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Small Business Stress Management - Nothing is Every Enough

Lawrence Losoncy

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We have all heard the refrain, “My work is never done. " Usually the person uttering this phrase means to say that there is more work to do than time in the day for doing it. Those hearing the phrase take the remark as a sign of dedication. The business coach hearing it, however, makes a mental note that here is a person on a collision course with burnout.

Reflect for a moment on the stress you experience when a task must be left unfinished. Even more to the point, imagine that the task did not get finished in the specific amount of time that you knew was sufficient. When the amount of time is reasonable but the job still isn't finished we all know something went wrong. We stress when something goes wrong. We stress when we miss a reasonable goal and fall short of achievable standards.

We stress when the schedule breaks down, especially when it breaks down for reasons of carelessness, poor planning or lack of proper effort. That is how we are programmed to operate: we blame ourselves and feel a sense of failure.

The manager's world of small business, by contrast, is filled with tasks that never end. There is rarely enough time in the day to do everything that needs doing and so time gets allocated to do some of this and some of that. Make some of the return phone calls; follow up on some of the leads for new business; do some customer satisfaction inquiries; visit with some of the employees or service contractors; read some of the more important trade information; do some work on the equipment; spend some time on the product or service that is the core business of the company.

By definition, if a small business must operate lean on personnel and long on multi-tasking not everything will get done. Therein lies the stress trap: human nature kicks in and the manager begins to see the frustration. The first and most abiding instinct is to work a little longer, start a little earlier and stay a little later. Then there are the self-doubts: am I really doing my best? Will we make it? and of course the mottoes all scream out: time is money, only losers quit, suck it up, how bad do you want it?

Something inside most of us wants to believe that if we work hard enough and stay with it the day will come when everything does get done and we could revert back to normal hours and a sensible work schedule. The small business manager must fight that thought and needs to encourage employees to fight it as well.

As manager you need to say out loud, “If we work hard all day not everything will get done. " Then, given the reality of the situation, be the leader in carving out realistically achievable tasks for the day. Show your employees what a good day's work would look like. It won't be getting everything done but getting some specific things done.

Define success not in terms of all or nothing but in terms of what is achievable. Show how accomplishing this task today will make possible accomplishing that task tomorrow. Emphasize, to yourself as well as to those around you, how the pieces when taken together will add up to the whole. Articulate this every single day. Make charts. Put up reminders and mottoes that emphasize what is realistic, countering the instincts we all experience about wanting to complete the job rather than walking away when the time is up.

Setting realistic daily goals and framing for all involved how the pieces make up the whole is the leader's responsibility. “Less is more" might not fit what motivational speakers preach about going all out and striving for success without counting the cost. In the world of small business the problem is not always lack of effort but too much effort, leading to frustration and burnout.

Yes, of course success is important for small business. But the bigger challenge is staying power. You and your people need to be there and be in good shape when success happens.

Losoncy is a licensed therapist, an executive coach and president of three corporations. To learn more about his services go to


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