Find Your “Off” Button to Stay Sane during Stressful Days


Are you “crazy busy?” If you are like most business owners who wear too many hats, you run around from task to task and react to the bombardment of demands during your day. At a recent speech I gave for small businesses, one CEO said: “Some days I think, ‘If I have to make one more decision I just want to hit the “eject” button!’” Even if you can’t hit the eject button, there is a button you can press that is a near equivalent to hopping the next flight to the Bahamas, and gives you more ease during busy days.

Press "Off," Not "Eject"

Your nervous system is the part of your body that responds to the stress and demands of your day. It has two parts which could be likened to an “on” button and an “off” button. Your On button gives you energy to answer emails, make marketing presentations, and run from meeting to meeting. It focuses you on problems that need your attention. It’s supposed to be counterbalanced by your off button, which gives you calm and relaxation, access to your creativity, and the ability to see the big picture, etc.

We tend to look at our bulging “to do” list, react with overwhelm, and then just work harder and longer to get it done. In other words, we only ever press the “on” button. We think it’s indulgent to press the “off” button because any minute not working could be missing out on client service or business development.

Pace Yourself: "Sprint-Recovery" Is Optimal for Your Daily Schedule

This “always on” approach causes stress and impedes our best work. The optimal pattern for your daily schedule is a “sprint,” then “recovery” pattern. Research by Tony Schwartz of the Energy Project recommends a 90 minute interval of intense concentration (i.e., using your “on” button for a “sprint”), followed by a brief period of renewal (i.e., pressing your “off” button to “recover”). The quality of the recovery is more important than the quantity (how long you do it for).

For example, my client Kathy headed a small financial firm with seven people under her. When we started she did the “push-push-push” pattern, working from 5am ’til 11pm most days. She wasn’t earning as much as she wanted. One change we made was to start her day with a 90 minute period first thing in the morning in which she would review financial plans of her clients or create a marketing piece, followed by a brief period of recovery (a three-minute breathing technique that gave her the same calm and focus as a 90 minute yoga class). Then she’d do another period of intense concentration such as a well run staff meeting or high touch networking efforts, followed by a another period of recovery such as a brief walk to get a non-sugary snack, an exercise workout, or 3 minutes of goal visualization. She would even get 10-minute chair massages in the building next door a couple times a week. For a few weeks she tried getting her staff involved as well. Every 90 minutes a different staff member would lead officemates for 3 minutes of cardio. And so on with the sprint-recovery approach throughout the day.

Her experience validated the research from the Energy Project, which proved that this approach will give you steady focus throughout the day and help you come home with up to 30% more energy at night – AND enable you to get even more done.

"Off" Is Key to Better Business Results, Sanity, Quality Home Time

The off button (i.e., brief recovery periods) was not only her key to stress resilience, but also the key to better business results – and sanity. It enabled her to step back, see the big picture and take in the full universe of tasks to grow her business. It gave her mental space to review what was and wasn’t working, and figure out the best way to make relationships with people she met at networking meetings. Then she made better decisions about what's most important for HER to do vs. what could be delegated; what efforts fit in best with her changing business model, and how she could develop her team members so they could solve problems on their own and interrupt her less often. She was able to learn and implement creative solutions she couldn’t when she was so busy "doing" and jamming throughout her day. These efforts put an extra $50K in her pocket and enabled her to spend two afternoons a week with her young children!

Your takeaway: Be more intentional about how you go throughout your day. Try scheduling your day with a “sprint-recovery” approach.