3 ways to manage the stress of working at a startup
MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: What is the biggest leadership lesson you’ve learned in the past year? is written by Jessica Rusin, senior director of engineering at MobileDay.
One thing I have learned since working in a fast-paced, high pressure startup environment is that the decision making process for leaders presents unique challenges and stressors. As a result, I have had to alter the way I operate when it comes to making the tough choices.
Each day, at any startup, decisions that will have a direct and immediate effect on the company have to be made by those in a leadership role. Due to the speed and intensity of daily operations, I might have to make a handful of truly major decisions in a single day, along with a dozen or more run-of-the-mill decisions that will still have a significant impact on the organization. In larger corporations at which I had previously been employed, I usually planned maybe six months or even a couple of years in advance, so the day-to-day operations required far less urgency. Therefore, in order to work effectively in my new role and avoid making hasty decisions, I needed to better manage the stress and pressures inherent in the startup life. As such, there are a number of different tactics and strategies I have employed to make the rapid-fire decision making process easier.
First, delegation is key. The onus of decision making doesn’t have to lie solely on one person’s shoulders. By identifying coworkers who are dependable and knowledgeable in their given fields, a manager can feel confident in allowing employees to take the reins on a given project and take some of the less important decision making off of your plate. By doing so, you are not only able to reserve your energy and brainpower for tougher decisions, but it will also help to further develop your staff’s leadership skills. Sweating the small stuff will only serve to deplete your mental acuity – pick your battles and be strategic about what you take on.
In addition, keeping your personal life organized can be invaluable when your work life is getting chaotic. If you can eliminate some of the seemingly trivial, but potentially stressful decisions you make every day outside of the office, work decisions will be less exhausting. For instance, lay out your outfit the night before – or better yet, pick out all of your clothes for the week on Sunday. Planning your meals in advance can also be helpful; it’s just one less thing you need to think about. I wouldn’t go as far as Mark Zuckerberg—who wears the same thing every day to reduce decision fatigue—but automating more of the processes in your daily life will be beneficial in the long run.
Finally, I think that one of the most helpful things that I have learned in the past year is to not let the volume of the decisions you face on a daily basis become too overwhelming. While seemingly impossible with so much going on, sometimes forcing yourself to step out of the office, take a breath and get some fresh air will make a world of difference. After doing so, the difficult decisions you make the rest of the day will be easier to both approach and resolve.
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