Sleepless in Business: Tips for Managing Stress and Catching ZZZs

Getting ZZZsIt’s to no one’s surprise that sleepless nights and stress go hand in hand with running a business, starting a company or working to advance your career. There is always something to worry about – an important sales meeting or pitch, a new competitor, technology problems, a difficult personnel review, cash flow or even a lawsuit to name just a few. And that’s OK. While business challenges are inevitable, we’re all human and worrying is a natural reaction. I’m a firm believer that in business, ‘only the paranoid survive’. But at what cost? Well at minimum, that cost is a lot of sleepless nights.

It’s one of life’s ironies that although we need sleep in order to solve problems effectively, it’s the problems that keep us up. However, during my 14 years of running a business and tossing and turning, I’ve developed three techniques to help manage stress, compartmentalize the problems I’m facing and get more ZZZs:

1. First, I ask myself if I’ll remember the problem or situation I’m worrying about and if it will still be impacting my business in 1 month, 2 months, 6 months, 1 year, 2 years or 5 years. For instance, an email from one of your investors has you really fired up. The tone seems disrespectful and you’re lying awake planning your response and worrying about the looming confrontation. Simply, ask yourself if you’ll remember the incident or email in 6 months. And be honest. How many of the emails you received in the last 6 months that got you fired up can you even recall?

If you’re lying awake, challenge yourself to really delve into the business impact or implication. Ask yourself what’s the best case or worst case outcome? Does it matter to the business? And as importantly, why does it have you fired up? Generally, I’ve found that I’m looking at the problem in the wrong way and often letting my ego or emotions get in the way. With the investor example, for instance, perhaps the email touched a nerve about a bigger concern I have about my investor’s perception of my company. In these cases, I challenge myself to be objective, put whatever’s worrying me into a broader context and assess how much it matters.

2. Second, I pick up a pen, jot down my thoughts and attempt to put the issue on paper.  It’s often the case that once I have my thoughts written down and they’re on my ‘to-do’ list for the morning, my mind releases hold of the concern.  And more often than not, I realize the next morning after some rest that the issue really is something that I’ll likely not remember in a year, much less a couple of months.

3. Third, if it is one of the few problems that will have a lasting impact, that’s another situation entirely. My response is to reach for a glass of wine and acknowledge that I likely have bigger problems than a few sleepless nights. As solace, I remind myself that it’s rare to find a successful business leader who hasn’t had to overcome countless gnarly, difficult business problems. I often repeat a quote from Mike Herning, the Chairman of my company – “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.”

Why do these techniques work? First, as business owners, we tie up a lot of our passion and energy in our business and we tend to be obsessive-compulsive.  When channeled correctly, this can be critical for driving success, but often it also means we seek out problems, strategize excessively and over-analyze even the smallest details. When I look back at the hundreds of sleepless nights and the vast amount of time I’ve spent tossing over the past 14 years, only 20 to 25 were actually warranted in the bigger context of my business. These techniques are effective because they forces you to step back and assess the relative importance of the problem you’re facing within the bigger picture and approach it within the proper context.

Every stressor elicits a strong response, but the key is to throttle back your response and stress to the appropriate level. Being fresh and awake the next day is much more important than worrying about something that – in most cases – won’t have a long term impact on you or your business.

I’d be curious to hear how other business owners and entrepreneurs manage stress. Any other techniques you’ve found helpful? How do you manage stress when you’re faced with a really big issue that will impact your business two or even 5 years from now?

About alexford

Alex Ford is an accomplished entrepreneur, angel investor and executive and the founder of Praetorian Digital.
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