to do horizontalAll small business owners, self-employed solo professionals in particular, need to work smarter not harder every day to avoid feeling overwhelmed. When you’re starting a business and then managing all aspects of it on a daily basis, it might seem like there’s never a moment when you’re caught up enough to take a breath.

Oh, I know that feeling quite well! And stress can have a long list of negative effects both mentally and physically.

Signs that you’re under too much stress can include headaches, insomnia, irritability, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, frequent crying, fidgeting, social withdrawal, increased use of vices (like smoking, drinking, etc.). This is the short list; stress can manifest itself in many other ways, as well.

According to the American Institute of Stress, some of the emotional and physical disorders linked to stress include anxiety, heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, immune system disturbances, skin problems, and gastrointestinal system issues.

Without a doubt, too much stress can hurt your capacity to be at your best personally and professionally. Unfortunately, none of us can control every aspect of our lives (at home or at work) to avoid stress altogether. But there are ways to help minimize stress.

My Favorite Tips for Putting Stress in its Place

1. Reserve time on your calendar for what you need to accomplish.

Schedule not only your meetings and work for clients, but also block out an adequate amount of time for administrative tasks like sending invoices, filing paperwork, checking email, and so forth. Doing this will help you understand how much time you really have every day and give you a way to look back and evaluate how you spend your time. More importantly, you can stop worrying about when you’ll get this or that accomplished because you’ll have time set aside to actually do what needs to be done.

2. Don’t accept work from toxic clients.

Working with clients who are over-demanding, unreasonable, and just plain difficult to collaborate with are almost never worth whatever revenue they bring you. In fact, they could be hurting your business’s bottom line. Think about it: You likely spend more time on them than anticipated, and they probably diminish your enthusiasm and energy. Of course, every situation is unique, so you should carefully consider all things before “firing” a client. But generally, a decision to let a toxic client go is one you won’t regret.

3. Delegate to a virtual assistant or professional.

I’ve discovered many solopreneurs find this one difficult to execute. Why?

  1. They think they’re supposed to do everything.
  2. They have trouble relinquishing control to someone else.

It’s time to get over those mental roadblocks. By outsourcing even one task or responsibility to a virtual assistant or professional who specializes in a specific discipline (like bookkeeping, for example), you can alleviate some of the pressure you’re feeling. Just be sure whatever assignment you delegate won’t require you to micro-manage it. The idea is to save yourself time, not add an additional layer of work to your plate.

4. Say “no” to volunteer opportunities that will overextend you.

Volunteerism can provide valuable connections within your community and other business-boosting benefits, but it can also require a great deal of time and effort. I’ve known small business owners who enthusiastically donated many hours and their talents to causes. Then they found they didn’t have the time they needed to grow their companies. Before you accept a volunteer position, ask about the organization’s expectations and set boundaries so everyone’s clear on what you will and won’t do in your role.

 5. Take care of yourself.

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Yet it’s the one thing most of us neglect to do. As an entrepreneur, wife, and mom of four children, I understand how that happens. You face many business obligations and your family needs (and deserves!) your attention, as well. But unless you make taking care of yourself a priority, you’ll diminish your ability to tend to your company and your loved ones. Exercise, eat healthy foods, and get enough sleep…think of it as doing it for them if it helps you feel less guilty about it.

Ready to start this new year on a less stressful note? With almost all of 2016 ahead of you, now is the time to make some small changes that can have a big impact on your productivity and well-being.