Careers

CEO: Here are 6 simple ways I beat stress

Kyle Taylor is the founder and CEO of The Penny Hoarder.
Kyle Taylor is the founder and CEO of The Penny Hoarder.

I've got about 40 voicemails on my phone that I've never listened to, a to-do list that makes "War & Peace" seem like a short story, a suitcase that hasn't been used for non-work travel in years and don't even get me started on email.

Sound familiar?

I love my career, but there's one thing I could do without: feeling overwhelmed.

In fact, I'm certain that this extra stress helped contribute to the ulcer I developed around last Christmas. (Just imagine for a second having to make the rounds to your family's holidays without being able to eat cookies or drink booze — can you say MORE anxiety?)

All of this stress is killing us. Literally.

So, I'm on a mission to develop better habits to cope with these feelings. Here's what works for me.

Kyle Taylor, founder and CEO of The Penny Hoarder
Kyle Taylor, founder and CEO of The Penny Hoarder

1) Debunk your worst-case scenario

Stop everything and take a moment to acknowledge the way you feel — seriously. You're allowed to be human, even in business.

With that said, I'm not always the best at remembering this. (The first step is admitting it, right?) I'm wired to think the world might collapse if I don't respond to 50 unanswered emails right way, and I've accepted it.

However, this one question helps put things in perspective for me: What's the worst that can happen?

If I take a while to respond to X Slack message or follow up to Y email, will the company fall apart? Of course not. I might not make every meeting or reach Inbox Zero — which might not be such a big deal, anyway — and I'll still be here tomorrow.

Playing out the worst-case scenario helps reduce my stress level, and sometimes even makes me laugh at my own ridiculousness — a bonus!

2) Accept that you can't help everyone at once

I've often joked my job is about picking out who I'm going to disappoint that day because I'm constantly in triage mode. Getting past the feeling that you're disappointing people is key.

There's no possible way to respond to all the requests I receive, so I'm constantly picking out the most important or most urgent. It's taken me a while to get over the guilt (and I still feel it from time to time).

This may mean ignoring an employee's request for a few days or not answering an email at all. But by protecting my time, I can navigate the feeling of overwhelm and do what's best for my company.

3) Write out your to-do list

It's simple, but it helps me de-stress. I LOVE my lists.

The benefit here is two-fold: You'll have a tangible list of your most pressing tasks to do and you'll see the work you actually have to do. I have a tendency to overestimate my workload — thus needlessly stressing myself out — and this helps bring me back to earth.

4) Organize your work

Once you have your list of tasks, find a system that helps you effectively tackle it. I've developed a system that plays off the Pomodoro Technique, but do some research and find a method that works for you.

Here's how I divvy up my work for the day: I begin by putting four to five tasks — some easy, some I'm looking forward to and some I've been procrastinating — in a column. I purposefully break the columns into sections that shouldn't take more than 30 minutes to complete, and work from there. I then reward myself with a five- to 10-minute break after each section. (More on that in #6.)

This method helps me stay focused on the task at hand, while working bit by bit. As I finish each item, I cross it off my list, which feels great. The science backs this up: According to Kevan Lee in his article for the I Done This Blog, "Dopamine will flow as a result of your brain's positive reinforcement every time you complete a step and meet a challenge."

5) Practice being present

Our HR team recently organized an afternoon meditation and awareness training in the office. The goal was to help employees ditch multitasking, communicate better and work on being in the moment.

One of the final exercises was a 20-minute group meditation session. When the organizer called time, the feeling in the room was palpable — calm and peaceful. And that's saying something for a room full of 60-plus employees in one shared space.

It's so easy to get distracted and overwhelmed throughout the work day. That's why it's important to be in the right frame of mind, especially before diving into deep work.

"Getting past the feeling that you're disappointing people is key."

After this training, a few of staffers started meditating regularly around noon to regroup before taking on the second half of their day. I don't always close my eyes and meditate — sometimes it's just 10 minutes with my book or 10 minutes with my eyes closed — but I credit a daily mid-afternoon break with helping me get though what are often 12- to 16-hour days.

6) Make fun a priority

It sounds awkward to "plan" a fun night out (or in), but it's important. In fact, take out your calendar and make sure you have something planned fun this week — do it right now.

My friends and I have a weekly game night every Thursday. There's only one rule: no work talk. It's good for our friendship and our sanity.

It's also important to incorporate fun throughout your workday. For example, I'll watch a clip from Fallon, read my favorite political blog or scroll through Twitter for 10 minutes to clear my head. It helps me recharge, which helps me bring my best work to the table.

I think having something to look forward to is the key to a happy life. Nothing beats the feeling of being excited to wake up in the morning!

Kyle Taylor is the founder and CEO of The Penny Hoarder, one of the largest personal finance websites with 15 million-plus monthly readers. In 2016, the Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder the 32nd fastest-growing private company and the №1 fastest-growing private media company in the United States. You can read his latest article here: "Here's Exactly What We Did to Improve Our SEO in 2016 … and Beyond."