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5 Ways to Stop Stress Before It Starts

Ellen Barnard realised she needed to make a change or stress would get the best of her.

Jane Porter

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Stop-Stress

In 2008, at the tail end of a business trip that took her from Kenya to India to Romania, Ellen Barnard realised she needed to make a change or stress would get the best of her. She’d been co-owner and executive producer of the Atlanta-based production company, Tomorrow Pictures, for 12 years and hadn’t made much time for exercise or social commitments.

“I wasn’t just tired. I wasn’t just experiencing malaise. I was really stressed out,” Barnard says. “I had an ah-ha moment where I thought, ‘If I can get rid of some of this stress, I can be more productive.” So, she signed up for a knitting class. To this day, she meets with the group every Monday night. “It was sort of life changing for me,” she says.

Relax. We aren’t telling you to take up knitting. Calming as its proponents say it is, knitting itself isn’t what made the difference in Barnard’s stress levels. It was the simple act of spending time with people in a social setting. Now, Barnard also meets weekly with a group of women entrepreneurs and walks with her neighbours three times a week.

Rather than wait until you feel overwhelmed by stress, try taking these steps to prevent it:

  1. Make time for friends. Barnard’s story clearly shows that creating time for friends and family can make you feel less stressed – and perhaps even live longer. A 2010 Brigham Young University study found that a lack of social relationships is comparable to smoking in its negative health effects. But in the presence of other people, the brain produces oxytocin, a hormone that can help lower blood pressure, says Kathleen Hall, founder and CEO of The Stress Institute, an Atlanta-based organisation that trains companies in stress resilience. Social relationships can even make the challenges you run up against seem more manageable. A 2012 study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that people who were alone estimated the steepness of a hill as sharper than people who were with friends. “Social connection will actually change your perceptions of the world around you,” says Heidi Hanna, author of The Sharp Solution: A Brain-Based Approach for Optimal Performance (Wiley, 2013) and a fellow at the American Institute of Stress, a Fort Worth, Texas-based clearinghouse of stress-related information. “It’s such a core survival need to be part of a tribe or a core community.”
  2. Get your nature fix. Being in a natural setting also may help prevent stress. That’s why eco-therapy, based on the premise that connecting with sounds and images in nature triggers a calming part of the brain, has been gaining popularity, Hall says. A 2007 study at the University of Essex in England found that people who walked outside in a natural setting experienced more relaxing feelings than those who walked indoors. But if you can’t escape the office for a stroll in the park, Hall recommends downloading a nature app to your mobile phone and spending a minimum of two minutes each day listening to anything from the sound of water to birds to rustling trees. If nature sounds aren’t your thing, consider listening to calming music, looking at images of natural settings or lighting scented candles, Hanna says. “If you can’t get to nature, bring nature to you.”
  3. Feed your brain. Your mother was right when she told you to eat your breakfast. “The first thing the brain needs in the morning is amino acids,” Hall says. Going too long without eating triggers a stress response that involves foggy thinking, slower digestion and other negative effects, Hanna says. What to eat to avoid this? A good start would be foods loaded with vitamin B6, which helps produce more of the calming hormone serotonin. These include tuna, turkey and bananas. Hall also recommends blueberries, which contain antioxidants and vitamin C. While coffee is fine in moderation, don’t overdo it and send your blood pressure rising.
  4. Take a few minutes to reset. Preventing stress doesn’t have to mean reconfiguring your daily schedule. Hanna recommends taking as little as three minutes between tasks to give your mind a break. “Those short little breaks give the system a chance to reset and decrease stress hormones in the brain,” she says. When you’re stressed, your body produces too much cortisol, interfering with your mental focus and productivity. It’s also important to take a few minutes for a mental break before eating, which helps decrease the stress hormones that hinder digestion. This could be as simple as taking a few deep breaths or visiting with a friend in the office.
  5. Move more. Exercise is critical in preventing stress. If you can’t get to the gym for a full workout, take a break to do two minutes of stretches or to walk a few laps around your office building. This will produce endorphins, which help you manage stress, Hall says. Taking that break before meals is important. It not only helps your body process food, but it also can prevent you from gaining stress-related weight around your belly.

Jane Porter is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has appeared in publications including BusinessWeek Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Men's Health and The Chronicle of Higher Education. She has a bachelor's degree in English from Brown University as well as a masters of fine arts in creative writing from Warren Wilson College in Asheville, N.C.

Work Life Balance

How To Work 10 Hours Less Each Week

We often equate working hard, long hours with being successful, when in fact, you’re just heading for a burnout. Here’s how to work less, while getting more done.

Pieter Scholtz

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“The key to increasing profits is to convert unprofitable interactions into profitable ones.”

John D Rockefeller, a man who commanded incredible amounts of money, once said: “Those who have leisure time to spend pursuing their passions and dreams experience the real wealth in life.”

Knowing how to spend time is a more valuable skill than knowing how to make, manage, invest and spend money. It’s wise for entrepreneurs who want to be truly successful to master the use of their precious and irreplaceable time. What I have found most interesting is that those who know how to manage, budget and save time — rather than letting it manage them — will always find it easier to make money.

Learning how to lop ten hours off a typical work week without sacrificing any income may take practice, but it’s easier and faster to accomplish than most people think with these three steps.

Step One: Fire extraneous customers

The first rule of any time management system is to utilise the time we are allotted most wisely. As the saying goes; Time is money. The thief to be most wary of, is the one who steals our time.

Related: Work Less, Work Better. Use These 5 Steps to Design Your Perfect Week

So the rather controversial first step is to eliminate wasted time on customers who tie up sales representatives with inconsequential sales, steal your valuable time with constant complaining and waste your accountant’s time chasing them for payment. You need to either get rid of them or transform them into customers who proactively feed the bottom line. While this approach may sound radical, it makes practical sense to only focus on customers who respond with profitable transactions.

Firing customers may involve deleting dead-end leads from the client database. Or it may mean sending customers or clients to a business that more appropriately matches their price demands. Or you could adjust the magnets that are attracting those unwanted customers in the first place. Examples of this are discounts, freebies or products in the business that are not related to the core business model. Concentrate solely on products and services that produce the most profit and cull the dead weight ones that don’t contribute their share to the bottom line.

You could spin those lines off as stand-alone businesses and sell them to another entrepreneur or upgrade to premium versions that offer higher profit margins. Profit is always the goal and is the most important barometer of success.

Step Two: Double the conversion rates of transactions

conversion-rateMoney is a fabulous timesaver and those who know how to make money more efficiently can leverage it to carve out more time for themselves. The key to increasing profits is to convert unprofitable interactions into profitable ones. This is a fool-proof formula for saving more hours each day without compromising on productivity or earnings.

Most people crawl toward retirement. Innovative entrepreneurs sprint there in record time. If you invest in a mutual fund or pension plan it may take decades to get enough of a nest egg to make it possible to semi-retire and take ten hours off each week to play golf or spend time with family. However, increasing profits in a business can be done in a matter of days or weeks.

To prepare for your profit-boosting initiative, gather accounting data and metrics to get a clear picture of where your profits come from, how many contacts are made with customers each month and how many customers make actual purchases. An easy way to harvest such information is by using software connected to point-of-sale terminals or cash registers.

Next, launch a marketing and advertising push to generate new customer leads, to encourage existing customers to buy more and to promote the most profitable products or services.

Related: How To Work Less And Still Get More Done

Part of this effort should involve a new way of looking at the business model. Most entrepreneurs see the future of their companies in terms of products and services that fill a particular market need or niche. Find the right merchandise and the customers will come. Build the best resort and it will be booked a year in advance. Another way to view the marketplace of opportunity is to reverse that point of view. Instead of looking for the ideal items to sell, invest in purchasing the loyalty of the perfect customer. Rather than chasing market share, chase ‘wallet share’ or more profitable customer-based transactions. No matter what a business sells, it’s ultimately the customers and how many times they spend money that generates the profits. Invest in attracting and retaining good customers and the rest will take care of itself automatically.

Instead of reinventing the wheel, find out who is buying wheels and make them your steady customers. Then sell them a premium wheel with a wider profit margin. Finally, ask clients to bring in their friends so that you can sell them a set of wheels too.

Once an expanding customer base is established, use incentives such as superior customer service, in-house financing, exclusive product lines and preferential customer perks to inspire clients to double the number of their monthly transactions.

Try up-selling customers to premium products. Cross-sell them to accessories or add-on features. Even down-sell to them by offering a more economical version of the product they can’t yet afford so that they don’t take their business to a competitor. At the same time, continually make a choreographed effort to generate fresh leads for potential new customers.

Step Three: Run your businesses on auto-pilot

Now the business owner has enviable options. One possibility is to close down the business for ten hours each week, take time off and settle for making the same amount of money monthly that was generated before boosting profits by 25%.

Another alternative is to leverage that newfound success for progressive changes and forward momentum. You can maintain the same hours of operation, capture the extra 25% in profits and then wisely reinvest those profits in greater timesaving initiatives.

By working smarter — not harder — through organised systems, cutting-edge technology, innovative advertising and dynamic employee training, you can prepare to put the business into the hands of capable others — which is the next step toward personal freedom. If somebody else is running the store — without any loss of productivity — it is possible for you to literally play golf all day without loss of income.

Related: How To Make More Money By Doing Less Work

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Work Life Balance

Distractions Are Hurting You More Than You Realise: Here’s Why

Research shows that returning to your original focus, following a distraction, takes, on average, a full 23 minutes and 15 seconds.

Jayson Demers

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For most American professionals, distractions are a normal part of life. You’ll get an email notification in the middle of a project, or a text during a meeting, or you’ll notice an interesting article on social media when you’re trying to focus on a solo task.

Then you’ll dive down that rabbit hole to learn more about it.

On a surface level, distractions range from the pleasant and barely noticeable to the mildly annoying, but they may be affecting you more than you realise.

Building and getting back your focus

For some people, passing distractions never seem to cost much time. They’ll take 30 seconds or a minute to look at their phone, or even two minutes to scroll through their Facebook news feed; then they’ll return to work. But, if this doesn’t sound like you, you may be in the extreme minority, considering that 90 percent of employees self-report using social media during work hours.

Related: For Vusi Thembekwayo, Focus Leads To Big Wins

Unfortunately, those minutes-long expenditures are only the tip of the iceberg. The time you spend on the distraction itself is trivial in most cases, but you also have to incorporate, in that “lost” time, the minutes it takes your brain to regain its focus on your initial task. And according to a study from the University of California-Irvine, that return to your original focus, following a distraction, takes, on average, a full 23 minutes and 15 seconds.

In other words, if you’re distracted at least once every 23 minutes, there’s a good chance you’ll never ramp up to your fully focused potential.

The dangers of multitasking

As if that weren’t bad enough, getting distracted also forces your brain to multitask; you won’t bring a project neatly to a close, so you’ll keep working on it to some degree while you attempt to shift your attention to another task competing for your attention.

This is bad for several reasons. According to Stanford neuroscientist Russ Poldrack, if you learn new information while multitasking, that information can get sent to the wrong part of the brain. You may feel that you’re paying attention in a meeting and reading up about a new creative brief at the same time, but chances are you won’t retain information from either source.

On top of that, the brain isn’t designed for multitasking; there are steeper metabolic costs to shifting your attention, which means the brain consumes far more oxygenated glucose during the changeover. If you switch back and forth between tasks often enough, you could feel disoriented, or even exhausted.

In addition, your brain will produce more cortisol, a stress hormone that often leads to irritability, aggression and impulsive behaviour.

The gateway distraction

It’s also important to consider the fact that most of our modern distractions have the potential to occupy far more than just a few minutes of our time. Most social media apps, for example, are designed to be addictive; they give you just enough of a reward to keep you using them; they provide no sense of completeness because of their infinite-scrolling potential and they constantly give you notifications so you can see what’s new.

If you aren’t careful, a quick look at your newsfeed can turn into a 30-minute long dive into the digital world.

Related: This Isn’t The Army: Why It’s Important To Focus On Teaching Instead Of Punishment

When distractions are good

All that being said, there is a case for arguing that distractions can be beneficial. For example, there’s evidence to suggest that mental distractions can aid in pain relief, especially for sufferers of chronic pain. They may also provide short-term relief for anxiety and distress.

In addition, pulling yourself away from a task can give your brain some much-needed time to decompress and refocus. There’s a reason we tend to come up with our best ideas when we’re bored or otherwise unoccupied; the brain has more freedom and leisure to wander to new places and tinker with problems that exist in the background.

If you’re specifically using a distraction to help your brain refocus (and possibly de-stress for a moment), you can actually get some value from your distractions.

Despite some potential benefits (when your distractions are fully under your control), though, for the most part, distractions are damaging your productivity – and in multiple ways.

If you want to improve your overall output and de-stress in the meantime, your best option is to limit your distractions by turning off notifications, scheduling your breaks, staying more disciplined with sites and apps likely to steal your attention and communicating to your coworkers about your need to focus throughout the day.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Work Life Balance

Are You A Procrastinator? Don’t Be By Doing These 3 Things

Take control of your time and super-charge your day, making the most of your most valuable resource: Time.

Erik Kruger

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The more time I spend thinking, writing and coaching about how to combat procrastination, the more I realise how much bigger this problem is than I initially thought. Every person reading this column will at some point have fallen victim to this avoidance behaviour. In fact, many of us fall prey to it daily.

If you’re serious about personal and business success, overcoming procrastination should be top of mind. If you’re able to master the ability to not procrastinate, you’ll supercharge your productivity and performance without the need for any new tools, techniques or information.

By simply doing what you are supposed to do, you become more effective. The most powerful truths are often the simplest ones too. Let’s look at three ideas that will help you create momentum.

One: Know Your Style

Did you know there are six procrastination styles? Thanks to the work of Sapadin and Maguire we have identified certain ‘archetypes’ that we can use to relate to procrastination styles. Going through the list is an interesting exercise for raising awareness. It won’t ‘cure’ procrastination but it gives you an interesting starting point for further exploration.

Related: Why Your Procrastination Excuses Don’t Cut It

  • The Perfectionist does not start or finish in case it is not perfect in the eyes of others or self. Typical for creatives and entrepreneurs.
  • The Dreamer wants life to be smooth. They love to dream big without translating it into action. If their dreams never become reality, then they can never fail.
  • The Worrier is always wondering “what if something goes wrong?” They get caught up in their heads and over-analyse the situation.
  • The Defier is resistant to the instruction of others because they do not want to be told what to do. They procrastinate not because of the task at hand but because of their relationship with the task giver.
  • The Crisis Maker likes living on the edge. They feel that the added pressure of a looming deadline makes them work better.
  • The Over-doer takes on too much without establishing priorities and boundaries. They ultimately realise that they are overcommitted and start losing their grasp on the task.

Two: Time Immersion (TI)

I am currently completing my Master’s degree in Coaching. There have been times when I have found it incredibly difficult to motivate myself to do the work. One effective method that has helped me to progress is to focus on ‘time spent immersed’ instead of focusing on a specific outcome.

Instead of committing to a specific number of words or chapters I commit to just sitting down with the work for a specific amount of time. In my case, 45 minutes. This means that for those 45 minutes I immerse myself in the work. Reading a bit here, writing a bit there, and at the end of the 45 minutes I get up to take a break.

Time Immersion has two very important benefits. Firstly, we often procrastinate because a task is hard, and we don’t want to deal with the pain that comes with working on it. By committing to time immersed, hard things become easier. More importantly, they become easier without the judgement of whether you succeeded or failed. Secondly, it creates momentum. With every 45-minute TI session you will find yourself slowly chipping away at the frustration. We all know what happens when you chip away at a big problem with enough perseverance; it will be conquered.

Three: Let go of judgement

Those who procrastinate are not lazy. This is important to understand. True procrastination is a psychological phenomenon driven by our fear of failure, judgement and low frustration tolerance.

This is why procrastinators will often find other ways of keeping themselves occupied. Again, an avoidance behaviour, not just laziness.

If you identified your procrastination style, then this might have already given you some insight into why you do what you do. Knowing this, you can go beyond and examine the beliefs that you have that maintain your procrastinating behaviours.

Related: 4 Cures for Chronic Procrastination

One way to do this is to listen to your inner dialogue. That voice inside your head that loves to pull you down with negativity. Simply listen to the words that ‘he/she’ is using and then make a concerted effort to examine them. This is exactly what a coach would do.

If your inner voice says that you first need more information before proceeding with a task, stop, and ask yourself if that is really the truth.

If your inner voice says that you are a failure and that completing this task will expose you for the fraud you are, stop, and ask yourself if that is really true.

Usually, these irrational beliefs are easily refuted.

Final thoughts

The truth is that you already know enough. You know what to do. You know how to do it. The thing stopping you is your relationship with yourself and the task at hand. You will find the key to overcoming procrastination inside yourself. Spend some time exploring the ideas that I suggested and see your productivity explode.

 

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