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The Stress Doc builds upon a previous series of "Building Natural SPEED" for small business owners. His new skills and strategies will help both the entrepreneur and the individual juggle high demands, high performance and emotional endurance. So collaborate, differentiate and selectively experiment!

More Small Business Owner's Tips for "Practicing Safe Stress"
Three Keys for Mastering Multiple Demands and the Entrepreneurial Catch-22

The most challenging task for a small business owner may well be juggling multiple business responsibilities. The only thing more dangerous is too few workload balls. Over a prolonged period, insufficient clients, contracts or sales and your grappling with survival. As a small business owner contemplating a retreat back into the corporate sector, implied: "It's the revenue stream, stupid." Clearly, for folks in the small business trenches, when demands and deliverables exceed resources or reinforcements feeling out of control, exhaustion, dropped balls and a damaged reputation are likely consequences. The latter scenario can easily morph into that "Multiple & Simultaneous Demand Situation" Monster. You are: a) responsible for an increasing number of people and projects, b) frantically managing an ever expanding base of data, markets and procedures and c) feel like a slave to deadlines or tied up by thieves of time. If you are not careful, this Multiple & Simultaneous (or M & S) Demand Situation can turn around and become an "S & M" experience: you end up a "Servant" to too many "Masters."

Or, at the least, you are struggling with the "Entrepreneurial Catch-22": when business growth exceeds operational mechanisms or resources for adequately responding to changing venues and technologies, demands and responsibilities. But you can't not grow; survival is on the line. Yet each step of expansionary opportunity brings two seemingly regressive steps of adversity and exhaustion. And somehow, if you calculate and subdue this approach-avoidance tempest (or is it temptress?) there's still the perennial existential-temporal dilemma: can there be life after deadlines? (And honestly, aren't you getting a bit old for all that late night high performance stuff?)

So how do you break out of this paradoxical, seemingly self-defeating cycle? How can you grow with the multifaceted flow? By expanding and evolving while also establishing viable boundaries. And you start with this bottom-line strategy, "The Stress Doc's Basic Law of Safe Stress": Do know your limits and don't limit your "No"s!

Let me draw upon my netrepreneurial experience these past few years to illustrate three key concepts for managing the cyberspace-real time continuum. More important, here's to surviving and thriving at the small business battlefront!

1. Delegate and Collaborate. My first major cyber collaboration involved the birthing, feeding and caring of an ever-expanding monster - a soon-to-be award-winning website. With technophobic tendencies, there was no question about my working with a webmaven. Initially, I would occasionally visit and mostly be awed by John's construction efforts. It wasn't until column writing for a humor newsletter and Online Psych (AOL's major mental health forum) started generating steady email questions and requests that I realized web design and maintenance required genuine collaboration, not complete delegation. From catchy and instructional copy to format and graphics, bringing the perspective of a novice or "dummie" was vital. I often challenged John's assumptions as to what would be obvious or user friendly to site visitors. The critical concept: even when delegating to an expert, don't minimize the value of your/the lay consumer viewpoint.

Next, for promoting my site in both the online and offline worlds, I hired an internet PR/marketing consultant for a specific and time-limited project. I could have done much of this PR work, but it would have detracted from my primary mission: seeing therapy clients, organizational training, consulting and speaking along with generating a self-syndicated Stress Doc column. And would I have been as successful as Mary? Within six months of conception, our fledgling site was featured as an USA Today Online "Hot Site" Website! So while productive delegation and collaboration is an initial investment in money, time and energy, ultimately, it's a an effective and efficient commitment to diversification and business expansion.

Let me close with "The Delegator's Prayer":

Grant me the serenity to delegate when I can't
The courage to collaborate when I can
And the wisdom to motivate when I should
And to aggravate when I must!

(Of course, this is my spin on "The Serenity Prayer":

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know where to hide the bodies. ;-)

2. Urgent vs. Important. Two recent developments have made this distinctive issue critical. First, a consultant project requiring travel to the western US was just finalized. Then, in the same week, the online world erupted. My "Ask the Stress Doc" work stress column developed in collaboration with AOL/Digital City - Washington was featured in five Metro-DC regional web portals - from Netscape's Netcenter to AOL.COM: Washington. Email started jumping off the screen. The self-proclaimed title, "The Virtual Dear Abby of AOL," was no longer a merry moniker.

These two dramatic additions threw my modus- and cyberoperandi into turmoil. I've prided myself on answering almost all email personally. Very quickly I had to make a paradigm shift. Now, in response to a heartfelt note, I might send a brief personal message; the bulk of my emailings was resource links and/or an article that hopefully approximated the reader's concerns and expectations. While this operational shift may seem obvious, it still raised some misgivings. I was sacrificing intimacy for efficiency and hoping that quality service would prevail. (The next step is finding some other "Dear Doc" ghosts or clones.)

Of course, face-to-face interaction only intensifies the need for setting priorities and focusing energies. For example, customers and employees will frequently insist their projects are vital, their needs are urgent. Remember, urgent gets done now; important gets prioritized! For a priority system to work, key business players and partners often must overcome territorial and turf instincts: "My task is most important," "No mine is even more critical." The small business milieu can quickly take on the manner, intensity, and conflicting loyalties of a family. And sometimes (before things get too urgent) you need an outside consultant to help you and your staff: a) handle "family" dysfunction and/or b) envision goals, establish consensus and become a dynamic, "whole is greater than the sum of parts" team. (My motto - "Have Stress? Will Travel: A Smart Mouth for Hire!")

3. Experiment and Select a Performance Curve. The third group of principals for juggling multiple responsibilities relates to valuing experimentation and to distinguishing what's staple and what's supplemental for business operations. One key is developing "selective perfection." For example, into my original online and offline psychohumor essays I pour time, passion, obsession and humor. I'm shooting for at least an "A." (You know who's the true Type A Personality: the person who won't settle for being anything less than a Type A+.) For workshops, interviewing the client, some rehearsal and relaxed attention is usually sufficient to produce a top-notch job. Years of experience and previous trial and error learning curves provide the high performance foundation. Lastly, my twice weekly "Ask the Stress Doc" Q & A calls for professionalism, problem-solving clarity and brevity, not my most imaginative effort. B+ is good enough…Selective perfection in action!

And finally, there's that related corollary to experimentation and discrimination, one that helps generate a robust growth curve: the capacity to both gently tolerate and critically analyze (and sometimes agonize over) past errors, current shortcomings and anticipated vulnerabilities. Having the strength to demand and take in "bad news" is as vital as generating and sharing positive ideas and energy. So, strive high and embrace failure. You'll rarely lose and will surely learn!

In summary, when a small business owner: 1) consistently and effectively delegates and collaborates, 2) owns the distinction between urgent and important and 3) selects the path of experimentation, feedback and learning curves, he or she is expanding the small business repertoire -- from survival juggling to high performance flowing. So go with the flow and, of course…Practice Safe Stress!

Mark Gorkin, LICSW, the Stress Doc, a psychotherapist and nationally recognized speaker, trainer, consultant and author, is also known as AOL's and the internet's "Online Psychohumorist" ™. Check out his USA Today Online "Hot Site" website - www.stressdoc.com  and his page on AOL/Online Psych, Keyword: Stress Doc

** Join the Doc's "Shrink Rap and Group Chat" on AOL/Digital City, Tuesdays, 9-10:30pm EDT (AOL Members Only) -- Dig City Promo - Stress Doc.

** The Stress Doc's Work Stress Q&A  -- Ask the Stress Doc  is now featured on five Portals to the Web, including

  1. Netscape Netcenter  
  2. Compuserve
  3. Digital City
  4. MCI
  5. AOL.COM Washington, DC - Home

All five portal links can be shared with and are operational for both users of AOL and the Internet.

** For his free newsletter, Notes from the Online Psychohumorist ™ or for info on the Stress Doc's Online Coaching program, email Stress Doc@aol.com