Dealing with executive stress

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Joshua Millsapps

Most people want to be promoted. They want to climb the ladder and rise within their profession. This can be exceedingly difficult with long hours and endless obstacles. There is no doubt that the road to success can be stressful at times. With that in mind, it can be critical to find ways to deal with the pressures of building towards your success without losing your mind. First and foremost, take care of your health. Don’t let late nights in the office drag you down into a fast food or sugar filled dietary disaster area. As someone who put on 40 pounds in his first ten years out of school, I can attest to the overwhelming temptation of donuts and coffee while trying to make my brain work late in the evening or too often early in the morning. I’m not going to argue that they won’t help you survive the battle but I can tell you they won’t help you win the war. Too many days of bad food, little sleep, and no exercise slowly robs you of the stamina and there begins a disastrous spiral that will at best leave you busting the seams of your older suits and at worst, fast tracks you to the cardio unit. I’ve learned the hard way to pace myself, get sleep and eat better. Even when things are going a mile a minute and it seems like stepping away for anything will result in losing headway to your goals, you have to force yourself to take time to make sure you are properly fueled, rested, and have gotten some fresh air.

Another major stressor is the overbooked schedule or maze of responsibilities that stands in front of most executives everyday. I know for myself that until I was able to find a way to get my arms around the total responsibility that was mine, I had problems relaxing. The first time I read GettingThings Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity by David Allen, it was life changing. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I have suddenly become the most organized person you’ll meet. There are too many people that are reading this that know me personally for me to get away with that. I will say that I’ve managed to remove the stress of the unknown from my day to day life. The simple act of getting all of my various tasks collected in one place and knowing that I have them recorded has been life changing and made sleeping at night a lot easier. Please read my post on Getting Things Done: Three key takeaways that will change your performance” for more detail, but essentially getting organized didn’t just help make me more effective. It made me healthier, reduced my daily stress by taking away the fear of the unknown, and increased my ability to prioritize and deal with my workload at work and at home.

The last two are ways to help you reduce your ongoing stress levels. These are usually the result of the accumulation of work and the overall pace of most executive environments. However, even if you adopt all of the above, watch every meal, become a fitness fanatic, and hire an executive assistant to help handle your daily affairs, there will still come times where point of stress become an issue. A long day full of difficult decisions, bad results, and seemingly endless unforeseen issues can bring an uncomfortable tightness to the chest and dull thumping in your forehead. When these times materialize I find that it helps to formally acknowledge the stress mentally. This may be as simple as leaning back in my chair for a minute and thinking specifically about the all of the issues I’m dealing with before moving on to the next task. From there I may look for an opportunity to take a 5 minute break to clear my head as well as some of my tasking. I will often try to proactively remove any items from my calendar that aren’t absolute must do’s. You will not perform better by soldiering through your mundane tasks in addition to the really important items. Doing more than you absolutely have to in times like these usually means you are doing the wrong things or putting undo attention on things that are of lower value.

How do you deal with stress? Are there tricks you’ve learned over time that have helped you to better manage your time or efforts? I’m always interested in hearing what other people have found works for them.

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Dick Davies

Make my list and pack the night before.

Exercise first thing.

Eat right.

Arrive ten minutes early.

After that my day is controlled by my charges, but that prep allows me to finish with a win.

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