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3 Ways to Overcome Entrepreneurial Anxiety (From Endless To-Do Lists)

Even though 85 per cent of entrepreneurs say the benefits of entrepreneurship outweigh the pitfalls, 50 per cent also say they’ve felt depression, anxiety, and chronic stress from running their business.

Unfortunately, a lot of this anxiety comes from well-intended, but unhelpful elements of hustle culture––like achieving “inbox-zero” or always finishing your to-do list.

The simple reality is entrepreneurs will never not have things to do. That’s kind of the point, in a way. 

But this simple truth doesn’t need to derail your mental health or send you spiraling into anxiety, either. Here at Ownr, we see a lot of the entrepreneurs we work with struggle with this challenge, but it’s not insurmountable. Those who overcome their anxiety always follow the following three distinct steps.

1. Control what you can

Unfortunately, you can’t fix or eliminate everything. You will always have a lot you have to do or could be doing as an entrepreneur. However, controlling what you can is a great first step to calming the mind.

When you control what you can, you instantly free up more time and energy to focus on hard problems. That’s the goal of the following two tasks in this step.

Have three to-do lists

To separate out your tasks, set up three to-do lists:

  1. Regular things you must get done to keep the business moving.
  2. Tasks for bigger projects with multiple phases over longer periods of time (usually months). 
  3. Big vision tasks that may take years to come to fruition. 

You know you need to accomplish the tasks on list number one to stay in business. The tasks on lists two and three will help you grow more for the future.

Automate for expected issues

Every business has expected issues, whether they be big or small.

Identify the expected issues in your business and see what you can do to plan for them. For example: 

  • Customer renewalsset up email marketing for your business and schedule an automated email reminder for all customers near their renewal date. 
  • Getting back in touch with customers → automated email reach outs to anyone you haven’t spoken to in a certain amount of time.
  • Annual taxes → automated withholding of anticipated taxes so you have a lump sum ready to go.
  • Saving for retirement → automated deposits into investment accounts.

When you set up automations, you don’t have to spend precious mental energy worrying about these issues.

2. Take the pressure off

Once you control what you can, it’s time to eliminate your to-do list’s power over your mental health. Note this doesn’t mean eliminating the items on your list. Instead, it’s about making sure those items are productive for you as a whole person and ensuring that, even when things are tough, you always have an alternative to stressful situations.

Include personal items in your to-do list

One of the chief drivers of entrepreneurs’ anxiety and depression is the feeling that business demands overwhelm their schedule. A great way to combat this is to include personal items in your daily to-do list. 

Including your personal needs on a business to-do list might seem weird at first, but it’s part of the realization that you started a business to provide for you and your family, not the other way around. Doing the things you need to take care of yourself is being productive as an entrepreneur. 

Build up an emergency fund

In short, more cash means more peace of mind. So much anxiety comes from tasks we feel we have to do in order to make money to provide for ourselves and our families. When you have emergency cash set aside, you can start to make decisions based on long-term wellness (financial and personal) instead of hustling for every dollar. 

If you’re just starting out, you may want to have two emergency funds: 

  1. Business emergency fund: Three to six months of expenses, including paying yourself a salary.
  2. Personal emergency fund: One to three months of expenses.

Note that these are minimums. If you have special circumstances, you may want to have a larger emergency fund ready. However, if you can’t hit these numbers quickly, even having one paycheque tucked away for emergencies means you have two weeks to figure out any unexpected problems, which should provide some immediate peace of mind

3. Get ready for growth

If you want to grow, your to-do list will grow as well. So if you want to grow without burning yourself out, you need to get ready for it.

That’s where this step is crucial. Knowing ahead of time that things will get tough is a gift; it means you can prepare. 

Outsource and automate to free up time

Take stock of all the tasks necessary to run your business and automate or outsource them.

We wrote a full guide on saving time as an entrepreneur, but here’s the gist of it: 

  1. Document all regular tasks in your business, including the steps to accomplish them.
  2. If the tasks are repetitive and identical, think about automating with technology.
  3. If the tasks can’t be automated, but you don’t need to do them, think about outsourcing. 

The key here is to remove you as a bottleneck in your own business. This will free up your time to work on your business versus simply in it. And the good news is this doesn’t need to be expensive––you can start with free technologies for a lot of automation, and delegate outsourcing to a part-time virtual assistant that costs only a few hundred dollars a month.

Hire a coach to build accountability and growth frameworks

As an entrepreneur, you’re probably used to doing things yourself. That’s what got you to the level of success you’re at today! But this habit also leads to burnout and exhaustion.

One powerful way to avoid burnout and get ready for growth, if your budget allows, is to hire a coach or mentor to help you workshop ideas, work through problems, and keep you accountable.

If you choose  this route, think about hiring the right type of coach for your needs: 

  1. Accountability coach: Someone who can help keep you on track and motivate you.
  2. Strategy coach: Someone who is a leader in your industry who can give you foresight and help you make plans.
  3. Tactical coach: Someone who has done a specific project or big task you are trying to complete, and who can teach you the ropes. 

A good coach is one who you feel comfortable with, regardless of type. You’ll likely need to be vulnerable and open in coaching sessions in order to achieve maximum impact, so think about what makes you most comfortable in addition to their qualifications.

All hail the to-do list

Done right, a to-do list is a motivator. It helps you get out of bed every morning to venture toward the life––and business––you want. If you look at it this way, you realize a to-do list is a tool, not an all-powerful item that controls your entire life. 

When you give in to the fact that your to-do list won’t ever be empty, you can make the most of it and use its powers for good.

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