Let me put a picture in your head (or just take a look at the image below). This is how I picture me running my own business. I have a wide variety of disparate tasks, and I try to continually move each one along by making some progress and then moving on to the next task. Rather than the typical hamster running on a wheel image, I picture me trying to keep a bunch of balloons up in the air from landing on the ground. I just focus on the lowest balloon and tap it upward and look around for the next lowest balloon. Many days, that feels like my life. Send out a couple emails that require someone to do something and get back to me. That’s off my plate for a day or two. Tap! A balloon is pushed into the air. Deadline coming up by the end of the day? That balloon is about to touch ground! Better focus there!
What image do you see in your head when you have many competing tasks to contend with? A firehose? Or a fire? Maybe someone trying to keep multiple basketballs or plates spinning in the air? Or the old hamster wheel?
As small business owners, we all have a never-ending list of tasks and worries weighing on us. The challenge is to figure out how to prioritize these tasks and worries. It can be difficult to set aside time to read emails or think about your plans for the future of your business when you’re busy with the everyday balloons – just keeping your business afloat.
Not only that, but many of our stressors are actually beyond our control. Will inflation affect our cost of goods or require us to increase our hourly rate for employees? Will the latest state or federal government policy be helpful or hurtful to our small business? Will the extra $300/week unemployment insurance keep us from finding enough qualified employees to keep up? Will the economy improvements finally reveal themselves to be a part of a market “bubble” when it ultimately bursts and we are launched into a recession?
Can we control these situations? For the most part, the answer is no. As small business owners, we don’t have our own team of lobbyists looking after our unique needs. Sure, there are small business support agencies that have the interests of all small business at heart. But the sizes of small businesses vary greatly, as do the interests. For many issues, it’s up to us to address these stressors.
Manage the Stress
In the book “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle”, authors Emily and Amelia Nagoski point out that our body’s “flight or fight” stress response system doesn’t work so well in our current environment. We often can’t easily resolve the thing that is causing our stress – the stressor. In our caveman days, we would either run away from the stressor – the lion for example, or we would stay and fight it out. Either way, the absence of the stressor then led to the absence of our stress.
In current days, our body still wants to react with the “fight or flight” mentality, but our stressors are not so easily conquered. If the stressors are present every day and there’s not much you can do to make them go away, then you have to learn to focus on what you can control – your reaction to the stressors – in the form of your stress. You need to trick your body into believing that you’ve addressed the stressor so your body will calm down. If you can’t get rid of the stressor, get rid of the stress. According to the book, the best way to do this is through physical activity. This tricks your body into thinking that you are reacting to the stressor and then ending the stress cycle when you stop exercising.
Make sure you set aside time in your day to move around, go for a walk, play golf or tennis or pickleball with friends. Social activity, exercise, and breaks from the stressors can all help you lessen your stress level and go back to work with better focus.
Take Control Where You Can
While managing the stress can help your physical and mental health, it doesn’t alleviate the stressors that are impacting you and your business. It can be easy to get wrapped up in a pattern where just showing up to work is constantly stressful due to the many changes in the environment around you that you can’t control. Wages, payment terms with big customers, government policies, tax laws, a pandemic response, and so forth.
All the daily exercising is not going to guarantee your business will be successful, even if it does help you feel more relaxed.
So, what is the relaxed (or the stressed) version of you to do about this situation? Take a step back and think about the environment around you that you can’t control – but then consider that you can control your own reactions to the changes that are taking place.
For example, you can’t control the unemployment rate which might be making it difficult for you to hire new employees. But rather than just giving up and letting that balloon float down to the floor, keep it up in the air by focusing on the activities around hiring that you can control.
What Can You Control?
As a small business owner, you have more control over your work situation than all those poor folks who are still working for a giant corporation and being told what to do and how to spend their time each day. Take advantage of that!
A business owner I work with recently mentioned that a new hire of his was so thrilled to be working in a shop that was clean and well lit, as compared to the place he came from, which apparently was both dark and dirty. Perhaps that becomes a selling point then, to attract new employees who value that type of work environment. While hiring might still be a challenge as his business grows, promoting his workplace as safe, bright, and clean might help him attract additional employees and give him more of a sense of control over the hiring process.
Some ways you can take control:
- Set aside two hours each week to read newsletters and articles relevant to small business owners and to your industry. What’s going on around you that could turn into a new opportunity? Without the time to look outside your business, you’ll never find these opportunities.
- Set aside a half day a month to meet with other business owners in a CEO Peer Group or Mastermind Group to force you to focus on strategic initiatives at least once a month, rather than the day-to-day operations.
- Talk to your employees and find out more about what they like about working there. Learn what frustrates them. Try to find ways to give them some control over their lives and their jobs so it’s not all on you.
- Talk to your customers to find out more about what they like about doing business with you. Learn what frustrates them and how you can improve it. Look for ways to make their lives easier so they are more dependent on your services and support.
Your Action Items
So, this summer when you step away from work on vacation or just over the weekend, spend some time addressing these two questions:
- What can you do differently to help lower your stress when the stressors aren’t going to go away?
- What can you do differently to help you regain a sense of control?
Let me know how it works out for you! I love talking with small business owners as we all face these challenges together.
Looking to talk things over in more detail? I’m always happy to listen, to ask questions and to help look for some answers. Schedule a conversation with me to Pick My Brain and let’s discuss your issues together!