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Dealing with stress

By Joyce M. Rosenberg
Associated Press

Burnout is one of the biggest problems that small business owners face. It hurts their productivity, clouds their ability to make decisions -- and makes it very hard for them to get the pleasure they seek from their companies.
While building and running a company is stressful, it doesn't have to lead to the feelings of anxiety, exhaustion, irritation and despair that are part of burnout.

Burnout isn't inevitable. While building and running a company is stressful, it doesn't have to lead to the feelings of anxiety, exhaustion, irritation and perhaps even despair that are part of burnout.

And even if you find yourself burned out, it doesn't have to be a permanent condition.

In an unscientific survey of small business owners by The Associated Press, regular exercise was one of the most frequently cited antidotes to burnout. Many owners make sure they get up early at least several times a week and get to the gym before they start the day. They make it part of their routine.

Many owners also said taking time off was critical -- including vacations, days off, and even time away from cellphones and pagers.

Advance planning

Susan Matthews Apgood plans her vacations far in advance, as much as a year and a half ahead, to give herself something to look forward to. It's not just the time off that helps, but the planning. When she needs to take a mini-break, she'll check out websites to help her plan one of her upcoming trips.

"It helps me get through a time when I'm feeling overly stressed, so I know there's an end in sight and I'll get some rest and relaxation," said Apgood, owner of NewsGeneration Inc., a Bethesda, Md., communications company.

Just as important is time off during the week, and time spent with family and friends. Many new entrepreneurs believe they need to put every possible minute into building the business, and many find they quickly burn out. Owners who have been through the experience know that too many hours at work hurt rather than help a new enterprise.

Maura Schreier-Fleming said she spent 18-hour days the first three months that her company was in existence. She was so tired that "my mother goes, 'You look horrible.' Then I was also thinking, this is terrible, why am I driving myself that way?"

For Schreier-Fleming, owner of Best@Selling, a Dallas-based sales consulting firm, the answer was to give herself a day off each week, no matter what. That day is Saturday.

"It saved my life," Schreier-Fleming said. She does work on Sunday, but does so at a more leisurely pace than Monday-Friday. And Sunday mornings are also time off.

Many owners said they make sure they take part in activities that are relaxing and fulfilling.

Scott Hanson, owner of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, umpires baseball games throughout the year. It gets him out of the office at a decent hour -- high school baseball games start in late afternoon -- and it forces him to stop thinking about his work.

"If you're not concentrating when you're calling balls and strikes, you're not going to do a very good job," Hanson said. But the baseball field is a much less stressful environment than his office.

Delegating, outsourcing

Many small business owners said they avoided burnout by delegating as much as possible to employees or by outsourcing. That's another step that's hard for beginners, who try to do it all themselves.

Cara Good was burning out as she ran her nearly two-year-old Laguna Beach, Calif., communications and marketing firm, so she hired a business coach. The advice and support she got -- "it's almost like having a mini board of directors" -- helped alleviate her stress and helped her look at what wasn't working right in her company.

The coach asks questions like, "What problems are you having this week? What barriers are you having getting things done," and then helps Good come up with solutions.

Good, owner of WunderMarx Inc., said working with a coach has enabled her to give up the notion that she has to be responsible for everything, or that she has to have all the answers. That's a liberating thought that has helped her avoid further burnout.

Mike Paul, owner of MGP & Associates, a public relations firm, avoids burnout by recognizing the tension and other warning signs in his body. He tries to eat well and get as much exercise as possible -- including 20- or 40-block walks between appointments.

Paul said he also relies on prayer to help avoid burnout.

"It's not only a de-stressor," he said. "It's a connector with my emotions away from work."

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