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Stress is a common side effect of almost any job, but entrepreneurs seem to have it the worst.

Causes of stress come from almost anywhere: Taxes, clients, reports, employees, emails, and much more. But what I’ve learned is that stress has a much more profound effect on business operations than most people think.

Stress usually has a direct impact on productivity. My own experiences as an entrepreneur helped me realize that when I’m stressed, I’m far less productive. Stress causes me to spin my wheels, and gives me a feeling that every task — even small ones — are much more daunting than they actually are. Part of this is due to the fact that stress often manifests as physical pain, which makes any task unpleasant.

Several months ago I became so stressed that I developed very bad back pain, leading me to start going to a chiropractor three times a week. In an effort to reduce my back pain, I also began going to the gym more often, adjusted my monitors to eye-level, bought a giant exercise ball to use instead of my chair, scheduled weekly massage appointments, and even wore a rubber band around my finger to remind me to think about my posture at all times.

Not only was all of this expensive and time-consuming; it didn’t provide full relief (though it did help). This made me realize that the only way to fully relieve my pain was to reduce my stress.

Over the next several weeks, I learned some important lessons about what was causing my stress and how to minimize it. In this article I’ll discuss specific steps I took to relieve my stress, reduce my pain, and improve my productivity.

Unsubscribe from email lists

I like to use my email inbox as my main to-do list. Unfortunately, this means that spammy emails that make it past my spam filter get categorized in my brain as to-do items, instantly elevating my stress. One of the first things I did to reduce my stress was to unsubscribe from every email list I don’t care about.

It was actually quite interesting; for a week, I woke up every morning, excited to check my email, and see what spam it contained, because that meant I could unsubscribe from more email lists. After about a week of unsubscribing to all the random lists my email address had somehow accumulated over the past several years, my inbox is now much more manageable, clean, and doesn’t get hit with new marketing emails once every few minutes throughout the course of my day.

Focus on real people in the real world

I remember one Saturday morning I awakened to an otherwise beautiful day which my girlfriend and I had planned to spend together. I casually checked my business email out of habit and saw an email which immediately stressed me out. The entire weekend, at that moment, was ruined, because I couldn’t stop thinking about how to remedy the situation when I supposed to be enjoying time with my girlfriend.

Similarly, my girlfriend (also an entrepreneur) and I missed seeing The Hobbit because she checked her email before the start of the movie and had received a very disrespectful email from a problem client (which she has since fired). She was so upset by it that we actually had to leave the theater 25 minutes into the movie because she couldn’t focus on the show.

One easy solution is a fantastic plugin called Inbox Pause for Gmail, which literally puts a pause button on your Gmail, preventing new emails from hitting your inbox until you click the “Unpause” button. This makes it easy to resist the urge to check email, especially on your mobile device, helping you separate work and fun.

Caulk the cracks

We’ve all experienced emails that seem to have fallen into the digital netherworld, never delivered or received. Sometimes, the email is delivered but the recipient fails to take action on it. Unfortunately, these scenarios lead to things falling through the cracks, resulting in missed deadlines and other stress-causers.

The solution is simple, though, and it’s called Boomerang for Gmail. This plugin has changed the way I do business, prevented many things from falling through the cracks, eliminated one of my to-do lists, and put my mind at ease. You can set it to ping you if nobody responds to your email after a certain amount of time, allowing you to follow up to ensure things get done.

This also eliminates existential overhead, which is the mental cost of feeling like there are many things that need to get done, because it relieves the burden of wondering whether a certain task has been completed yet.

Keep an outlet for ideas

As entrepreneurs, we’re constantly coming up with ideas for improving our businesses, processes, and strategy. Every once in a while, I have a lightbulb moment in which I really get a gold-nugget idea. If I have nowhere to write it down, then I’m forced to store it in my mental RAM, which accumulates to increase my existential overhead.

Keeping my iPhone close lets me jot down ideas in its notepad app, which gives me instant satisfaction that I won’t forget my great ideas. If I’m driving, I use the voice memo app to record my idea verbally.

Exercise and diet

This sounds clichéd, but it’s so true that I have to include it in this list. Working out at the gym is a huge source of stress relief for me. I’ve found that when I’m working out, my brain is most active; I come up with most of my great ideas on the treadmill, exercise bike, or while lifting weights. For this reason, I’m always sure to keep my iPhone in my pocket so I can write down my ideas as they come to me.

But working out isn’t just good for stimulating your brain to come up with great ideas; it keeps you physically and mentally healthy, allowing you to feel great about yourself and recharge your creative energy to apply toward working on your business.

A good, healthy diet also helps me think more clearly and quickly, helps me avoid getting sick, makes me more social with my followers, and makes me look forward to getting out of bed and starting work every morning.

Don’t worry, be happy

Stress is a part of life, and especially part of running a business, but I hope my experiences help you take steps to minimize it. Did these tips help you reduce your stress? Have you found any other tactics that help reduce stress? Let me know in the comments!

Jayson DeMersJayson DeMers is founder and CEO of AudienceBloom, a Seattle-based SEO agency. You can contact him on LinkedIn or by email.

Image credit: Stokkete/Shutterstock

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