Stress is a fact of business life. Everything is more complicated, the selling environment is tougher, and everyone seems overwhelmed. Every day, we interact with stressed-out clients or co-workers, or both. And often we are on the receiving end of the stress our boss is experiencing. No matter what the source of stress, dealing with it in others saps our energy and enthusiasm. And unless we know how to handle it, the stress of others creates stress for us.
If you want to grow and make your organization healthier, you must address stress proactively. The following three strategies will help you reduce your personal stress levels and coach your team to reduce their stress as well.
More Planning Have you ever felt so busy that you didn't have time to plan? The fact is, the busier you get, the more time you need to invest every day in planning. Under normal circumstances, I recommend spending a minimum of 20 minutes of focused planning time each day. But when you're stressed out and busier than usual, I suggest doubling that to 40 minutes per day. It may seem counterintuitive, but by devoting more time to planning when you are busy, you may actually reduce duplication of effort later on. Stick to these guidelines and, within a week or two, you will have a little better control and feel less stressed.
Balanced Attention As a leader, you need to balance the time and energy you spend on short-, medium-, and long-term issues. A craftsman needs to focus on today and this week. A project manager should also pay attention to the coming month. But a leader needs to be able to manage daily, weekly, monthly, and annual issues. Each requires a different level of attention, and you can reduce stress — for yourself and your organization — by properly distributing your focus.
One way to manage multiple time frames is to make appointments with yourself, just like you would with a client —one appointment for each time frame. Again, if you do this regularly, your stress level will go down.
Be Proactive When I ask remodelers around the country how much of their time is spent reacting to situations, some say 50%; others say 80% or more. Always reacting to problems — “putting out fires” as it's commonly called — is a primary source of stress and is as unhealthy as being 50 pounds overweight.
An effective leader's time should be at least 80% proactive — and you actually have more control than you think. For example, when a team member comes to you and interrupts you with a question that needs to be addressed, don't drop what you are doing and shift your focus. Instead, try asking them if you could meet a bit later to discuss it — anything from 15 minutes to hours later depending on the importance of the issue. At least 80% of the time they will agree and you will find that the postponed meeting will be more positive and productive than it would have been had you allowed the interruption.
Clients and subcontractors are another source of reactive behavior. If you have five projects under construction, each of those clients may want to speak with you at some point every week. Instead of waiting for them to call, try setting aside time on Monday morning to proactively call each of them to ask about any issues that are developing. Or just call to set a time for a conference call or a meeting to catch up later in the week. This puts you back in control, saves precious time, and allows you to address issues in a more productive way.
There are many benefits to gaining control of your day. You'll make better decisions, meet expectations and keep promises more easily, and achieve more, especially with regard to long-term goals. Make these keys to stress management part of your company culture, and you will see not just better results but higher employee retention and more job satisfaction for everyone. —Mark Richardson is president of Case Design/Remodeling and Case Handyman Services, Bethesda, Md. He was recently named Maryland Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year for 2006.