Don’t mistake grinding yourself to a nub with a good work ethic.
8 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
On any given day, you may utter phrases like “I work in a high-pressure environment” or “being an entrepreneur is a really stressful job.” Although used interchangeably, there is a difference between pressure and stress — but entrepreneurs find ways to sabotage themselves with both.
Hendrie Weisinger, Ph.D., a world-renowned psychologist and the author of “Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most,” writes that the difference between pressure and stress can be summarized as this:
- Pressure stems from those situations where you feel something at stake is dependent on your performance.
- Stress builds when there are too many demands, but not enough time, money or other necessary resources.
Because there’s a fine line between the two, Weisinger suggests that when you feel the “heat,” you ask, “Am I feeling overwhelmed by the demands upon me, or do I feel I have to produce a specific result?” If it’s the former, it’s stress. You feel pressure when you’re in a situation when you have to “deliver the goods.” The latter can be performance-enhancing for entrepreneurs; the former can diminish an entrepreneur’s performance if it lingers for a long period of time.
That’s not to say that the two are unrelated. As explained by the World Health Organization, “when that pressure becomes excessive or otherwise unmanageable, it leads to stress.” As a result, you trigger your body’s fight-or-flight response. This can lead to some pretty serious effects, such as high blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety and depression.
There is some good news: By identifying how pressure turns into stress, you can stop sabotaging yourself so you can lead a healthier and more productive life and business. Entrepreneurs often endure stress by:
1. Not having enough time.
You have a deadline to meet, a phone call to return by the end of the day, a client to meet for lunch and softball practice pick-up duty for the kids. Your schedule is jam-packed, and the only thing holding it together is your ability to finish every single task in the time allotted.
These are unavailable examples of pressure. But when you feel like you’re running around like this on a daily basis, it’s of course going to lead to stress. After all, there are only so many hours in the day, and if you’re squeezing the life out of every single one of them every day, you’re not only crunched for time but also exhausted. How can you possibly accomplish everything?
The solution: Invest in time management.
This might be an obvious answer, but effective time management is one of the best ways to combat stress because it allows you to get more done in less time.
This can be a struggle when starting out. But Kayla Sloan, a financial productivity expert, recommends taking the first step by putting your priorities in order, starting with a task list. Focus on the most urgent and most pressing tasks. For example, if there’s a project deadline, that should be your No. 1 task — not booking your hotel for a conference eight months away.
Then, order your list. Assign numbers to each task, starting with the most pressing. Those on the bottom can — and should — wait for another day. Remember that not everything is a crisis. Starting with your most urgent jobs or tasks helps you prevent a crisis before it happens.
To keep your priorities top of mind, use a calendar app. This way, you’ll receive reminders on what you must do for the day, eliminating time wasted debating priorities or second-guessing your to-do list because of waning energy. This also means entrepreneurs have to stop taking on other’s priorities, no matter how tempting it is to do something right themselves the first time. Only help others when you have the time — if not, politely and honestly tell them you can’t.
2. Going the extra mile.
Politely and honestly telling people that you can’t do something empowers them to build their own skills and strengths, making them stronger employees and less dependent on you. To be fair, a little pressure isn’t always a bad thing. Take, for example, a freelance writer who has 10 articles due by Thursday at 5 p.m. Some go-getters would crank them out ASAP; others, however, would wait until Wednesday and Thursday to get them written.
Although the writer is cutting it close, that little bit of procrastination motivates the writer to get the articles done. It can even assist with creativity and help him make better decisions, as he has to let go of the deliberation he might have invested in with more time. But what if the writer commits to an additional five articles to make a client happy? That writer has taken on more than he can chew, which results in stress.
The solution: Stop going the extra mile.
We all want to go above and beyond for our friends, family, colleagues and customers. The reality is that you sometimes can’t go that extra mile for them. Research from the University of Bath has found that going the stress of going the extra mile at work is detrimental to your mental health.
You will stop wearing yourself thin when you start knowing your limitations. If the freelance writer knows he can write a maximum of four articles per day, he wouldn’t accept additional work if that would mean composing five or six articles in one day.
Once you know how much you can and can’t do — and accept those limitations — it makes it a whole lot easier to turn down opportunities. Our writer friend may be swamped this week, so he needs to be transparent about that when a client requests work. At the same time, the writer can inform the client when he has additional availability. Reframing this as choosing to turn down an opportunity, rather than disappointing someone, can eliminate further stress.
Another suggestion is to outsource or delegate certain responsibilities. If you own a business and are busy networking and perfecting your product or service, you don’t have the time to schedule meetings, pay employees or write content for your blog. You can, however, hand off those tasks to freelancers or in-house team members.
3. Failing to sharpen their skills.
You need to constantly enhance your skills and knowledge. This allows you to do your job faster and more effectively, eliminating stress, and it results in a real competitive advantage for an entrepreneur in the marketplace.
Using the freelance writer as an example again, he could become a better writer by taking a free online course once a year and reading as much as possible. By learning new techniques and being inspired by others’ writing, he might be able to eventually write five or six articles per day as he more readily brainstorms, makes connections and identifies shortcuts and streamlined methods for doing his work.
The solution: Make time to continually learn.
This may sound challenging when you’re juggling a business and a life, but it’s possible. Block out daily time for learning — say, 30 minutes after lunch — to read, watch a TED Talk video, sit in on a webinar or join an online class.
Start paying more attention; you may notice you’ve been doing something wrong the entire time. Once you’ve learned something new — through observation or your learning blocks — put your new skills to work by practicing them daily.
Identify specific people you want to learn from, and get inspired by learning from the masters of your industry. Seek out these experts’ insights, writings and speeches; you may even be able to find a mutual connection so you can meet the person and ask some of your more nuanced questions. (This is also how some people find mentors, which can further accelerate an entrepreneur’s efficiency and decision-making skills, giving time back for other things.)
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. While some entrepreneurs get locked into “going above and beyond” mode to help those around them, there’s plenty to be learned from the smart, capable people they’ve hired and surrounded themselves with. If you feel you’re really struggling in a certain area — say, learning how to automate more of your marketing — ask your team members with marketing and PR backgrounds for their thoughts. Reach out to colleagues who have experience in the area to ask how they have approached or would approach your concerns. Join an entrepreneurial group, where you can get a view into how others are doing things. Giving yourself permission to not reinvent the wheel can remove a lot of stress.
Stress and pressure are part of being an entrepreneur, but entrepreneurs don’t have to let stress sabotage their best efforts. By recognizing that they don’t have to be perfect — and are sometimes getting in their own way by trying to be perfect — entrepreneurs can take a step back to prioritize, empower others and take in others’ perspectives. Friction can wear an entrepreneur down or polish him up; he decides which will happen.