How to Counter Stress and Create Productivity for Entrepreneurs

Every morning, I open my eyes filled with a singular determination to achieve more. Expand my business, pen more articles, dive deeper into investments, offer more consultancy services, and, naturally, secure larger payments and increase my earnings. (Admittedly, that encompasses quite a few thoughts).

But as the legendary Biggie Smalls once said, “more money, more problems.” This is a universal challenge for entrepreneurs. Yet, despite the well-known difficulties, entrepreneurs, freelancers, and creatives constantly chase more (because they’re inherently ambitious). This explains the abundance of online resources dedicated to enhancing work productivity. Everyone is eager to discover how to accomplish more without the added stress.

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Stress is the antithesis of productivity. Hence, to achieve more, we must understand what stress is, identify when it happens, and learn strategies to eliminate it.

Stress Has No Place Here

Stress begins as a thought in our minds before manifesting as a sensation in our bodies, suggesting that experiencing stress is, to some extent, a choice, even though it often doesn’t feel that way.

Contrary to common belief, there actually is enough time in a day to accomplish all that we set out to do. The real issue arises in that window from 12 PM to 4 PM when emails flood in, phones ring off the hook, and visitors constantly interrupt. It’s during these hours that time seems to evaporate.

stress free

Remember the tranquility of the morning when interruptions were scarce? That’s when handling an additional two tasks seemed effortless. Your mind was serene, and your productivity peaked. Mastering your thought process is key to achieving this level of calmness throughout the day.

What we’re aiming for is a state of relaxed alertness, a serene focus where you’re fully engaged and “in the zone,” free from any feeling of being overwhelmed. Here’s how to achieve it.

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Say “No”

Sounds easy but in reality, not many people have learned to refuse others. When you’re doing something, focus on it 100%, don’t multitask and don’t think about other stuff. By all means, don’t allow other people to interrupt you.

The cost of an interruption comes from the fact that our brain takes time to readapt to the context of a problem, so while you might be thinking you’re solving multiple problems simultaneously, you almost always end up chasing two rabbits and coming up empty-handed. That’s not to say that multitasking is wrong.

say no

We’ve said it before, multitasking is usually wrong (here’s Science backing us up). Even doctors advise against it. David Mayer, a cognitive scientist had this to say to Entrepreneur Magazine about multitasking:

"Einstein was not multitasking when he was dreaming up the special and general theories of relativity."

Selective Multitasking

But the fact is, as an entrepreneur or freelancer you aren’t rewriting the laws of physics.

Multitasking is a skill which has its benefits but as a rule of thumb, you can’t apply multitasking to creative work, or to writing and email while talking to someone in accounting at the same time. Each task takes turns grabbing your attention and decision-making so what you’re actually doing is losing time since you are neither writing nor communicating at your best.

selective multitasking

Multitasking works for simple, repetitive tasks; tasks that are straight-forward, mechanical, and don’t require creative thinking e.g. data entry, copy pasting data, skimming through notifications or newsletters etc. When faced with the possibility of multitasking, do what requires your attention first, then multitask the rest of the simpler tasks.

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Barbara Corcoran, founder of the Corcoran Group, said it best:

"The productiveness of any meeting depends on the advance thought given the agenda, and you should never leave a meeting without writing a follow-up list with each item assigned to one person."

She’s right! We lose tons of time by going to meetings and brainstorming sessions unprepared. Whether it’s a client, associate or employee appointment, take the time to review beforehand what you’ll discuss and what you’re inclined to decide. Visualize a potential solution on your own. You’ll be suprised to find how little help you actually need from the other person.

online meeting

Imagine what they’ll say in response to your opinions. Run an inner role-playing dialogue. You could do this in your car, on way to work, at the gym or when relaxing. You’ll end up looking like you always know your stuff and your meetings will be shorter.

Another important point is choosing your meetings carefully. Use phone calls, WhatsApp, Skype, smoke signals or radiowaves. Anything to maximize your time by traveling less. Here’s what Business Magnate Mark Cuban had to say about that last one:

"Meetings are a waste of time unless you are closing a deal. There are so many ways to communicate in real time or asynchronously that any meeting you actually sit for should have a duration and set outcome before you agree to go."

I use Skype to talk to my girlfriend in the kitchen. Try it, it’s fun. Make sure you have an understanding girlfriend first.

Carry a Tech Sidekick

The hardest working man in Social Media, Gary Vaynerchuk says:

"I carry my laptop with me everywhere. If I have any downtime during the day, I’ll jump on my computer and answer e-mails."

I encourge you to carry a device with you at all times. It could be a smartphone, laptop or tablet… it doesn’t matter.

What matters is what you can do with it, things like:

Write down Everything

Jot those ingenius ideas down as they come in. Summarise meetings on your sidekick. Conclusions, follow-ups, contact persons… we all forget the useful stuff, so this is a briliant trick to save time in the future. Plan your next day on it. Write down what you want to accomplish. Adjust accordingly the next day.

making idea notes
Observe yourself with it.

Study your circle. There is no magic formula here. Alternate the hours and see if you feel more productive. Find your rhythm. Here’s one extreme formula from Business Guru Jordan Zimmerman:

"Cut down on sleep. Why would you sleep when it’s time to live? Sleeping isn’t living. You sleep when you die. I get up at 3:30 every morning and I’m at the gym by 4. Then I ride 25 miles on my bike before breakfast. Being in shape is what gives me energy."

Be Organized

Save and categorise your work for reuse later, especially if you’re a freelancer or entrepreneur. Your teachers and parents were right. You need to keep things clean and organised. It helps a lot.

Change the working environment

This very article is written from a coffeeshop. I write, plan, consult and even do accounting this way. I usually do this when I feel I can’t work anymore. Switching your enviroment can do wonders for your productivity. Entrepreneur Barbara Corcoran agrees to:

"Go outside. All the big ideas are on the outside. You’ll never have a creative idea at your desk."

working outdoors
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Feel Guilty

I know I’ll upset a lot of "positive thinkers" with this one. And it is indeed pretty hard to admit, but feeling guilty about wasting my time is one of the top reason I was able to overcome my circumstances and create a better life for myself. It’s such a rooted habit now that I have trouble taking time off and relaxing.

That’s the bad part but I can live with that. The good news is feeling guilty about the time spent not working makes you richer. The trick here is that the feeling should be genuine. Here are a few exercises to help you create this state:

Count your blessings

Realize most of them were given to you for free (your body, mind, people you love, soul, youth etc). Then realize that all your blessings, whatever they may be for you, will go to waste if you don’t maximize their potential through hard work.

Think about the food you’re eating

Think about how much effort and work was put into your daily nutrition. People had to plant, wait, hope, work, harvest, hunt and kill for you to get your daily chicken rice. The dollars spent on that food surely don’t cover the effort. What are you really giving back to society in exchange for your food?

enjoying food
People Work While You Sleep

Think about the people you’re competiting against, half way across the world. They work while you sleep. Then, realize that no matter how young you are, you are not immune to the very same end which awaits everyone (death). The only thing that really matters is how well you’ve lived your life, what you’ve accomplished and created for you and others. Do you feel you’ll be remembered correctly yet?

An Exercise In Guilt

Close your eyes. Remember a time when you felt really guilty and ashamed about something. Relive that: see, hear and feel what you felt. Imagine that feeling as a current rotating inside your body. Then, while keeping the current rotating, remember a time when you pointlessly wasted your time. Feel the guilt and the shame coming from the current. Practice this exercise 2-3 times a week.

In order for any of these exercises to really work, you need to put some effort in them. Really think and visualize with each, and you’ll find yourself more productive than you ever thought.

Ready To Go

That’s it. Those are the less-known secrets to productivity. Now, if you’ll be able to be smart about the meetings you take, refuse some, refuse interruptions while working, multitask only repetitive tasks while carrying a laptop and feeling guilty, there’s no conceivable reason you won’t be a multi-millionaire entrepreneur or freelancer.

If the entire process seems too hard, that’s because it sometimes is. In order to be extraordinairy, do extraordinary stuff.