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Stress and decision fatigue: Reduce your daily anxieties

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Entrepreneurs face a raft of challenges that can be wearing on their mental health. The first is the sheer risk involved in leaving the 9 to 5. While entrepreneurs are lauded for their bravery, the reality is a less glamorous state of permanent pulse-racing anxiety about whether the business will survive for the longer term.

Your ability to persevere through difficult periods and manage the associated stress is vital to your company's survival. Nevertheless, entrepreneurs report everything from ulcers to eczema. Rob Willliams, Co-founder and Director of Hawthorn, a clothing manufacturer, said: “For me personally, leaving the 9-5 was the biggest stress in my business career but I'm so glad I bit the bullet eventually and did it. 

His solution to the daunting task of leaving the 9 to 5 and regular pay cheque was to save enough to give him something to fall back on if he had a slow week or month. For him, it was how much he’d need for five months if he had no sales. He admits he found it hard to know when enough was enough and didn’t need as much as he’d planned, but it helped him take the plunge, having initially tried to work full time and grow the business consecutively.

Having more time to work on the business helped us grow and looking back on it, I could and should have done it a lot sooner! My advice to anyone looking to take the plunge and hand in their notice to concentrate on their business full time is to be realistic about it. As tempting as it may be to hand in your notice right away, do some calculations.

The amount you will need to start your business will very much depend on the business itself. The average start-up spends £22,756 in its first year, across legal, accountancy, HR and company formation costs, but this assumes no early capital expenditure on plant and machinery, for example.

Then there is the decision fatigue. Entrepreneurs are called upon to make thousands of decisions every day; some vitally important – who to hire, where to raise capital – some mind-blowingly dull – the colour of the stationary, which bank to use. No matter how trivial, cumulatively, these decisions are exhausting and study after study shows that people get worse at making decisions the more decisions they have to make. Judges, for example, make worse decisions in the afternoon.

Entrepreneurs report that being overwhelmed by decision-making can prompt inaction. They spend too long reviewing a project, weighing up the pros and cons, and not enough time acting to make it happen. There has to come a point where going to another road show, reviewing another competitor or reading more may not make the marginal difference for your business and may even prompt ‘reckless caution’.

Some of the world’s greatest decision-makers have found short cuts, either ensuring they don’t have to make decisions on the ‘small stuff’ or have a process for making decisions on larger issues. Steve Jobs and Barack Obama always wore the same outfits, for example. When asked why, Obama told Vanity Fair: “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He also ensured those emails that required a decision came to his inbox with a tick-box of ‘agree’, ‘disagree’, ‘let’s discuss’.

Another key is to ensure that other people make decisions for you. This is easier said than done. It only takes 10 minutes to review some copy or scrutinise the marketing plan. The problem is not necessarily the time spent doing it, but the mental cost. Limiting time and financial resources is not the same as limiting decisions. Entrepreneurs need to appreciate that even ‘just this quick thing’ has a broader impact on concentration and stress. Priorities must be set and adhered to.

Technology is your friend if you can master it. Shane Clifford, CEO and co-founder of household management app WonderBill, said: “When your business is growing and you have demands coming from all directions of the business  - investors, stakeholders, senior or development teams - it can be daunting with the sheer volume of emails, messages, calls and requests. In order to think strategically it’s important to remain out of the weeds of the business workings, but that is easier said than done when your phone notifications are coming in thick and fast.

“For me it's all about technology. It’s here to make our lives easier and as a CEO I certainly couldn’t survive without it... Whether that’s nailing my life admin in minutes using apps to manage my bills or scheduling, to notes and recording to remind me of those random ideas which spring to life at the most inconvenient moment - I couldn’t do what I do without it.”

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