are those you feel like you need to get to immediately, while important tasks are ones that contribute to your long-term mission and values.
Another thing you can try is to concentrate and rely on your strengths. Focus on what you already know and love (skills, knowledge, activities) instead of focusing on the pressure of the moment.
Subsequently, focus on one thing at a time and go for the biggest issue or task first. Once you knock out the brunt of the problem, it’ll be easier to move on to the next and be effective.
Without setting clear goals, your daily priorities become overwhelmed with urgent tasks that have a short-term payoff, and for what? To make you feel good? Having clear value-based goals keeps you focused on what matters short-term and long-term.
3. Stop going the extra mile all the time
This too can be thought of as some sort of time management in the sense that you’ll be doing less. Just as you need to know how to prioritize and delegate, you need to know when to let things go and step away.
I know our hard work and going the extra mile are mantras we like to stick to and wear as badges of honor but there are limits to what we can do. There is evidence of mental and physical limitations, particularly evident when that extra mile turns into two, three, five miles, and so on, ultimately becoming a marathon. Regardless of how tempting it is to do something right, especially the first time, you need to stop taking on the priorities and responsibilities of others.
This is important for two reasons:
- You conserve energy, your most important asset as time is worthless without it;
- You empower others.
What you do with your time when you have enough energy is far more important than just having the time. It’s about quality, not quantity. Sometimes, less is more. I’d rather do less and spend less time on things in order to be completely focused and energetic when I do them. That’s how I maximize the value of time spent with each effort.
Plus, telling people that you can’t do something empowers them to build their own skills and strengths, making them stronger and less dependent on you. If you have to – force yourself to delegate. Entrepreneurs have an innate sense of ownership, which is an admirable trait but one that can burden you with too many responsibilities, thus rendering you less productive and efficient. When the pressure bears down on you, it’s wise to take a step back.
4. Choose the right people to work with you
I’ve been writing about this particular topic for the past year or so and it never bothers me to repeat it as it never gets old. It’s one of those things that are essential in entrepreneurship: having the right team around you. As much it is about having someone who completes your skill set and expertise and fills the gaps, it’s just as much about their traits and character.
For instance, I value loyalty over talent as it helps me sleep better. Loyalty is a way to manage stress as these are the people you can trust, who want to work with you and learn more. The really annoying thing with super talented people is that at the end of the day, you’re not enjoying what you do. You’re even unable to focus on it and grow your business (and yourself, along with it) because you’re tangled up in internal politics.
My advice is to go for loyalty and people with whom you have good chemistry over talent every time if you’re perceiving your business as a long-term investment and not as an exit strategy in one or two years.
5. Take systematic breaks
Whenever I feel stress coming on, I get up and try to do something else, such as taking a brief break. I looked into the science of taking breaks and got confirmation of what I suspected: it increases work productivity and creativity.
There’s another caveat to taking breaks systematically: you get a different perspective on a stressful situation. Our brain uses the downtime to make important connections that form our identity and social behavior, including imagining the future. That’s why resting a bit every once in a while is important, if only to experience short-term mental and physical relief.
6. Incorporate exercise/physical activity into your schedule
As a high-performing entrepreneur, I find that getting some high-intensity cardio, or even just taking a brisk stroll, is a great way to release endorphins and give yourself an instant pick-me-up. Exercise is an excellent outlet for negative emotions such as anger, frustration, and anxiety, which are routinely caused by overwhelming levels of pressure.
So, here’s a quick list of things that work for me:
- A quick walk around the block without your phone is a neat little way to decompress;
- Shoot some hoops on a basketball court (with or without friends) or, if it’s an option, smash a few forehands and backhands on a tennis court;
- Hit the gym – you can do cardio and strength training or combine various workouts to sweat it out a bit;
- Squeeze the hell out of your stress ball – it works as it gets your blood pumping and helps improve circulation, which are both good things for your heart and mind.
Word of advice: don’t exercise and engage in physical activities just for the sake of it. Pick something you’ll enjoy in the long run so that you’ll have an easier time sticking to it.
7. Sleep it off
Did you know that every other entrepreneur believes sleep sacrifice is necessary to achieve success? Regardless of the type of work you do, the amount and quality of sleep you get is essential to productivity.
For some time, I’d get these certain periods every year where I’d slip in and out of the aforementioned half. No more – I’ve made a deliberate effort to change my sleeping habits, which means staying away from my computer and phone (no Netflix and such either), and watching what I eat before I call it a night. Ever since, not only am I feeling better but I’m motivated to be better and feel like I’ve gained a +1 point in the creativity department.
Never underestimate the serenity that comes from meditation. As finding ways to get out of your head and release your brain from work pressure go, this is the peak one. The best part? You can practice it anywhere – especially in your office since meditation can be as simple as sitting straight and with a focus on one particular thing, often the breathing itself.
I’m not a hardcore meditation guy whenever I can’t go out to do any of the activities listed above, I go for one of deep-breathing and meditation exercises. There are lots of good apps you can use (Calm and Headspace are two of the best I’ve tried) to experience that cleansing effect when you breathe in and breathe out. Once you get it into your daily flow, it’ll be easy to squeeze in a daily session into your schedule.
As much as meditation is good for sharpening your brain, it’s also good for befriending your soul. It’s an opportunity to better understand and accept yourself. The mind becomes more attuned with the body and its needs, which for me resulted in staying healthy, eating properly, and maintaining (occasionally even losing) my ideal weight.
9. Rock out or cool down with music
It shouldn’t be all that surprising that music can have a profound effect on both the mind and the body. Research shows that listening to music can change brain functioning to the same extent as medication. This is because the brain produces alpha waves when listening, which are present when we are relaxed and conscious. Their meditative and trans-inducing range lowers the level of stress hormones like cortisol and increases reward chemicals like dopamine and endorphins.
I like to turn on Vivaldi for more creative work (no surprise that classical music eases the work) but also to blast some King Crimson, Foo Fighters, Queen, Monolink, Chet Faker, and so on.
Music is highly personal, meaning what I find soothing shouldn’t necessarily be soothing to you. Forcing yourself to listen to widely accepted relaxation music may actually irritate you and create tension, not reduce it. It doesn’t matter if you’re an opera buff or like air drumming to your heavy metal – it’s important to find something you like as music is the most accessible tool for pressure coping and stress reduction.
Dealing with pressure ultimately boils down to personal perspective and the importance you place on the task at hand. By being aware, you can prevent (or stop) sabotaging yourself and lead a healthier and more productive life and business. Will the world really end tomorrow if you don’t succeed 100% of the time? I don’t think so. And the paradox? The less stressed you’ll be, the higher your success rate.
Once you’re aware of what you’ll be likely facing down the road, it’s easier to be prepared to deal with it head-on. Learning to cope with and perform under pressure is crucial not only to be successful but also to be effective while doing it. Speaking from a competitive standpoint, you risk falling behind those who do master handling the scenarios where a major hurdle comes up. And in this often cutthroat environment, recovery will be extremely hard.