Why Every Entrepreneur Should Conduct Regular ‘Stress Audits’

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During the past two years, I’ve taken a number of steps to make myself (and my businesses) more productive, while allowing me to work smarter. This blog is a big part of that process — exploring what has worked and sharing what I’ve learned.

I began this process because, quite honestly, the day-to-day of running the businesses were influencing my personal life and causing me stress in ways that weren’t healthy. Today, however, I’m more productive than ever, with less stress, more joy and more time with my family than ever before.

That being said, there are some days or weeks where I lose my momentum, and find myself stressed or behind the eight ball with my workload. Rather than simply “fight through it” or get stuck in the mud, I’ve started doing regular “stress audits” that allow me to identify the problem and fix it quickly.

How does it work? I’ve set some clear “rules” for myself in how I attack my day, deal with my workflow, and stay productive. When get stuck in a rut, I almost always find it’s because I violated one or more of my rules — and my stress audit allows me to identify which ones so I don’t do it again.

I find that uncertainty is the clearest path to anxiety or feeling overwhelmed, and by clearly and quickly identifying the fact that my rut was caused by me, and can easily be fixed by me, I can get back on track that much quicker.

Here’s an example of the process I went through last week, which was one in which I got stuck in a two-day rut that impacted my attitude and productivity:

Violated my “No Emails After 5 p.m. Rule”

I have some clear rules for inbox management, and one of them is not checking email first thing in the morning, or the last thing during the day.  I am adamant about not checking email after 5 p.m.  If it’s urgent, clients will call or text me. If not, it can wait until the next morning.  It’s better to wait (if you can’t do anything anyway) than to hopelessly stress about it all night.

Well, I violated this rule last week.  I was on my way out the door to take my son to soccer practice and made the mistake of checking my email at 6 p.m.  Unfortunately, a flurry of emails had come in around 5:45 p.m. about a “crisis” that could clearly wait on action until the morning. Of course, now that I was aware of the problem, I felt like I had to deal with it, and spent my son’s entire soccer practice on my mobile phone. In retrospect, it all could’ve waited until the morning without any adverse impact on the crisis or my client relationship.

I’ve identified the problem, and fixed it. In fact, at 5 p.m., I now disable my email on my iPhone just to take away the temptation of checking my email.

Violated my “Conference Call Batching Rule”

As with inbox management, I have clear rules for avoiding conference call overload  One of those rules is to batch conference calls on specific days.  This helps avoid the uncertainty produced by a mishmash of conference calls schedule at odd times throughout the week.  Further, my work requires a lot of writing, and nothing kills a writers’ momentum like having to stop-and-start to hope on conference calls.

Well, I violated this rule on several occasions last week, scheduling calls at random times throughout the week.

To prevent this problem this week, I’ve blocked out large swaths of time on my calendar as “No-Call” times, during which I can actually tackle productive work, rather than participating on conference calls (most of which are either unnecessary or filled with unproductive time).

Didn’t Delegate Enough Tasks

Sometimes, when the workload increases, it can actually become more difficult to delegate tasks.  In the heat of the moment, I sometimes feel like I can deal with quick or repetitive tasks quicker than it would take me to explain or delegate to one of my team members.

Whenever I do that, however, I find that these seemingly small tasks all add up to big time “sucks” that put me behind and make me less productive. Delegation is one of the most vital lessons I’ve learned as an entrepreneur, and when I fail at it — my productivity suffers.

To fix the issue, this week, I went through my “big” to do list and highlighted every task that I should delegate during the course of the week. Then I made a preemptive strike of empaling my team members with those tasks. This got it out of the way before I gave it too much thought. In addition, I’ve started making a list at the end of every day of all the tasks I should’ve delegated during the course of the day.  That keeps me honest and helps me improve the next day (or week).

I understand if you don’t want to call this process a “stress audit” (some feel the word “stress” connotes some type of psychological failing) — so feel free to call it something else (“productivity” or “workload” audit).  Whatever you call it, I urge you to implement it into your regular routine.  The process helps me stay on track, stay productive and ensure that my work revolves around my life — not the other way around.

4 Ways Improving Your Fitness can Improve Your Productivity

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Committing to improving your fitness is a huge step in the right direction. Fitness is obviously important to improving and maintaining your health but it will also have positive impacts in all areas of your life. Fitness isn’t only about looking good or being able to fit in a pair of jeans. Your overall health will improve if you’re in shape. Your mind will be sharper and you’ll feel more energized to tackle whatever is ahead. Your overall productivity will increase and you’ll reap the benefits in your work life and home life.

Here is why improving your fitness will increase your productivity:

1) You’ll Feel More Energized

This is the most obvious reason – being fit will put your body in good shape. When your body is in good shape, you’ll feel more energized. You will be able to get a lot more done, especially during those long days at work.

2) You’ll Be Less Prone to Illness

Good fitness will strengthen your immune system. If you’re constantly getting sick, it could be because you’re not taking care of your body. Eating healthy and working out will make you less prone to catching a virus. Less sicknesses means more time to focus on things you need to do.

3) You Can Relieve Stress

According to the MayoClinic, “Exercise in almost any form can act as a stress reliever. Being active can boost your feel-good endorphins and distract you from daily worries.”

If you’re feeling particularly frustrated, angry, or nervous about something, a good workout session can really help you get your mind off of it and release some of that pent up stress.

4) You’ll Have Better Memory

Exercise isn’t only beneficial to your body but your mind as well.

As it turns out, consistent exercise will make your mind sharper and more alert. Good fitness will can improve your memory, which is important in almost every aspect of your life. If you’re constantly forgetting important deadlines, it’s possible that you’re too fatigued or lethargic.

Check out this April 2013 New York Times story for more information about two recent studies that show the positive impact of exercise on memory and brain function.

Improving your health and fitness takes more than just wanting to do it. Fitness is just as much about mind as it is about body. The hardest part it committing to it and getting yourself to do it. What are your fitness goals? Often times, people create very vague goals, such as “workout” or “eat healthy”. If that’s the case, it’s pretty much the same as not making goals at all. Fitness goals should be measurable. Lose 10 pounds? Run 5 miles? Workout 5 times a week? Whatever it is, make sure it you hold yourself to it.

 

5 Tips to Help Entrepreneurs De-Stress

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Any entrepreneur knows that stress is common affliction. It can take a very negative toll on our health, well-being, and overall happiness — and severely impact the success of our businesses. Everyone handles stress differently. It can rear it’s ugly head in the form of nervous “butterflies”, over or under eating, or sleepless nights. There are a lot of things in life that can make us feel overwhelmed, such as money, work, and relationships. While we can’t always change the things that cause stress, there are many things we can control that can help us de-stress. Here are a few tips to make your life a little easier:

1. Stop Procrastinating

At work, do you always feel like you’re working furiously, in fear that you’ll miss a deadline? Yes, certain projects just pop out of nowhere but for things we know about well in advance, don’t wait until the last minute to do them. Work them into your schedule so you’re not stressing yourself out the night before trying to finish it.

2. De-clutter

Clutter and mess can cause a lot more stress than you think. Have you ever forgotten where you put something? And then do you have trouble finding it because you have so much stuff to look through? If so, it’s time to organize. De-clutter your life and throw away anything that you don’t need or don’t plan on using within the next 6 months. Having less clutter will make you feel more organized. It’ll also save you time.

3. Plan ahead

Sometimes, a little spontaneity is good. But you have to pair that with a little forward thinking. Take the guess work out of your schedule. Not knowing what’s to come can cause unnecessary stress. Plan your week in advance and make a to-do list. You’ll know exactly what you need to get done and the amount of time you have to do it.

4. Work in some personal time

Work and other obligations can take up a lot of our time and sometimes, we can forget to work in a little personal time for ourselves. Many of us don’t make it a priority but we should. Having some free time to ourselves can really make us feel more relaxed and overall, happier. Spending a couple hours a week doing anything you like to do will help clear up your mind.

5. Stop worrying

A big part of stress has to do with mindset. Do you think of the glass as half full or half empty? Even if you can’t change your environment, you can change your way of thinking. Try to find the positive in everything. There is only so much you do do. After that, you have to let go and let the pieces fall where they may. Stop worrying and start living.

4 Signs that Your Work-Life Balance is … Imbalanced

is your work life balance unhealthy?

These days, the traditional 9-5 is never really 9-5. It seems as though people are spending more and more time at work and even when they’re not in the office, they’re constantly checking their emails or phones. How much time do you really spend working each day? In this day and age when it’s hard to ever really disconnect, we all probably spend more time working than we really should. So what’s the big deal? Doesn’t more work mean more productively? Yes and no. It’ll increase your productivity in the short term but putting in long hours isn’t sustainable for anyone. Having an unhealthy work life balance causes sacrifices and consequences that you don’t really want.

1) Less time with family and friends

Spending less time with family and friends is probably the biggest sacrifice we have to make when choosing to work more. It’s a difficult decision to make because we work more to be able to provide for our families but at the same time, our relationships with them can suffer. Maintaining meaningful relationships should be a top priority in your life. Ultimately, you can make up for missed work but you can’t make up for lost time.

2) Stress & Anxiety

Your health and well-being should be a big priority but often, it’s the first thing people forget about when their life gets crazy. If you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or fatigued because of work, it might be a sign that you need to cut down your hours. The work that you do when you’re tired or ill won’t be your best. Risking your own health to make more money is never worth it.

3) Lack of Personal Time

Having personal time to pursue new passions and pamper ourselves is important to maintaining overall happiness. Working too much can eat into that time. Even if you only have an hour or two to spare each week, be sure to make time for yourself. A little rest and relaxation can go a long way.

4) Burnout

No matter how much you love your job, you can easily feel burnt out when you work too much. Many people don’t see burnout as a real issue but it is. Think about a car- if you don’t refuel, it’ll eventually stop working. Our brains are similar (in a much more complicated way of course). If all we do is work, work, work, we’ll get tired, bored, and restless quickly. Burnout can easily explode into bigger issues, such as dissatisfaction with your job or general unhappiness.

Take a step back and think about how much time you actually spend working. Think about not only the time you spend in the office, but also the time you spend at home responding to emails or drafting a report. Does that number surprise you? If it does, it’s time to reevaluate how efficiently you are actually spending your time. Work to live, not the other way around.