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Feeling anxious? Tips for keeping anxiety in check

Wednesday, 28 August 2013 | By Matt Murphy

I often encounter business owners who are paralysed by their anxiety.


They have so much on their mind and so much to do that they don’t know how to move forward. This week, two of my clients were showing the classic signs. From the moment I said hi, I could see, feel and hear their anxiety. They were talking fast, were jittery, weren’t really listening and didn’t really seem to be engaging in our conversation.


Anxiety, unfortunately, is hugely unproductive. While nervousness is natural, and can sharpen performance, anxiety if left unchecked can be debilitating.


We all have times where we find it difficult to separate our personal and business lives. In my experience it’s crucial to tackle anxiety on both the home and the business front to ensure that we can get back on track.


We are all busy most of the time, so why do we get overwhelmed at certain points? It’s often when people feel like they are not in control. Of course we can’t control everything (as much as we’d love to), but if everything feels as though it’s spinning out of our control, anxiety can magnify it; in many cases, unnecessarily.


My solution sounds too simple. You need to get back in control. How is that even possible when everything seems to be spinning out of control? I’ve set out the following “control checklist” in order to break down anxiety by identifying rational and achievable steps towards a solution.


1. Assess the reality – what really is the worst case scenario?


Time for a reality check.


First – identify your fear. What is the one thing on your mind that wakes you up at the witching hour? While there can be multiple worst case scenarios, there is usually one thing that sticks out above anything else. Work out what it is.


Second – write it down. The very act of externalising your fear rationalises it and can make you realise the actual problem is not actually as bad as it might feel, emotionally.


Third – share it. Find a mentor or a trusted colleague or friend who can help you contextualise your anxiety and provide objective guidance.


Identifying the worst case scenario gives you the opportunity to avoid it. Look at it as reverse engineering your anxiety – it exists for a reason, but you can work backwards to find a way out of it. It is fair to say that most business owners have felt this at some point. The crucial skill you need is to be able to stay calm and work your way out of the problem.



2. The to-do list


Yeah right, I hear you say! Everyone has a to-do list. Here is a question though, do you have more than five things on your to do list? If you do, change the title to Project/Action Plan. The only things that get on the to-do list are the tasks that need to be completed immediately (i.e. today).


Look over your Project/Action Plan. What tasks do you need to perform in order to avoid your worst case scenario?


Let’s look at the situation of one of my clients.


He was feeling incredibly daunted by a project where he was unable to deliver his services to his clients. He was rightfully worried about long term damage to his reputation, losing existing and potential business, which of course threatens cash flow and profit.


The simple solution was to employ more people to deliver on the promise to his client.


However, he had inadequate space available on his premises to accommodate more staff. So he was forced to contemplate acquiring more space – an immediate financial burden and a huge upheaval.


Once again, the simple solution to move and employ a virtual workforce was not possible.


We discussed the options, and it became clear to me that there was another “stressor” at play. I asked him what would make more sense financially. He didn’t know the answer. Why? Because he had not completed his budget for the year!


Guess what was number one on the to-do list? Not worrying about moving premises; that could wait. He needed to complete his budget!


All of his future decisions would flow from knowing his financial position. The satisfying element of this process was that the client instantly started to relax because he now had a plan which would put him in more control based on fact rather than fear. He had instantly eliminated his fear of the unknown.



3. Assess what is possible


Be realistic with your goal-setting. Many people say they don’t complete things on their to-do list because they get too many distractions.


Distraction is such a negative word, and it’s one that I like to avoid.


My business manager often says that she gets nothing done. I know that this is not true because I see the evidence of her output. When I told her that, it emerged that she only rates herself against her to-do list.


From my perspective, her role is to keep the business operating smoothly. This means that I need her to deal with the issues that arise during the day which might stop our team from delivering to our clients. Until I pointed this out to her, she had seen these issues as distractions.


I requested that she keep a diary for a couple of weeks to work out what she spends her time on each day, to determine her workload. Patterns became swiftly evident! Once we had established this knowledge, we could then work out how much of her day could be allocated to her ongoing to-do list and determine realistic deadlines for these tasks.


4. Watch out for time traps


We employ people to assist us in our business to get the job done so we can deliver more products and services to our clients than we can do alone. But if our staff are not managed effectively they can become time traps.


A really simple thing to do to avoid your team sucking every last minute out of your day is to teach them the Urgent/Important prioritisation of tasks. Before they request your time they must ask themselves, is this an important task for the business that needs urgent attention? This will stop them badgering you to get something completed immediately without regard to its importance in the bigger picture of the company.


If you are a business owner and find it hard to focus and prioritise, find a mentor that can help you with managing the workload and help you achieve success.


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