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Practical Strategies for Founder Anxiety

Anxiety is a common experience for founders navigating the challenges and uncertainties of starting and scaling a business. From not having enough time to managing finances, to building a team, to making key decisions and working long hours, your responsibilities may often feel overwhelming.

As an executive coach, I often work with founders who are feeling overwhelmed by the many demands of their work. Here are some practical exercises for you to consider to help you manage and build resilience for your journey ahead.

1. Not enough time

The sense of never having enough time to get everything done can be a relentless source of anxiety, especially as a Founder. With so many responsibilities to manage, it can be difficult for to prioritise your time effectively, leading to feelings of stress and overwhelm.

Here are some practical exercises you can consider to help with time management:

  1. Use the 80/20 rule: The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto principle, suggests that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. Identify the 20% of tasks that are most critical to your success, and focus your energy on those.

  2. Practice radical prioritisation: When everything feels like a priority, to take a step back and re-evaluate what truly needs your attention right now.

  3. Ask yourself: what would happen if I didn't do this task? If the consequences are not severe, consider dropping it from your to-do list altogether. Using a tool like Eisenhower's Matrix can help you prioritise tasks based on their importance and urgency, and help you identify which tasks you can delegate too.

  4. Embrace imperfect action: When you're feeling anxious, it's easy to get stuck in analysis paralysis. Instead, aim to do something small, anything, to move one tiny step forward, even if it's not perfect. You can always iterate and improve later.

  5. Remember your purpose: It can be easy to lose sight of why you're doing what you're doing when you're feeling overwhelmed. Take ten minutes to reconnect with your purpose and the bigger picture. What is most important to you? How does this task align with your vision?

  6. Get curious: Rather than approaching your to-do list with dread, try approaching it with curiosity. Ask yourself: How can I approach this in a way that is interesting or fun? A mindset shift can help reframe sometimes admin heavy work as a source of growth and development.

  7. Delegate: When you find yourself struggling to manage your workload, consider delegating tasks to team members or outsourcing certain tasks.

  8. Eliminate distractions: Identify and eliminate distractions, whether that's checking your phone frequently or being disrupted by the constant ping of Slack messages. Implementing focused work periods can help you improve your productivity and reduce stress.

2. Making decisions

The weight of decision-making can be a significant source of anxiety for founders, especially when there is no clear answer, or when the outcome is uncertain. This can cause a feeling of paralysis when choosing which steps to take next.

As an executive coach, I often work with leaders to help them navigate the decision-making process. Here are some tips to help you make better decisions:

  1. Identify your decision-making style: Understanding your decision-making style is crucial. Reflect on whether you tend to be impulsive or analytical in your approach to decision-making. Knowing this can help you recognise when your instincts are taking over and when you need to take a step back and gather more information.

  2. Consider multiple perspectives: Don't make decisions in a vacuum. Seek input from your trusted team and advisors with diverse perspectives to get a fuller picture of the situation.

  3. Use your intuition: While data and logic are essential, don't discount the power of intuition. Consider what your gut is telling you and explore why that might be.

  4. Use tried and tested frameworks: When making complex decisions, apply a framework to gather the relevant information, organise your thoughts and consider potential solutions and their outcomes. For example, use a Futures Wheel to help you make more informed decisions.

When you’re experiencing anxiety about making decisions:

  • Take time to research and gather information before making a decision.

  • Seek advice from trusted mentors and advisors.

3. Fear of failing

The fear of failure is a common anxiety among founders, especially when you are constantly making decisions, taking risks and putting so much on the line. This fear can cause you to question your own abilities and feel discouraged when things don’t go as planned.

Some practical tips to address a fear of failure:

  1. Recognise that failures are a natural part of the entrepreneurial journey and that many successful entrepreneurs have faced similar challenges. Try to view failures as opportunities to learn and grow.

  2. Set achievable and realistic goals for yourself. Take the time to break down larger goals into smaller, manageable steps and focus on making progress each day. This can help build confidence and reduce the pressure to succeed in every area, all at once.

  3. Celebrate each step along the way to success, no matter how small it may seem. Recognise and acknowledge the effort and hard work that went into achieving each goal. This can help build your resilience and increase your confidence in your ability to succeed in the future.

Working with an executive coach can help you better manage your fear of failure and develop a growth mindset. A coach can help you identify and overcome limiting beliefs, and provide support and guidance as you work to develop the tools and skills you need to overcome challenges and achieve success as a founder.

4. Feeling isolated

The journey of a founder can be a lonely one, especially when there is no one quite at your level to share the ups and downs of the journey with. This can lead to feelings of isolation and anxiety, especially during the tough times.

Practical actions you can take to address feelings of isolation include:

  • Building relationships and networks: Make an effort to reach out to people and build meaningful relationships, both within and outside of your industry. You can attend networking events, join industry associations or online communities, or seek out an executive coach. By connecting with others, you can build a supportive network that can help you overcome feelings of isolation.

  • Collaborate with others: Seek out opportunities to work with other founders or business owners on projects or initiatives. This can provide you with the opportunity to learn from others and build relationships with like-minded individuals. Collaborating with others can also help you to see that you are not alone in your struggles and that there are others who are experiencing similar challenges.

  • Take time to recharge: Look after yourself to help prevent feelings of isolation from becoming overwhelming. This may include taking time to engage in activities that you enjoy, spending time with loved ones, or simply taking time to reflect and recharge. By taking care of yourself, you can help maintain your mental and emotional well-being, which can help to alleviate feelings of isolation.

5. Financial stress

The financial uncertainty of running a startup can be a major source of anxiety for many founders. From securing funding, to managing cash flow, to paying salaries and bills, the pressure to keep the business financially afloat can be great.

To alleviate some of this stress, here are some practical tips:

  • Create a budget: Developing a detailed budget will give you a clear understanding of your financial position and help you to prioritize your spending. Having a budget in place will also allow you to keep track of expenses, income, and cash flow, so you can stay on top of your finances.

  • Monitor your finances regularly: Stay on top of your financial situation and identify any issues early on. This can help you to make proactive decisions, instead of waiting until you are in a crisis.

  • Seek advice: If you are feeling overwhelmed by your business’ financial position, consider seeking advice from a financial advisor to help you create a budget and develop strategies to improve your position.

  • Develop a strong value proposition: Work towards sharing and presenting a clear and compelling value proposition to potential investors. Next, build a strong network of potential investors and develop meaningful relationships with them. Make sure to be transparent about your financials and business metrics.

Anxiety is a common experience for many founders, but it doesn't have to be a permanent one. By taking action, you can alleviate some of that anxiety and build resilience for the journey ahead.

Remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to managing overwhelm and anxiety.

The key is to experiment with different approaches and find what works best for you.

And if you need additional support, don't hesitate to reach out to a coach or other trusted professional.

Working with an Executive Coach can be an effective way to alleviate anxiety and stress as a founder. You’ll receive personalised support and guidance, and partner together to identify and address your specific sources of anxiety.

You'll find yourself developing new strategies and skills to manage stress and anxiety, and gain a safe and confidential space to discuss and work through challenges as they come.

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