Managing stress when you’re self-employed

Most of the time self-employment is the ideal way of living a less stressful life. You might not have any more time, but you have more control over how you use it, which in itself makes you much less prone to stress.

But let’s not pretend that self-employment is never stressful. Things like late payments, annoying clients, lack of supportive colleagues, and the need to be permanently self-motivated can build up. Not to mention the difficulties many of us face in fitting work literally around our families, with a lack of proper space or time to get things done.

Sometimes it can all feel too much.

If the stresses of self-employment are wearing you down, hold on to these steps for getting yourself back on track.

Set your boundaries

Separate your business from the rest of your life. Give yourself time off every day. Ideally, set office hours and stick to them.

Get yourself into the mindset of going to work. It helps to dress the part, by putting on a work outfit you’re helping your mind to focus on that part of your day.

If you work from home, find a room or a corner of a room that is your dedicated workspace.  And make sure to have a homeworking ‘commute’ before and after starting work each day. Get out of the house for a short, or long, walk. As well as helping you to avoid pulling a tense muscle, it creates an important separation between the parts of your day. If you can walk in nature, even better, it is proven to help us feel calmer.

Foster connections and get support

Positive social connections ease stress and improve a sense of wellbeing. They remind us why we are working so hard in the first place. Build in the time to relax with family or friends every day. For many of us, that won’t just happen unless we plan or organise it. Book regular socials and diary them. Have a social routine as well as a work routine.

Of course, you need someone to talk to about work stresses too. A partner, work colleague or good friend is invaluable for this. Many women meet like minds through coworking or business networking who become their ‘go to’ support in those situations.

If your stresses push over into burnout, depression or anxiety, then go to your GP and ask for help. Therapy or counseling can be invaluable and can increasingly be accessed online or by phone. BetterHelp has some great information on this. To read it, click here.

Make a list and prioritise

Stress can make things feel much more complicated than they are. Pour your thoughts into a good old-fashioned list. Write everything down, in bullet-points!  Then categorise each item in terms of how important and urgent it is. You could draw a table like the one below and put all the items in your list into the relevant box.

First Things First (book) - Wikipedia

Prioritise quadrant I tasks at the beginning of each day: that should include meeting client deadlines, paying your tax bill etc.

Quadrant II is all about having a plan or structure for the longer term. That includes building relationships, marketing, developing new products or services and prospecting for work. It also includes your wellbeing.

Quadrant III includes the things that you find are taking up your day, but if they didn’t happen it wouldn’t really affect you or your business. Start saying ‘no’ to those activities ahead of time, or if you believe they could be worth investing in then delegate as much as you can to a colleague or sub-contractor.

As for quadrant IV, that’s general timewasting: scrolling through social media, reading junk mail, watching TV etc. If you are feeling stressed you are probably doing more Quadrant IV activities than usual and heaping more pressure on yourself, by avoiding important tasks.

Complete your list. Go for a walk, then come back and start fresh. Update the list every day before you start work.

Save a buffer fund

It can take from a few months to several years for a new business to become profitable. Even then, there will be peaks and troughs in your fortunes. Few situations are more stressful than not having enough cash to pay your bills and support your family.

Be prepared. Tighten your belt and save as much as you can as soon as you can. Have this emergency life-raft in place so that you and your business are prepared to weather the financial storms, if and when they arrive.

Putting these steps in place will go a long way to help you to manage stress in self-employment. Remember that for most people self-employment increases their sense of wellbeing and happiness. If you work to a plan and have sensible routines and support systems in place, both you and your business are much more likely to thrive.