Owning Your Stress for Success:
Planning, Prioritizing, and Sharing the Load
by Rod Bolls, Boxwell
It’s no secret that today’s work environment is stressful. With our current economy, labor force, and global supply chain, it’s not been easy. Businesses are dealing with an overload of responsibilities, and we are all feeling pinched to succeed. Customers are getting more and more impatient. Leaders are navigating through employee burnout, disengagement, anxiety, and dissatisfaction. And it’s no wonder. We’re expected to be always “on” with 24/7 emails, phone calls, instant messages, texts, meeting invites, pop-ins, and reminders. Everyone’s multi-tasking, and it feels impossible to stay on track or in the moment. Some would say that working at a fast pace is good for us. And maybe stress can push things to happen. But constant distractions and negative attitudes will take control if we let them. I believe the key to success is how we prepare for inevitable stressors.
As an athlete, I know what it’s like to push myself physically — often for many hours. But, for optimal long-term performance, I can’t go at full speed all the time. To avoid injury and fatigue, I prepare for each workout or race. The course will change, problems will arise, and obstacles will come and go. Once I’m able to identify possible stressors for a particular event, I can plan, prioritize, and move toward my goals. So, when the weather turns or my knee aches, I will have a plan on how to navigate through and keep momentum going at a healthy cadence. If I start stressing out about the multitude of problems that could occur at the same time, I will get overwhelmed. But if I train appropriately, map out the course, and maintain good nutrition, I can successfully move through variable conditions. And I might even be able to check out the scenery along the way.
Similarly at the office, we go through our days pushing to do more and more. We live in a culture where being busy feels good. And I admit that it is sometimes easier (and more efficient) to do things myself rather than delegate. Sure, healthy stress can help drive performance, but it’s not sustainable to take on too much all the time. Before I know it, my days are full of reacting to this or that. Stress happens when we feel that we can’t manage or control a situation. And unfortunately, that is a common feeling at work, where according to the Gallup report, we spend over 80,000 hours in our lifetime. So, how can we spend our time at work more deliberately with less stress? Many of our stressors are recurring and can be anticipated. So, be ready for them!
Plan for stress. It’s here for the long haul, and it must be consistently navigated. Rather than avoiding the hard things, we must learn how to perform under pressure. Businesses are noticing that customers have grown impatient. It feels like everyone’s a little grumpier these days. Now, more than ever, employees need to be calm and in control. If your team stands behind your product or service, you’ll be ahead of the game. Be sure your employees have a way to cope with testy customers. We all have our own techniques for regrouping and managing stress; maybe it’s exercising, unplugging from technology, sipping on some chamomile, or working from home. Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all method to manage stress. When you or your team is under stress, recognize that it’s probably because you’re confronting a situation that has been elevated by the current environment. These challenges could take your business in a new direction, so try to reframe them into opportunities. And be open to different methods of coping with what (or whom) is difficult.
Prioritize. Doing one thing at a time is a simple strategy for being productive. If you know your company well, you know what needs to be at the top of your to-do list. Sometimes this is taking a walking lunch break! The tricky thing about prioritization is that it’s always changing. Things come up, fall through, and get moved around. Learn to focus on projects that will have the most impact and are best aligned with your goals. Not everything has to happen right now. Make it a daily habit to go through your to-do list and delegate. As I plan my tasks, I try to keep a tight view of what’s most important and reasonably attainable. I like to schedule the less important tasks for the future and dive into or delegate what’s most pressing. Be sure not to avoid something because it may cause stress. Whether you need to make a critical business decision or take a heated phone call, don’t wait to confront the source of your stress. And know that it’s OK to pivot and try something new if your original plan isn’t working.
Share the load. One thing I’ve learned is how important it is to have a solid team of employees. If you’ve done your due diligence in hiring people based upon their skill sets and personalities, you will be better equipped to lean into stressors together. How your business functions as a team under stress is a clear indicator of the strength of your business. When your team watches you manage stress, it becomes possible in their eyes. Try not to normalize long hours and last-minute requests. Everyone should find joy in what they do, rather than be under constant stress to do more. Remember that the presence of stress doesn’t mean you’re also successful. And long hours at the office won’t ensure that you are delivering results. As a leader, be sure you’re aware of burnout or conflicts within your team. It’s also a good idea to have a network of people with whom you can discuss things. For example, try connecting with individuals in your industry or professional mentors who are handling similar matters. You’re not alone.
In today’s hustle culture, stress is all around us. We are taking on more work, and we’re trying to do more with less. But it is possible to succeed as a healthy company while stress occupies our workspace. I know that success is not something that just happens. To get where you want to go, it can be a long, uncomfortable journey full of doubt and struggle. And it’s not so much about the amount of work done. Rather it’s the intention of doing a job well within a team that cares about the work. Your end goal might be to make top five in a race, or to offer a new product, or to win the customer. If you can just “be” in the moment and make the work meaningful, it will show. And the next time a disgruntled customer calls, you’ll be ready to turn things around.
Rod Bolls is Founder & CEO of Boxwell, the Boulder-based manufacturer of innovative storage solutions for businesses around the world. He leads a team with honesty and integrity — prioritizing a balance between working hard and playing hard. At the core, Boxwell uses a hands-on approach to business that is carried throughout everything we do. Our product speaks for itself, and every detail along the way matters. From our first phone call to the finished install and onto the next order, we want our customers to have the best experience. Our storage solutions are produced at Boxwell-owned facilities in China and the USA. This diversity in facilities allows us to offer a wider range of products, better customization, quality control, and shortened lead times. We believe that anything is possible and work to make our customers succeed. That’s our culture.