Stress is one of the major problems faced by business Owner/Operators.
There are straight forward ways, though, of reducing the 4 main contributors to this stress; and they do not take very long to implement. We show how to convert “distress” to “de-stress”.
Typical stress points in smaller businesses are caused by:
- People: hiring, firing, managing and motivating.
- Time: finding time to get done all that must be done.
- Money: earning a decent Profit and Salary and paying bills as they fall due.
- Events: constantly changing scenarios and the associated pressure to handle them.
This article outlines ways of reducing these 4 types of stress and points you to resources throughout Profit Savvy.
Read this if: you are finding life as an Owner/Operator all too much and want to know how to re-assert your control. Slow things down a bit reducing your stress levels.
Related to: Profit Autopilot, Time Management, People, 80/20 Rule, Theory of Constraints.
Media: Written articles and a video presentation.
Degree of Difficulty: Yellow Belt (Introductory).
Stress is All Around Us
There is no doubt that many Owner/Operators work under considerable stress. Sometimes this stress is constructive because we are excited and challenged by growing the business and/or making it more profitable.
But all too often, it comes about because events just overtake us and we find ourselves fighting off one alligator just to get attacked by another. This stress is not healthy or helpful. It leads to all sorts of physical upsets and is also often damaging to your relationships.
It doesn't have to be like this.
There are some straight forward techniques for reducing the 4 main types of stress that are faced by Owner/Operators.
This article outlines several of these techniques that are more fully described in other Profit Savvy articles.
This article on De-Stressing is one we strongly recommend all yellow belt (introductory) readers to read early on in their time with Profit Savvy.
We often consider this bad stress is a bit like an Emergency Care Unit at a hospital. The patient is admitted bleeding, traumatised and quite disorientated. The hospital immediately, as its first step, stabilises the condition of the patient. They know full well beginning to fix broken bones is of no importance if the patient bleeds out in the meantime.
We argue it is the same with De-Stressing.
The first step is to remove the four principle traumas that are causing the stress and then we can begin to rebuild your health on far more productive lines.
What are the Principle Stressors
Although there are many types of stress from many different causes, we think most Owner/Operators would agree that the following 4 are among the major ones and if we could get them under control, things would be a lot calmer in our lives.
The 4 main stressors discussed here are:
- Taking control of events rather than events controlling us.
- Getting one’s life back by controlling time so that there is enough time to do what is important.
- Reduce the constant worry about making money and having sufficient money to pay the bills when they fall due.
- People problems; converting people from being a necessary evil to being a principle factor in the success of your business.
Read on for a guide to solving these fundamental stressors.
Or, take a 11 minute video introduction if you prefer
Taking Control of Events
We have all felt, from time to time, that events are controlling us. They come rolling down the bowling alley like balls and we are the skittles at the end of the alley. No sooner does one problem go past than another one rears its ugly head and we start a vicious cycle all over.
Perhaps we can approach this issue with a sporting team analogy.
Every time a football team runs onto the field, it is facing a completely unknown set of events and it must learn to quickly adapt and respond to these events in a pro-active way so that eventually it becomes the master of the football field and wins its game.
It is very clear that no team has a chance of winning unless they share a common goal. In football, that is straight forward; it is to score a goal. A goal is the goal.
The first thing our business team needs is a clear-cut goal that we are all pulling towards so that we minimise the stress caused by chaos and uncertainty over what the business is trying to do and what each individual staff member’s role is.
Continuing with our sporting analogy, we know the football team will work best when they share a common goal, which is to score a goal.
Until your business has a clearly identified Goal(s) then the team doesn't have a common destination in mind and will start to deteriorate into make-work activity, internal squabbling and general business ill health.
Clearly one of the very first steps of regaining control over events is to have a clear destination or goal in mind and to have clearly communicated that to all your fellow team members. This goal then becomes your "rudder" to steer you in the desired direction.
You can read more about setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals in our article here.
Learn to Love Your Constraint
An Israeli Physics Professor, Dr Eli Goldratt introduced a rather profound thought to the Theory of Business Management in 1984 in his book titled “The Goal”.
He argued that essentially there was usually only one, or a very few, bottlenecks that Constrain the ability of your business to produce whatever it is that it does. Focusing attention on other parts of your business, before focusing intently on the bottleneck/Constraint, is simply a waste of time. Nothing is going to improve until the bottleneck/Constraint is improved and operating at its maximum efficiency (read more about the Theory of Constraints here).
It is exactly the same thing in your business.
There are going to be, at any time, many things that you could be working on and you may try to juggle all these balls at once.
Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints (TOC) argues that this is not productive. Rather than juggling all balls, and in fact not moving ahead but simply being caught up in meaningless repetitive motion, we could take just one of those balls and focus on making it bigger, better or moving it as rapidly as possible to our destination goal. It is manifestly a lot easier to juggle one ball than several and there are many fewer dropped balls.
What is the constraint in your business?
What is the principle thing governing how fast you can progress?
Once you have identified that, focus intently on how to make that as productive as possible and all the other "make work" things that surround you fall into second place.
Just to give you some hints on what typical constraints might be, consider:
- A hotel's principle constraint is likely to be its number of rooms. It cannot sell more than it has, therefore, its primary focus should be selling what it has as best it can.
- A restaurant's primary constraint may be the number of tables where it can seat people. All decisions about the number of wait staff and kitchen staff are dependent on how many people can be seated at the restaurant. There is no point growing your kitchen to the best possible size if there are not going to be sufficient customers able to be seated to consume what the kitchen can produce.
- A doctor's surgery's principle constraint is likely to be the amount of time a doctor has available to treat patients. They cannot sell more time than the doctor has and if they sell less they are working inefficiently. Rather than worrying about staffing the front office or other distractions, they should be focusing on how to make the doctor as productive as possible. Is he/she doing unnecessary book work? Would it de-stress the doctor if they could pass the book work over to someone else.
- A manufacturing business will usually have just one machine that is a bottleneck. You can often pick this machine by the amount of work piled up in front of it waiting to be processed and by the comparative lack of work in progress after the bottleneck to keep the downstream production stages occupied. Consider for a moment that a 10% increase in the bottlenecks productivity flows through to the rest of the production stages downstream of the bottleneck so it likely gives a 10% increase in the business’s total productivity. Even better, this is very likely far more than a 10% increase in the profitability of the business. Nearly all extra production goes directly to Profit after its Variable Costs are removed. There are no further Overhead Costs to increase this production, it all goes to Profit.
Assuming you can see the logic in TOC, while this amazing concept is rattling around in your head, why don't you pause reading this article and try to think where your principle constraint is and how well you are servicing it.
Local Optima means that we do our very best to get some part of the business system operating as fast or as well as possible (optimal) without giving regard to other parts of the business. On the face of it, this is a good idea but actually it brings a host of problems that will stress you.
Continuing our football analogy, what do you think would happen if various members of the team concentrated on winning possession of the ball while others concentrated on covering the greatest distance and others concentrated on blocking the opposition. While each of these groups were doing their thing - maximising their Local Optima - the opposition team will run rings around them and our team has no chance of reaching its goal of scoring goals.
Local Optima is common in a business. We need to overcome that and focus all elements of the business on the primary goal and adjust local operations to best satisfy that primary goal, even if they are not necessarily working locally as best they can.
We often hear of a "Silo Mentality" in business. Each part of the business is focused entirely on what it is doing and only coincidentally thinking about the impact of its operations on other parts of the business.
Consider, for a moment, what would happen if the Sales Team silo was focused on selling as much as it can without due regard to the ability of the Production Team silo to produce product to satisfy the demand created by those sales. The business would not be doing well. Far better for the Sales Team to have a goal to sell exactly what the Production Team can produce; no more and no less and then the business is well tuned towards a primary goal of maximising its profitability from what it can produce.
Having all these silos in competition with each other and blaming each other for poor outcomes is definitely stress-inducing.
Increase Productivity 16 Times
There is a theory known as the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 Rule developed by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto in the late 1800's. He noticed that 80% of the wealth was being held by roughly 20% of the population. He went on to find this same 80/20 Rule appearing all over the place and in many different contexts.
Later writers have elaborated on this theme.
They suggest that most of us spend 80% of our time focusing on things that are not particularly important and only 20% of our time focusing on things that are very important. Cast your mind back to what you did yesterday. How much of that might we call "Mission Critical" - the 20% - and how much of it was unproductive by and large - the 80%.
Our bet is that if you are realistic with yourself (and of course if you are an average person) you are going to find that a big chunk of your time was unproductive.
In contrast, consider if you could focus 80% of your time on the 20% of things that were very important. Clearly, you would increase your productivity considerably.
In fact, if you can follow the Amazing 80/20 Rule rigorously, you can be up to 16 times more productive than your fellows.
The maths of this is:
Spending 80% of your time on unproductive things and only 20% on productive things gives us 20/80 or 0.25 of your time spent on productive things.
In comparison, if you spend 80% of your time on the 20% that count you have 80/20 = 4.
If we now divide 0.25 into 4 we get 16.
The difference between focusing on the important things and
unthinkingly focusing on the unimportant things is the
difference of 16 times productivity.
We can express the impact of this in 2 ways:
- You can become 16x more productive and/or
- You can get the same output as you presently are in 1/16 of the time.
Very clearly, focusing on the 20% of things that are important and ignoring the 80% of things that tend to clutter up your life and distract and stress you, means that you and your business will be as productive as possible. Being productive means that you will shrug off a lot of these stressors that come about because you are bouncing from one problem to another.
Death by Multitasking
We have all heard of multi-tasking and some people are proud of their ability to do this.
In fact, multi-tasking adds considerably to your stress level and is something that you should try to do without.
As a simple illustration of the impact of multitasking, consider the example of 4 projects (ABCD) each taking 4 months to complete when done individually.
1. If we multitask them by doing a month of each of them in turn as might be the case if we wanted them all to progress, we have:
ABCD ABCD ABCD ABCD
Project A will be completed in month 13 under this scenario and all 4 are finished by month 16
2.If we do one project at a time through to completion, we have:
AAAA BBBB CCCC DDDD
Project A is finished in month 4 and again all 4 are finished by month 16.
In fact, the multitasking approach will probably take longer because each switch from one project to another will probably be accompanied by wasted time for setup, swapping a project in and out and general human procrastination.
3. If we add in switching effects as “x”, multi-tasked projects look like:
AxBxCxDx AxBxCxDx AxBxCxDx AxBxCxD
There are 15 switch over periods in this scenario.
4. But, if we complete one project before doing another, thus doing away with the multitasking, the picture is:
AAAAx BBBBx CCCCx DDDD
There are only 3 switch over periods; a saving of 12 periods of wasted effort.
We can see that multi-tasking in the example above simply caused things to be delayed. We were working very hard but the final product was slow coming out. No doubt this is stress-inducing.
What we can learn from this is that we are better to pick something to work on, and work on it until completed or as far as possible, and then pick up and work on the next one. This will maximise our productivity.
We also know, from the previous discussion about TOC, that we should start with the Constraint and from the 80/20 rule the one we should work on first is the one that is going to have the greatest impact. It would be foolish to work on something that had a minor impact while something that can have a major impact sits idle waiting for you to find the time to get to it.
Multi-tasking is like juggling several balls at once with the inevitable odd dropped one. How much less stressful is it to just juggle one ball at a time.
For more on multi-tasking, read the Multi-tasking Tool article.
Controlling Events Wrap Up
We would all agree that we face a myriad of decisions and demands on our time all day, every day as business Owner/Operators. This puts us constantly in the hypothetical Trauma Ward of our hospital. The first thing that a trauma surgeon will do is identify which of the events are critical in their goal of stabilising the patient.
In this section, we have agreed that we need to have a Goal (stabilise the patient) and we need to work out what comparatively few things we need to do to get that patient stabilised as quickly as possible.
Knowing your goals, focusing on the constraint and doing the 20% of things that truly count 80% of the time, can make your life 16 times more productive and gives you back control.
There are several other resources in Profit Savvy that you can use to expand your understanding of how a clear set of Goals and priorities can dramatically reduce your stress.
Become a Time Lord
Most of us are probably familiar with Doctor Who, the Time Lord. In his many manifestations, he regularly demonstrates his ability to make time work to his advantage.
Here are a few facts to consider about Time:
- Any person has only a certain amount of time available to them both in the day and in their life.
- Logically, any group of people working in a business have only the sum of their available time.
- We already know the average person wastes 80% of their time (see 80/20 Rule above). This is further described in Parkinson’s Law which says that “work will expand to fill the time available” unless we can have some discipline about our use of time.
- We already know that we can probably do what we presently do in something like 1/16th of the time.
"But how" I hear you ask?
The answer is the Eisenhower Time Matrix (ETM)
The ETM is simple really; it is just 2 steps.
In this first step, every time there is a demand upon your time toss it into one of the four boxes in the ETM shown graphically below.
For example, when given something that is not important to do now, say wash the windows, place it into the Not Important Not Urgent time cell in the ETM.
On the other hand, something that is important and time sensitive, say sending out your invoices for payment, goes into the Urgent Important cell.
If you imagine yourself playing baseball - the pitcher tosses the ball (an activity that will use your time) and you knock it off into one of these 4 ETM cells.
Now we need a bit of discipline because it is probably already clear to you that the things that you should focus on first (the 20% in the 80/20) are the things in the Important/Urgent cell in the ETM.
If you do anything else you are not being as 80/20 productive as you could be.
Over time of course, some of the things in the Less Important or later cells will migrate up to become Important and Urgent.
Rather amazingly, you will find that a very large number of these things that you thought were decisions and actions that needed to consume some of your time will just disappear. They will never be important enough to float to the top and take precedence over other things.
You should be quite happy to let, what otherwise would be a time waster and a drain on your focus on the 20% of important things, disappear off your ETM.
Is There an App for That?
I am sure that it comes as no surprise that there are phone apps to help you manage your ETM. This means that, no matter where you are, you can capture your ideas and tasks and immediately score them on the timeliness and importance of them and throw them into your app’s ETM. Profit Savvy staff presently use an app called ToDoIstToDoIst which will work on any mobile or desk top computer.
We give a case study of how ToDoIst works in the Time Management Tool article.
Time Management Wrap Up
Taking control of your Time using these techniques that we are learning, for example 80/20, will mean that you are always doing the things that are most important.
Because they are important, if you fail to do them, they are going to Stress you.
By focusing on the important things to do now, we are also automatically reducing the Stress that comes about if you are not doing those things.
We are also reducing our Stress because several things that we thought we may have to do will actually fall out the back end of our ETM. That "sieve" has realised that they are just straw and not the grain to make your business work.
You can find out more about how to become a Time Lord at the following:
Double Your Personal Productivity in Under 2 Weeks – how to make a new habit and become 16 times more productive.
Time Management Tool – a discussion on the elements of an “ideal” system for Time Management and case study on a practical application.
Worrying about money is a very common and major Stressor for Owner/Operators.
There are 2 big issues:
- Will I make a decent Profit and comfortable Salary from my business or should I be seriously thinking of wrapping this business up and getting a job.
- Will I be able to pay my bills as and when they fall due.
Because these are such common problems, Profit Savvy has developed an entire program to address them, our Profit Autopilot.
There is quite a lot of material on Profit Autopilot that you can refer to in Profit Savvy but basically it does 2 things.
Put Profit First
Traditionally Profit is calculated with the equation:
Income - Expenses = Profit
This means that you find out what Profit you have made several months after the Financial Year has ended when your Accountant has completed your Financial Statements. You are then forced to take whatever Profit has historically happened.
Profit Autopilot turns this around and makes the equation look like:
Income - Profit - Salary = affordable Expenses
This reversal means that given any level of Income that we presently have, we want to set ourselves a Profit goal and a Salary equivalent to our market value. Then we have a level of Expenses that we can live with to achieve both this Profit and this Salary based on what we are worth.
Knowing that we are positioned to make a Profit and a market level Salary goes a huge way towards reducing the Stress that we face from the uncertainty of knowing whether we will be Profitable and what sort of Salary we are going to get out of this business.
It will also quickly tell you whether your business is viable. If you cannot get the equation to put you into Profitable territory, then your business is simply not sustainable.
Either you need to make changes to achieve Profitability or face reality and get out of the business as quickly as possible and divert yourself into another business that has a better Profit.
Profit Savvy has several articles and videos on this topic. Search for “C18” or look for Profit Autopilot in the “Contents” menu on the website.
Paying those bloody bills!
Without doubt, we all Stress over the issue of being able to pay our bills when they fall due. Some of these bills are particularly vicious. If we do not pay our staff, they will leave and then where will we be? If we do not pay the Tax Office, we are likely to bring a world of hurt down upon our head.
The problem, until we are organised about this, is that we tend to pay the bills that are screaming loudest at us in the fond hope that we will have more money to pay the rest of the bills as they fall due.
In Profit Autopilot we have a concept called Profit Piggy Banks that divides your incoming cash into separate Piggy Banks designed to pay your various types of debt.
Simply put, you have a Piggy Bank for Salaries, Tax, personal Salary and one or more to pay your various suppliers for production materials (Variable Costs) and your Overhead Expenses like Rent and Insurance.
By diverting an appropriate amount of money into each of these Piggy Banks, and refusing to spend the money in that Piggy Bank on anything other than what the Piggy Bank is designed to cover, we can be fairly confident of having the right amount of money at the right time when that bill falls due.
Imagine how much Stress you will get rid of if you can be confident of paying your bills as and when necessary. With this method, if something goes wrong and you have trouble paying your bills, you will get a clear and timely warning of this that allows you to act well in advance of any problem rearing its head.
Money Problems Wrap Up
The Profit Autopilot is a Profit Savvy program carefully designed to address two of the major money Stressors that any Owner/Operators face:
- Will I make a Profit and a Salary for myself?
- Can I pay my bills on time?
People, bless them, will cause no end of strife and Stress in your business.
It comes from our Staff, Suppliers and Customers.
Clients and Suppliers
There is no doubt that any business is going to need Customers or it will not succeed. It is also going to have some critical Suppliers.
We are, therefore, going to have Stressors related to these two groups. The trick is to manage those Customers in such a way that as least possible Stress is generated.
We have grouped our Profit Savvy resources together under “People and Profit” in the "Contents” menu on the website.
Managing Staff Problems
Almost any business that wants to grow is going to need to employ Staff. A specialist professional sells their time and there is only so much of it. You might know a brilliant Brain Surgeon who makes a lot of money, but they have a big "Constraint" (remember we talked about this in TOC earlier) since they only have so much time in the day.
On the other hand, if you are in business employing other people you get to harness their time as well, so your productivity is increased over and above your own by each additional Staff member.
This means that even if you are not a brilliant professional, like our Brain Surgeon, you can probably make a far bigger Income and Profit than them by harnessing the productive capacity of Staff.
The topic on how we manage Staff is a very large one that we can only touch on here. There are many more articles and other materials throughout Profit Savvy (see Resources below).
There are possibly at least 6 basic principles in managing Staff to lower your Stress:
- Get the right people on the bus. Highly respected business writers point out that having the wrong people in your business, with associated low productivity, means that you cannot get traction to grow and make your business more Profitable. On the other hand, if you have the right-minded people on your "Bus", even if you do not quite know where you are going yet, it is much more likely that they will be able to work together as a team, and get traction, in whatever direction the goals that you set point you. Getting the right people reduces the Stress of managing misfit Staff.
- To get this traction, you need a clear goal for the Business so that everyone knows where they are going. If everyone is pointing at the same destination (goal), your Stress managing them towards what you want is reduced.
- As we discussed throughout this article, we need to keep Staff focused on what is going to have the 80/20 impact on your business. We need a family of Key Performance Indicators (KPI's) to focus the Staff. It is well known that Staff will tend to do whatever the Boss is looking at and the KPI's are a clear demonstration to your Staff what the Boss is looking at. Having staff focused reduces your Stress, you do not need to manage their day to day efforts.
- Resist the temptation to micro manage your Staff or they will learn to wait for you to make all the decisions. If you followed Step 1 above, you have the right people with the right skills. It is simply a matter of communicating the issues and letting them manage the processes with the time and skills available to them. By not micro managing, you dramatically reduce your own Stress levels.
- People need frank, but pleasant, feedback to keep them focused. Even if something goes wrong, providing they are improving, persevere with those Staff rather than reprimand them harshly, otherwise they will simply "shut down".
- Not all people perform equally well. We need to group our people into Stars (A), Competent (B), Incompetent (C). The C's are not able, or not willing, to do their jobs well or are simply unpleasant people to associate with. For these reasons, they need to go quickly. Your remaining Staff are likely to be very happy to see them go. Life is too short to expend energy and become Stressed over people who are unlikely to do the job well.
People Problems Wrap Up
This has been a quick introduction to how managing People can reduce your Stress Levels running your business.
It is a very large and ever growing topic, in the Profit Savvy Eco-system, but some of the relevant resources are grouped together under the “People and Profit” category in the “Content” menu on the website.
Has This Helped?
When we set out we talked about the 4 major Stressors of Owner/Operators in business:
- Taking control of events rather than events controlling us.
- Getting one’s life back by controlling Time so that there is enough Time to do what is important.
- Reduce the constant worry about making money and having sufficient money to pay the bills when they fall due.
- People problems; converting people from being a necessary evil to being a principle factor in the success of your business.
Throughout this article, we have touched on how we might manage the Stress associated with the above problems.
The material we have covered to date is what we call "Yellow Belt". That means it is material that should be easily understood by people with an introductory knowledge of business management.
There is no real reason why you cannot rapidly implement the systems above to dramatically reduce your Stress.
Actually, we take that back, there is one major reason, and that is you simply do not get started on the road we have outlined here to de-Stress your life.
In that case, you might be some sort of Stress "junky" and maybe there is not much more we can do to help.
Goal Setting Recipe - Goal Setting is the first step of any new business or project. Until you can clearly define a set of goals, further effort can easily be misdirected down unprofitable avenues .
Personal Development Menu - Remember the old saying "physician, heal thy self". It means that before a doctor works on others, they should get their own life and health together. The same thing applies to working on your business.
Life Plan - The old adage that ‘money isn’t everything’ is very true. Wealth, in its own right, is a pretty limited description of what goes together to make a life worth living. In Profit Savvy, we stress the need for a clear sense of direction for your business by way of having clear goals. This Recipe covers similar ground for yourself.
Time Management Tool - There is one thing that every business person will tell you they are short of. That is TIME! Here is a way to drive a wedge into, and free up, more time. So much so that you will, rather bizarrely, find yourself with nothing to do from time to time.
Local Optima - It is a very widely held belief in business that each station in a production line should be working as hard as it can in order to maximize its efficiency. Generations of Cost Accountants have encouraged this and spend endless amounts of time trying to split, for example, the cost of electricity over each work stage in the production cycle. This is probably seriously flawed thinking.
Theory of Constraints (TOC) - Is an important optimising technique that focus on improving the throughput of work at the (usually) single bottleneck or constraint in the workflow. This Menu draws together a number of the Profit Savvy articles on the subject for your convenience. One research project demonstrated that some 89% of improvement in a manufacturing business came from the application of TOC.
Staffing Your Business Menu - People make your business function! Prominent business writers like Jim Collins say that the first step for a successful business is to "get the right people on the bus". This menu collects distilled wisdom on staffing related issues.
Hiring Staff Article - People are probably the most important contributor to your business so getting the right ones on board will be a critical determinant of your business' success. This article gives the wisdom of many to suggest a process to improve staff selection.
80/20 Rule Menu - The Amazing 80/20 Rule has the power to grow your business up to 16 TIMES FASTER and make your life a whole lot less busy and complicated. Got your attention? Work through this Menu to learn some of the best lessons Profit Savvy has to offer.
Multi-tasking Tool - The ability to, and the act of, multitasking is sometimes seen as a good thing. However, it can be clearly demonstrated that multitasking is an inefficient process that can contribute to waste in any business. This Tool discusses issues around multitasking, how to recognise it and how to overcome its deficiencies.