Thursday, 28 February 2008

Stressy stressy moo moo

My son used to have an interesting technique for helping the situation when his elder sister was stressed. Once he spotted that tension was rising, a smile would creep across his face and he would follow her around chanting "stressy stressy moo moo, stressy stressy moo moo". He has learnt that this technique does not in fact help people to relax. My daughter has explained this to him. Clearly. He now understands. He doesn't do it anymore!

Handling stress in yourself, and in your team, is part and parcel of running a start up. Some people think that entrepreneurs are superhuman. They are risk takers. They don't sleep. They laugh in the face of disaster. And they never get stressed. How we admire them! Well, sorry to burst your bubble but it's just not true. We entrepreneurs get stressed just as much as anyone else.

The problem is that we entrepreneurs don't like to admit it. We have to hide it. No-one must know. We bury it deep and bottle it up. But stress will always find a way to bubble to the surface. And it's vital that you recognise the signs early and you do what you need to do to find your balance again.

If I'm alert, I can recognise the signs in myself. My sleep patterns go wonky. I start to go to bed later and later. Midnight. 1am. 2am. I find I'm hunching up my shoulders. My back (left side) gets stiff and I keep doing stretches. I feel like there are tears deep behind my eyes for no reason. That's when I know enough is enough.

Now comes the beauty of being an entrepreneur verses being a corporate wage slave. If you work for some big company, no matter how senior you are, you get locked into a vicious cycle. You have to go to that next meeting. You have to answer your bosses latest email. You have to do your difficult team members quarterly review. You just go on that few weeks too long and then if you are not careful you crack.

But here's the beauty of being an entrepreneur. If you feel yourself getting stressed. If you feel you are pushing things a bit too hard and you don't have time to think, you JUST STOP.

Hah ! How about that then?

You are the boss. You are The Man. You clear your diary and take a random day off. Laugh when your alarm goes off. Switch your phone off. Slob around for the morning watching Day Time TV. Go swimming at lunchtime. Clear off to the cinema and eat a large box of popcorn in the afternoon. Browse around a bookshop for a couple of hours and buy nothing. And just feel the stress melt away.

Don't even worry for a moment abut your business. It will all be there when you come back. All the excitement. All the challenges. The emails. The breakthroughs. It's not going anywhere. So take your time, take a break and go back refreshed, de-stressed and re-energised.

At least that's what I do. So don't bother calling me at Garlik tomorrow because I won't be there. I'm off to the movies. I'll see you Monday.

Oh, and if you see me mooching around a bookshop, DON'T follow me around chanting "stressy stressy moo moo".

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