I was sitting at my desk in my office wearing sweatpants and a flowy dress shirt as I participated in one virtual meeting after the other. My tea was cold, and my head was pounding. My notebook had more to-do’s than completed tasks, and I felt like a cat on a hot tin roof. My brain was a mix of ping pong balls and total mush, and my eyes were one simple question or comment away from a flood of tears. This was what the stressed-out, entrepreneurial executive me had become after months of poor self-care, no boundaries, and trying to do too much without asking for help.
Being an entrepreneur or executive is not for the faint of heart and requires thoughtful and deliberate action each day to keep you at your peak performance as you navigate your journey to greater success.
Having been both an entrepreneur and executive over the past year, I have had to employ much discipline and trial and error in what methods inspire my most productive and confident self. This involved taking a no-kidding look at every aspect of my being: how I was parenting during at-home schooling, what I consumed as nourishment for my body, what activity supported my physical and mental strength and stamina, and how I organized myself to approach each unique day and challenge. I learned a tremendous amount about myself in this process and am sharing several tips here to help you on your quest to not only control your stress level now but sustain high-performance long-term.
- Make lists and bucketize. If you are a list person and feeling overwhelmed, try creating separate lists for different projects or areas of your work. It can be less daunting and feel more manageable to see a list of ten items for one portion of your professional life instead of seeing thirty items in a list that spans multiple areas. I will often take my sub-lists a step further and highlight the top two priorities on each, particularly if they are time-sensitive. The visual queue (I am a visual person) helps me to stay focused and less distracted by the number of items in front of me.
- Create energy. High-performance individuals generate energy for themselves. They take low energy and convert it into higher levels of energy. According to Brendon Burchard, bestselling author and high-performance coach, we can generate energy on command by employing simple exercises when we feel a slump coming on. For example, stand up, bounce on the balls of your feet, swing your arms, and take ten deep breaths. Waking up your senses and bringing oxygen to your brain is a simple and effective way to refresh and recharge during the day. Learn what your body needs and listen to it. Train it for the long game and treat it kindly.
- Get organized. When I say organized, I don’t mean you should grab your label maker and the manilla folders (unless that gets you excited!). I am referring to your personal organizational style that sets the table for how you most effectively work in different situations. What environment makes you thrive? What resources are must-haves? For example, I know that I need a certain type of notebook with multiple sections (for my multiple lists), a particular pen (I feel so off when I have the wrong type), my special playlist for when I need to focus, fresh air (if possible—window open or work outside), a rotation of hot and cold beverages in my preferred cups, and sometimes a candle or diffuser nearby. I set up my space with these elements every day and am organized about my approach to the day if I am serious about getting things done. The less floundering around I do, the less stress that I feel. I know what my “toolbox” looks like for writing days, for meeting times, for work on-the-go, etc., and I take a few minutes to get those things in place to tell my mind it’s time to be productive.
- Prioritize mental health. There is a lot of talk about mental health these days, and it is for many good reasons. Stress takes a significant toll on mental health and can do incredible physical damage to your body if left unchecked. I have first-hand experience with the very long process of healing my body from the stress that had been choked down and “managed” for far too long. Just as you have a toolbox for organizing your work environment (see number three above), it’s vital to have an arsenal of wellness tactics available to you each day. If a workout regimen or morning yoga is not feasible or of interest, find other activities that you enjoy that bring you calm. For example, if stepping outside for fifteen minutes helps you regain focus, then do it. If going to a coworking space for a change of scenery provides a break from a stressful home environment where you wear many hats, then go there. If you need to play classical music and practice breathing techniques between calls to quiet your mind, do that. Don’t get hung up on one particular thing. Have a list of several effective stress relievers, and reference it when you need it.
- Seek support. Whether you are an entrepreneur or an executive, you will likely come across times where you feel stuck and lonely. Reaching out to a mentor, coach, colleague, or friend who appreciates you and the journey you are on can be a source of validation and accountability. Feeling isolated can exacerbate an already stressful circumstance. Yet, we often recoil when we struggle because we believe we can power through, or we are too proud, or we feel shame in asking for help, or perhaps guilt for bothering someone else. Maybe you don’t just have one go-to person, but you call upon someone from a bench of supporters depending upon the circumstances or connection to the issue. Regardless of how you choose to build your support system, the important action is to use it when needed (and even when you don’t. You may be surprised to find that they need you!)
When we are stressed, the intense feelings may serve us for a while, perhaps even motivate us. However, our sustainability is in jeopardy if we don’t learn stress management techniques to support us in the long haul. Trust in yourself. Care for yourself. Your reward is your success.
All my best and more,