Change Can Be a Stepping Stone
The mind. So, if you are using fats and simple
Drawing on personal experience as well as professional and passionate interest, the Stress Doc targets stress for the small businessperson. Here's a "how to" concept that blends high performance with high nurturance. Are you ready to cultivate Natural SPEED?
The Small Business Owner's Guide for "Practicing Safe Stress"
Building Natural SPEED
Why might the small business owner need a "how to" for "Practicing Safe Stress"? Consider these two maxims. A surefire formula for stress smoke signals is chronically grappling with roles and tasks involving: 1) high demand and/or high responsibility and 2) low autonomy and an ongoing or pervasive feeling of being out of control. Do I have your attention? The second maxim, the classic definition of the small business owner, reveals the desire to manipulate the above "demand-control" stress formula: a person who'd rather work sixteen hours for him- or herself than work eight hours for someone else.
But for many owners there still aren't enough hours in the day, especially with the startling emergence and expansion of such technological innovations as cell phones and the Internet. Customers and clients are potentially anywhere and everywhere...at any time. The cutting edge small business owner not only competes in a rapidly changing real world, but must also harness a lightning-paced virtual business environment. There's a heightened demand for efficient and effective products and service delivery. Simultaneously, there's an ever-shrinking downtime window as your small business becomes far flung, crossing ever-greater numbers of time zones. And despite "the shock of the new," the existential-temporal dilemma remains familiar: Can there be life after deadlines?
In such a volatile economic environment how do you manage the inevitable stress without succumbing to small business burnout? If running a successful small business is more like running a marathon than a 100-yard race (though sometimes it feels like a barely interrupted series of dashes) then the key for surviving and thriving is the Stress Doc's formula for "Natural SPEED." Try this daily regimen.
Sleep. Don't be cheap with your need for sleep. It's nature's way to ebb and flow and help you grow. Don't you just hate those glib aphorisms. Actually, if you're like me, you often stay up too late and wake up too early to get eight hours of sleep. So learning to take power naps is critical. Even when doing an all day workshop, I'll shorten (not eliminate) lunchtime for naptime. However, integrating sleeping and napping has its limits apart from a foundation of biorhythmic awareness and practice. For example, being a morning person, one year I paid for defying my natural day-night cycle. As a part-time stress and violence prevention consultant for the US Postal Service, once a week I worked the 9pm to 5am shift. More than the conflicts on the workfloor, and despite periodic napping, my mind-body system just never adjusted to those unmerciful hours. Upon completion of my tour of duty, elevated blood pressure was my Purple Heart.
Priorities. Perhaps the most challenging realization for the small business owner is, "I can't do it all." And according to a classic efficiency and motivation principle, you apparently don't have to. The Pareto Principle, derived by an early 20th c. Italian sociologist, I believe, posits: "80% of our results are produced by 20% of our activities." What a proposition: you can downgrade the critical status of four-fifths of your preoccupations without feeling guilty! So focus on your passion and power and, at least, learn to delegate or collaborate if you don't want to downgrade.
Of course, for delegation to work, effective hiring must be a high priority. As a president of a New York City/Dallas executive search firm reminded me: "It's critical to hire the right person and it can be so expensive (financially and emotionally) when you hire the wrong one Remember, the hiring decision is based on fit and culture."
The bottom line, of course, is creating a business environment conducive to success. Not effective hiring, not delegation, nor even the Pareto Principle negates the reality that at times successful self-employed individuals or small business owners must hands on juggle a number of revenue-generating activities. Having multiple income sources is critical for survival in a competitive climate with uncertain client bases, shifting consumer preferences and quixotic markets or financial resources.
Multimania: Method or Madness?
In the face of slow demand in one product or service line, constantly keeping a number of income-producing balls in motion provides security. It can also be exhausting. And with a time pressure tempest lurking or swirling, balls may be short-changed or mishandled; they can be deflated, dropped or, even, blown off course. Non-stop juggling can turn seeming fiscal stability into psycho-physical stress. Yet many business owners can't afford not to get into the act. Welcome to "The Entrepreneurial Catch 22."
Let me illustrate. I'm constantly attempting to orchestrate a mix of organizational training, conference speaking, stress and team building consulting, a small therapy practice, running an online and offline support group, and column and article writing. (Whew! In fact, with all the writing, sometimes I feel I no longer have a life I simply have a memoir.) Still, when one Stress Doc Enterprise ball appears "dead" or is out of season there are several options. The first involves consciously throwing away or tossing aside this unproductive ball, taking a breather and, then, giving existing projects added attention. (For example, my speaking and training business typically slows from after Thanksgiving to mid-January. Which makes it a good time to sow new marketing seeds.) The second scenario requires patience and faith. Over time, economic forces and business climates change. Some advertising eventually pays off. After lying fallow, so-called dead or dormant balls may be pumped up and put back in play. And finally, letting go of a ball not only frees up energy for pursuing another ball but this transition may open up a whole new ballgame or business market. To quote the Nobel Prize-winning, French author and philosopher, Albert Camus: "Once we have accepted the fact of loss we understand that the loved one (or loved ball) obstructed a whole corner of the possible pure now as a sky washed by rain."
Here's a personal illustration of Camus' concept. Two years ago, the painful loss of a key team building contract because of division politics proved to be the catalyst for overcoming Internet inertia. Initially tentative about getting online, I now had extra time and energy for cyberspace exploration beyond cruising the personal ads. Meandering through an America Online writer's forum resulted in my writing a humor column for an electronic newsletter. This soon led to the moniker of "Online Psychohumorist" for AOL's major mental health forum, "Online Psych." And within the year, in collaboration with an Information Technology colleague, my fledgling website was featured as a USA Today Online "Hot Site." The website - www.stressdoc.com - along with my expanding AOL presence (Keyword: Stress Doc) is creating a new revenue stream (online coaching for entrepreneurs and netrepreneurs) and adding to a steady one by garnering speaking/training contracts.
And then there are those times when all or most endeavors are simultaneously jumping; several balls are hot. Help! Where's that Pareto Principle? Hold on Its in Chapter four: "The Procrastination Puzzle."
Urgency, Familiarity and Simultaneity
Clearly, running a multifaceted enterprise requires both setting priorities and goals along with flexibly shifting time, energy, focus and resources to vital projects and urgent requests. Of course, customers and employees will frequently try to convince you their important needs are really urgent. Remember, urgent gets done now; important gets prioritized . For a priority system to work, key business players and partners often must negotiate to overcome turf and territorial instincts -- "My task is most important," "No, mine is even more critical." It's quite easy for the small business office to take on the manner and intensity, the loyalties and conflicts of a family. And sometimes 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 sum of parts" team. (My motto - "Have Stress? Will Travel: A Smart Mouth for Hire!")
Survival of the fittest requires both individual integrity and interdependent solidarity. So be wary of that "Multiple & Simultaneous Demand Situation," when you are: a) responsible for an increasing number of people and projects, b) frantically managing an ever expanding base of data, policies 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 feel like a "Servant" to too many "Masters." The bottom line, priority-affirming strategy is "The Stress Doc's Basic Law of Safe Stress": Do know your limits and don't limit your "No"s!
Empathy. Whether it's receiving editorial feedback on an upcoming column or enlisting an ear for the retelling of the day's trials and tribulations, I need/we all need support at the burnout battlefront. A little TLC: tender loving criticism and tough loving care. Sometimes support doesn't only come from a smiling face or voice (or email buddy), but from a friendly place. Running a home/computer-based business (when not doing outside speaking and consulting programs) I need to get out of the cave. One ritual involves afternoon tea and scones at the local teahouse. I write. I network. (Okay, I also occasionally flirt) It's a wonderful way to combine business and relaxation, if not pleasure. The change of scenery induces a new perspective and stirs the creative spirits.
I'm also a big believer in organized support. For several years, I participated in a weekly artists support group. Later I moved to a monthly social/networking group for the self-employed called, "Home Alone." Exploring computer graphics, the artists challenged me to overcome my computer virginity. The entrepreneurs opened my mind to the Internet and helped spark that pioneer spirit: "Go web young cyberite." Encountering folks in a structured setting outside your comfort zone can provide the best of both worlds -- support and challenge. Fireproof your life with intimacy and variety!
Exercise. You're psyched, you're focused, putting in those hours, hitting deadlines, managing those difficult customers and employees, not to mention squeezing in some quality family time. (Actually, this reminds me of a bank vice-president's definition of stress: "The fact that I can't beat my employees and I can't fire my children." ;-) Did someone say adrenaline? It's that hard driving, on the edge adrenaline rush that fires up so many. Unfortunately, frequent adrenaline bursts have nasty consequences, including elevated cholesterol levels and increased risk for cardiovascular complications. So in addition to pacing and prioritizing, physically working off excess adrenaline is critical.
Developing Psychological Hardiness
Let me illustrate, though this time, from the perspective of big industry. About fifteen years ago, during the breakup of Ma Bell, researchers studied many of the company's executives. They distinguished the execs who were healthfully weathering the turbulent transition from those individuals who started succumbing to stress-related conditions and medical illness. The former group, the "Psychologically Hardy," integrated "The Four 'C's" in their lives. These execs found time for work, family, friends, religion or spiritual nurturance and hobbies. They didn't put all their eggs, expectations or their egos in one basket. They had a "Commitment" to achieving some balance. The hardy bunch also had a realistic sense of "Control; they were able to grieve losses and could let go, step back and develop a new perspective and plan. They quickly embraced "Change." And the final, absolutely necessary factor for building hardiness was regular physical exercise or "Conditioning." Thirty minutes, non-stop large muscle movement through brisk walking, jogging, swimming, weight training, jazzercise, etc. Vigorous and sustained exercise releases endorphins, the body's natural pain relievers and mood enhancers. It's less a runner's high and more a runner's calm.
Also, when everything's up in the air - you can't seem to close any projects or sales, to meet elusive deadlines - structured exercise provides a self-defined beginning and endpoint. There's a tangible sense of accomplishment and control. So walk around the mall if need be. Just don't stop at any store for thirty or forty minutes. Your heart, lungs, waist and pocketbook or wallet will thank you!
Diet. You can't stop during the day so you inject caffeine - coffee and sodas. Then you need those two drinks at night to unwind. Or cigarettes to both relax and stimulate you. Or potato chips to numb you. Whew! In an attempt to regulate your stress are you putting your system through a manic-depressive-like cycle? And the effects linger. Did you know that it takes eleven miles of non-stop jogging to burn off the saturated fat in a Big Mac, a shake and order of fries? "Did someone say, 'Yuck?'"
In addition to worries about Big Mac and cardiac attacks, what we eat influences our ability to generate and sustain energy for the long run. All those simple sugars and saturated fats don't just weigh you down; this stuff also enervates you physically and mentally. Substitute dried fruit and power napping over junk food snacking.
The Doc's Power Breakfast
Also, avoid big meals as much as possible; graze rather than gorge. Nutritionists suggest four or five small meals over three large ones. For a lean-and-keen meal, try my low fat, high complex sugar and protein breakfast smoothie. Mix these into the blender: three bananas, a handful of frozen raspberries and frozen peaches, half cups of orange and grape juice. Then add three heaping tablespoons of soy powder. (Health food stores will have soy powder.) Not only is the soy high in energy-boosting protein, but it gives your breakfast booster a thick, rich texture. I get four six-ounce servings. I shared my morning special with a client and his immediate association: "I should be drinking this on a tropical island." (Anything to get out of Washington, DC these days.) Oh yes, the loyal partner with my smoothie one half of a toasted, naked bagel. (Definitely the title for my next book: "The Naked Bagel.")
In conclusion, understanding the stress-relieving and energy-enhancing power of healthy eating (and exercise) will definitely help you finish the race. Adding Natural SPEED to your daily operation is a vital, bottom line variable for landing in the small business owner's "Winner's Circle" while Practicing Safe Stress!