Sooner or later most people encounter stressful periods in their life. Juggling personal and professional responsibilities can be challenging to say the least.
For self-employed people, feelings of stress and pressure can be magnified and compounded by the worry that inevitably comes as part and parcel of running your own business. While it is natural to fret over finances, clients and even performance, the way in which you manage your anxiety can help to reduce your stress levels.
In this post I will highlight some of the most common pressures that cause us stress in our lives and look at the best ways to eliminate them.
There’s no doubt about it: working ineffectively and inefficiently can have a huge impact on productivity which in turn can aggravate stress levels. For any business person, deploying first-rate time management skills is vital.
The key here is to plan ahead. At the end of each working day, set aside time to plan your activities for the next day. Organize your day into small, manageable slots and set yourself a start and end time for each task. This kind of targeted focus will allow you to work in short but highly productive bursts.
Sitting at your computer for nine hours a day may feel productive but won’t always produce the best results. As I’ve discussed here before, targeted, effective work beats generalized, hard work every time.
Similarly, over-committing in terms of workload can lead to unnecessary stress and panic. This can lead to an overwhelming feeling of being “swamped” and the sudden realization that you can’t possibly meet all of those fast-approaching deadlines.
The best solution here is learning to say “No.” When you’re self-employed it goes against the grain to turn work away, but taking on more than you can handle will only lead to a diminished level of client service and quality of work, as you have less time to focus on the task at hand.
Learn to develop strict rules regarding what types of work you’ll accept, always keep a handle on your upcoming schedule and have a polite response prepared for when you have to decline work.
Business Management Pressures
When you become self-employed, the stresses of managing all aspects of your business quickly becomes apparent. Suddenly you are responsible for paperwork, taxes and all the other little time sucks that you didn’t have to consider before.
Administrative tasks can mount up rapidly if you don’t set aside time to deal with them. What started out as a few days of not addressing administration because you “didn’t have time” can quickly escalate into a week or two of unopened mail or an inbox crammed with unanswered queries.
These tasks won’t go away and keeping on top of them is vital if you want to maintain an organised working mind set. Trying to focus your mind on important jobs will be impossible with the nagging thought of two weeks of unfinished administration hanging over you and this will only lead to more worry and sleepless nights.
If you are really struggling for time then I wholeheartedly recommend outsourcing some of your more routine tasks. Skilled, reliable and highly affordable administration assistants can be found on freelance broker sites such as Elance and oDesk. Relieving yourself of some of these commitments and pressures can do wonders for your stress levels.
Becoming self-employed it has an unavoidable impact on our home life and health and well-being. Once the perceived security and safety net of regular employment has gone and we realize that the buck stops with us, life can quickly become overwhelming.
One study into the differences in stress levels between employed and self-employed workers discovered that general “well-being” scores for business owners and entrepreneurs were in fact lower than those of workers in regular employment. 41% of self-employed people considered their work to have negatively impacted on their mental and physical health at some point (as opposed to 33% of employed people).
This could be in part due to the fact that many business people feel under pressure to make sure they are paying the bills, providing for themselves as well as loved ones and making sure that they are financially sound for the future. While living in the moment and enjoying the freedom self-employment brings is great, most business owners often worry about the future in terms of financial security.
One way to combat this worry is to do some research into the financial options available to you. There are plenty of freelance and business support unions and organizations out there that will be happy to answer your queries. Making sure you have adequate health insurance and considering your retirement plans might seem unnecessary right now, but these are subconscious worries which could be adding to your feelings of stress.
As self-employed workers we’re all familiar with the rather aptly named famine and feast cycle. The pressure of wondering where your next pay check is coming from can often be immense. Some of this stress can be reduced if you are careful to implement a continuous marketing strategy for your business. It’s no good waiting for the lean times and embarking on a panic-filled period of submitting proposals and contacting clients. Not only will this make you anxious, but will actually perpetuate the cycle of stress.
Health and Well-Being
Stress affects the effectiveness of the brain, including functions of work performance, memory, concentration, and learning. One source states that here in the UK alone, over 13 million working days are lost every year because of stress. Stress is believed to trigger 70% of visits to doctors and 85% of serious illnesses. Being stressed, worried and overworked can eventually lead to burnout which in turn can result in periods of sickness and absence.
What you shouldn’t do in this situation is panic. It will make you feel worse. Instead, cut out any non-urgent tasks from your schedule, prioritize your deadlines and identify any possibilities for pushing them back. If possible, consider outsourcing some of your work to someone you trust. Finally, if it is likely that your absence will last more than a day or two, contact your clients as soon as possible. Everyone gets sick and everyone experiences personal difficulties, so they should be understanding of your situation. (If they’re not, do you really want them as a client?)
As I recently discussed, taking care of yourself is just as important as taking care of your business. Making sure that you eat well, get plenty of rest and find the time to be active will ensure that you maintain the healthy body and mind needed to function at an optimum level.
Finally, when you feel stressed, worried or anxious it is vital that you share your feelings with the people closest to you. Reaching out to family and friends will allow you to get your problems off your chest and will help to put things into perspective. Talking it through will lessen the burden and may even provide ideas to help reduce your stress levels.
Many business people will have gone through the exact same emotions and experiences as you, and turning to your professional network for support and guidance can also be a great help. Personally, I have often consulted other freelancers and entrepreneurs in times of self doubt and always found it to be a positive, reaffirming experience.
It is impossible to totally eliminate stress from your life and to trying to do so would probably wind up making you more stressed! Some stress and pressure can actually be good for you and as freelancers, entrepreneurs and business owners we accept it as par for the course.
The Entrepreneur Alan Hall recently wrote that, “Stress comes from unrelenting pressure to survive, succeed and to make others happy” and concluded that learning to cope with it is an inevitable reality for us all.
Recognizing when stress is becoming an issue and taking the necessary steps to lessen the pressures that contribute to it is crucial as it can prevent more serious mental breakdowns and burnout problems in the future. Above all keep focused and positive and remember that prevention is better than cure.
So now it’s your turn! Do you have any tips for coping with pressure and reducing stress? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!
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