There’s no denying that life as a small business owner can be stressful. Add into the mix a full or part-time job, children at home, and, oh, I don’t know, small matters of pandemics, wars and economic crises to contend with, and it can be a recipe for disaster. I’ve definitely felt a decline in my mental health for these amongst other reasons over the past few years and so I’ve really had to start to prioritise my mental health. Here are some of the steps I’ve taken; they might not be for everyone but they’ve made a big difference to me. I hope they’re useful!
Stop trying to work against the grain
I’ve spent many a day trying to get work done when I’m just not feeling it. It just doesn’t work! Cue the inevitable berating of self as you’re then not as productive as you should have been and you feel even worse about it all. Funnily enough, when you give yourself a break (you know, the whole ‘talking to yourself like you would a friend’ thing), you’ll often feel so much better and come back way more productive than you were before. (On that note, even when you’re in the groove, it pays not to sit at your computer for hours on end without a break. Using a timer system such as the Pomodoro technique breaks your working periods into manageable chunks that are proven to increase productivity.)
Other ways you can work with yourself instead of in spite of yourself are:
- Noticing where your energy and concentration levels are at different times of day. For me, there’s always a lull in the mid to late afternoon, so instead of trying (and failing) to do something juicy in my business like newsletters or writing blogs, I’ll try and do some easy admin tasks during those hours, or use that time to go out and get my steps in.
- Plan your days around what works best for you. If you struggle with the typical 9-5 routine, there’s nothing saying you can’t change your working hours. Don’t try and fit into someone else’s mould (easier said than done when said mould is a small child). This is a battle I’m still having to try and get right. If I had my way I’d structure my day completely differently to how it is currently, but I’ve got to work with what I’ve got. So I’ve reshuffled my day to go to prioritise my self-care by going to the gym in the morning straight after school drop off (because I can’t go outside of school hours) and then I just catch up with work once my little one’s in bed because that’s what works best for me. Do what you can to find a routine that works for you.
- For women, we have other factors at play – our bloody hormones! Menstrual cycles can massively affect energy levels for some women, so if you know that time of the month is always a struggle, try planning your time around it. Book your important work and deadlines around the weeks where you know you will be on top form, so that you don’t have to feel guilty for not being as productive when you’re not. Save that time for easier tasks that need minimal brain power or energy or, better yet, use that time to focus on the self-care you’ve been meaning to like going to the spa or having that catch up with friends you’ve been promising yourself forever!
- And finally, one of my favourite methods at the moment: go somewhere else to work! Do you find yourself with complete mental block when it comes to some tasks? For me it’s creating social media content and writing blogs (ahem… this one may have taken me a few months to finish). I have to be in the perfect mood for it at home. But if I take myself out of my normal environment and head to a cafe, co-working space – or even just a different place in my house! – I find it far easier to get in the zone I need to be in. So much so that I now diarise times to go and work away from my normal desk.
- Be kind to yourself. If you’re just not in the mood for something, stop trying to force yourself. You’re not going to do a great job when you feel like crap. Give yourself a break and try again later.
Exercise has always been something that has been important to me – my 17 year career in the Army drilled that into me – so, thankfully, I don’t find it that difficult to put on the exercise gear and find the sweatiest workout I can. But I know what it’s like to not want to exercise when you’re out of the habit, or are feeling low. All I do know is that it’s definitely helped me stay sane through hard times and it’s one of the easiest ways to perk yourself up when you’re not feeling great. If you’re not big on exercise, then try and find something that gets your heart going that you do enjoy.
Where possible, I’ve started incorporating daily walks into my routine. I’m getting away from my desk and getting my steps in which is helping with my physical health, I’m getting some down-time during the day which is good for the old mental health and I’m getting more fresh air which is just great all round! Don’t get me wrong, it’s early days and I’m yet to test the dedication through a wet winter’s day, but it’s been really good so far. With the school days feeling so short, I’ve started small with the fairly manageable aim of just 20 minutes around lunchtime (planned around the time of day that I’d be starting to flag sat at my computer), but maybe that will increase as time goes on. Depending on the mood I’m in, I’ll listen to an audio book, Blinkist (which summarises the key points of books rather than listening to the whole thing) or just music if I need my brain to switch off a bit.
Started meal boxes
I’m not a natural cook, so the thought of finding something new and healthy to cook each night fills me with dread. Add into the mix my usual mid-late afternoon lull in energy, motivation (and sometimes mental health) and it’s a recipe for beige food and some microwaved veg on the side (cue mum guilt). One of the things that has made a huge difference is using Gousto meal boxes. They’ve taken all the thinking out of mealtimes – all of the ingredients are there ready for me, I just have to follow a simple recipe card and we’ve got a delicious, healthy meal for dinner. Even on a crappy day where I can’t be bothered, I know that I can choose one of the 10 minute options and know that Oliver and I are getting a tasty and nutritious meal down us. I love the fact we’re having all sorts of different cuisines each week, instead of just the simple staples that sat within my culinary skills before.
Using Gousto has really helped alleviate the decision fatigue I face as a small business owner and part-time-single-mum (hubby works away during the week) and, for me, it’s worth every penny. I save loads of time not having to plan meals and do the ‘big shop’ (plus I’m probably saving money once we take into account all the Special Buys..!). I love the fact that we’ve dramatically reduced the amount of food waste and, although they’re not perfect, I like that Gousto are actively trying to reduce their single-use packaging, and pretty much everything they do use is recyclable either in the household waste or at a soft plastic recycling drop-off like we have in our local Co-op.
I highly recommend giving it a go if you’re looking for a way of making your life easier in more ways than one. They’ve got a really enticing referral programme, so if you use my link, you’ll get at least 65% off your first box and 30% off your first month of deliveries. It’s worth a punt at least.
Release the hold that your phone has on you
Phones, emails, social media – it’s all necessary to run a successful business. But it’s very easy for it to start to control you and not the other way around. Did you know that it takes 23 minutes to rediscover your focus after a distraction? With the amount of notifications I get as a small business owner, I’ve got no bloody hope of achieving anything! I have turned off the notification sounds of the vast majority of apps on my phone. What truly needs to interrupt me from what I’m doing? Emails? Rarely. Facebook? Definitely not. So why do I let my phone drive me mad all day? If a notification is going to distract you from your work or down-time, then turn it off. iOS has the feature to set different levels of notifications depending on your activity which you might want to play with, but I find it easier just to make sure notifications of unimportant apps are off by default.
The biggest and most helpful change I have made with my phone is leaving it downstairs when I go to bed. It has helped me to switch off at night, meaning I sleep better. I would find that if I kept my phone by my bed, I’d wake up in the morning, look at it, see something that had gone wrong or just annoyed me and it would be on my mind for the rest of the day. Now I try not to look at my phone at least until after I’ve done my morning exercise. Then I’m in a much better headspace to deal with, well, life!
I hope you’ve found this useful. I’d love to know what you’ve taken away from the blog in the comments.