Stepping away from stress
As you fellow entrepreneurs out there can attest, owning your own business isn’t exactly a low-stress proposition. Of course people who are invested in their jobs (emotionally, mentally, intellectually, or financially) take troubles and frustrations home with them after long work days, but my own experiences plus everything I’ve read indicate that business owners tend to have a more pervasive and inescapable anxiety that accompanies them almost constantly.
When my little bookshop opened in 2011 after years of planning and research, I worked as if I had no health concerns at all. I was at the shop from a little after sunrise until well past sundown day after day, and I was loving it. I’d get home, open my laptop or phone, and work some more. Longtime readers of my articles know about this phase of my life and may remember that my now-husband and at least one good friend had a mini-intervention with me. The summary of their message was this: No one should work this hard, especially someone with migraine and other chronic health issues, and I needed to check myself before I wrecked myself. Thankfully I listened to them even though, to this day, I need to be reminded.
Happily, I am proud to say that I’ve grown a lot as a business owner. I have a crackerjack team of employees and interns and have learned to delegate effectively, trusting that these intelligent folks will get things done. Even if they don’t do things exactly the way I would, they are completing tasks efficiently and professionally, freeing up room for me to focus on other things in my life (both related to work and not) that need my attention.
Something else I’m trying to do is learn what parts of the business are better served by my staff. This is related to delegation, of course, but involves my not only letting the reins get a little loose but passing them to someone else all together.
An example: The first week of January, I ask a longtime bookseller to be in charge of the crazy-making inventory process. Inventory takes many days. Every single book and gift in the entire store must be touched, scanned, and counted. Items that haven’t earned their keep get returned to publishers or donated to local organizations. Nooks and crannies get cleaned, store sections get moved and sometimes totally revamped, and the booksellers are awash in a remarkable mix of utter exhaustion and invigorating ideas. I love working hard. I love bouncing ideas off each other, alphabetizing, and reorganizing. But I also know that I would be far too stressed out (and too stressful to be around) if I were at the helm of this project.
So what do I do? I work from my home office each year while we close the shop to customer traffic for a few days and my team does all the inventory work. I brainstorm, work on bill pay, envision and plan for the year to come, and more.
The first day of the store’s being closed for inventory, I dropped by one night to buy a couple of cans of the special Avid Blend coffee we sell. (This coffee is my life’s blood and what inspires me to get out of bed each day. It’s really, really good, y’all.) The store looked like a mess. Stacks of books everywhere, cleaning supplies not put away, post-its everywhere, personal coffee mugs and water bottles in the customer (not employee) area, and the like. My heart rate increased, and I could feel my head start to swim with questions. Sure, they’re organizing, but why is it so messy? And are they returning too many books to publishers? And what does this stack of papers signify?
Then I checked in with myself, took a deep breath, and remembered that:
- I have an amazing group of workmates
- I deliberately delegated this work to a capable, smart woman who has a lot of book expertise and knows what she’s doing
- I had decided not to be involved with the process because I would stress myself and everyone else out.
I then tossed the hastily-written note I had begun into the trash, looked around once more, and said out loud, “It’s going to be fine. I’m going home now.”
I locked the doors and, when I returned to the shop after inventory was complete, the store looked awesome. New handwritten chalkboard signs, slightly shifted sections, less crowded shelves, and a lovely setting in general.
Stress is one of my major migraine triggers, and I admit to being very proud of myself for remembering why I excused myself from inventory week and for walking away from the shop that night, trusting that my employees would do everything I’d asked of them. My head felt a lot clearer within a few minutes of getting back home, and I felt free and easy knowing that I could keep doing my good work from home where I had the physical and psychological space I needed.
Have you ever needed to check in with yourself in a situation like this? Have you ever noticed your stress levels increasing when you get involved with a task that you deliberately bowed out of originally? I’d love to hear your comments below.