In July 2021 I had a heart attack. It wasn’t due to the usual causes of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, excess weight, etc. It was caused by stress. Yes, stress literally can kill you! I was your typical over thinker, over stresser, with a little anxiety thrown in for good measure. But after seeing the terrified looks on the faces of my children when they visited me that first night in the CCU, I realised something had to change.
Our industry is full of deadlines. And it seems that as soon as we get through one deadline, there’s another one just around the corner. We used to have highs and lows and there would be a few weeks of “low” before the next “high” was upon us. It seems now that we just have high, and higher! We’re a nurturing bunch so tend to take the problems of our clients (if not the world) on our shoulders. And that can be a lot to carry! But it’s not just us bookkeepers and accountants – we’re all human and have things thrown at us from all aspects of our lives where our stress and anxiety can get out of control.
So I’ve become very passionate about managing stress and reminding those around me to do the same. Here are my top tips on managing stress and burnout.
What’s causing you stress?
What areas of your business are causing you the most stress and overwhelm? Cash flow, or lack thereof, could be one example of a cause of stress and anxiety in your business. Here’s some questions you could ask yourself. How are you billing? Do you have a lot of work in progress unbilled? Or stock not turning over? How long are your customers taking to pay you? How do you collect payments? Do you know where the money is going? Could there be a better way to systemise this and get the money in your account quicker?
Manage stress with systems and people
What systems could you implement or improve to manage stress? For example, are you doing things multiple times? Could you set up templates and checklists to streamline things for next time? Could you delegate to other team members? Or could you outsource?
What systems do you have in place to manage your finances? Having a system such as Xero allows you to keep track of the money you’re owed, the money you haven’t yet billed, the money you owe, and where it’s going once you receive it … plus more.
If you don’t have a team, could that be something to consider? It can be daunting putting on an employee – with that comes a whole lot of other responsibilities and stress! But if you get the right people for the right job, you will free up your time to do other things in the business – you know, that never ending list of projects that you just don’t have time to do!
I cannot stress enough (no pun intended) how important it is to have documented systems. This makes training new team members so much easier for both of you, and gives them more confidence and control of their learning. So while it’s still you, start creating your systems now – every time you do something, create a Loom video and before long you’ll have a great library of resources.
Manage stress with routine
One of my boys has ADHD and high functioning autism. He’s a teenager now which is a whole other story (don’t get me wrong, Zac is awesome, and a 6″1 streak of man-boy), and when he was a little boy routine was so important! If there was any change to the routine that we didn’t let him know about, it was really hard for him to manage his day. Having a good routine helps me manage my day too. My day typically starts at 4am (yes, 4am!). I get up, have a coffee, check my emails, make a plan for the day. Then I head to boxing. After that it’s home, shower, breakfast, help the kids get to school, and at my desk around 8.30am. I always stop for lunch, and my day ends when the boys get home from school or their afternoon activities. During the day my computer tells me what to do! haha. Seriously, it does! We use Karbon as our workflow management tool and it’s a combination of that, my Outlook calendar and my paper diary (yes, paper) that keeps me on track.
There’s no right or wrong here; and no magic bullet. So work out what works best for you. Are you a morning person? Do you do your best work in the evening after the kids have gone to bed? Could you split your day and have a 2-hour lunch break with a session at the gym in that time? Whatever works for you, do that! And sometimes the wheels fall off. That’s okay, pop them back on and try again tomorrow.
Manage stress by learning to say ‘no’
You don’t have to be all things to all people. And just because a customer asks for something, doesn’t mean you have to give it. Decide what your non negotiables and rules of business are, and stick to them. For example, we only work with clients on Xero. We might develop a great rapport with a potential client that works with a different software, and their work looks really interesting, but if they’re not on Xero it’s a hard no from us (unless they want to convert to Xero, now that’s a conversation we can have). Also, we only work remotely so if clients need us to come onsite, then we’re not the right bookkeeping firm for them. And that’s okay too!
Then set your boundaries around the clients you do work with. Do you have rules around how your billing works? Your deliverable timeframes? Your expectations of your team? Communication expectations? Set your expectations and be okay with saying “no”.
It’s not all about work
What do you do after work? On the weekend? Is it all about the housework and the laundry? I hope not! Remember the saying – work to live, don’t live to work. It’s important to step away from the business regularly. Let your mind and body relax and recharge. My “me time” is at my boxing gym – seems odd, but I love, love, love boxing! The majority of the rest of my non work time is spent with my family. (My husband also had a heart attack in 2010 so creating memories as a family is one of our core values.) We’re a camping family and like to get away for a 3-day weekend as much as we can. We’re also a “foodie” family and we try a new restaurant every week – check out my FB and Insta 52 Restaurants in 52 Weeks if you’re looking for some inspiration. And we do physical activities together to – the photo above is Jason and me after finishing a Spartan Race recently. So what do you do that brings you joy? Make some time to do more of it!
Recognise your signals
We’re in the fortunate position where Jason has retired. But before that he hated Sundays. Instead of enjoying his day off, he would spend 50% of his weekend feeling anxious about getting back to work the next day. Who wouldn’t turn up for work that he’d need to cover? What disasters would he have to navigate?
I was having a conversation with one of my team members this week and she was experiencing anxiety over a particular client, and exactly the same as Jason – thinking about it on a Sunday night. This particular client is a little different to our usual and there are lots of ad hoc and out of the ordinary things we help with on a weekly basis. My team member was worried about them asking something outside her area of skill and knowledge. So we had a conversation and have reframed it. Instead of her wondering “What am I going to get thrown this week that’s outside my skill set?”, she now thinks “What am I going to learn this week?” She hasn’t come across anything outside of her skillset yet and if she does, she knows there’s a whole team around her able to jump in and help. So now she can get back to enjoying her Sunday and not worrying about Monday!
How do you recognise your stress signals? What are you stressing about that hasn’t even happened yet? What are your anxiety levels rising about? Are you detached or irritable with your family? Are you hiding your stress behind bad food choices, not exercising, drinking too much? Managing stress is also managing your triggers. What are they?
You don’t have to do it all by Tuesday
Okay, so now you know what you need to do, don’t put more pressure on yourself by thinking it all needs to be done by Tuesday! I think the important first step to managing stress is to recognise your triggers. Then decide what steps you could take to manage them. Do you need to make some hard decisions? Do you have people around you that can help develop a plan, implement a plan, or just vent to? Start small. And that could be as little as turning your phone notifications off in the evening, and making a plan for each day – two things that will imact your business, and your personal time, and are fairly easy to implement. Once you’ve got that under control, what’s next? Could you look at changing your work hours? Developing some systems? What about some things that could ease the burden at home such as meal boxes or a cleaner?
You’re not alone
I encourage you to be vulnerable. Talk to your peers. Likely they’re experiencing many of the same challenges you are. Remember the saying, “A problem shared is a problem halved.” Who you’re sharing with may not be able to provide a solution necessarily, but having a safe space to share can be an important step in managing stress effectively. If you’d like to chat with us about the challenges you’re facing in your business, reach out below.