Inspiration, Learning

How to cope with tragedy when running a business

I’m currently experiencing the toughest time I ever have in my private life; I’ve been feeling severely depressed, demotivated and generally discouraged all around. Which isn’t great considering I run my own business and each day that I don’t work I lose money. There’s no sick leave or taking a few days off when there are bills to pay and it feels like time is just being wasted away. Luckily, I’ve been gradually finding it easier to work whilst coping with the distress in my private life, so I thought I’d write up a blog post about how you can shake off those blues, put your private life to one side and concentrate on getting back to work.

A regular person with a 9-5 job whose workplace is separate from their home will find it much easier to escape what’s going on in their private life than those who work from home. Often you’ll have a boss giving you a list of tasks, your co-workers keeping you busy and engaged,  and you’ll know what you’re meant to be doing most of the time. You’re kept busy, and that’s the key.

For me it’s quite different. I’m always developing new products and services, I’m always trying to be creative and use my entrepreneurial skills to get something up and running. I work from home, no boss, no co-workers and complete freedom as to when I work or don’t. All of this requires a lot of motivation and feeling good about yourself. If you’ve ever felt crap, you might want to just stay in bed all day, or just waste the day away by playing video games, watching Netflix or sometimes just sitting around your house doing nothing. That’s certainly how I felt at the beginning, when my private life was turned upside down.

But a mixture of fear and inner determination has steeled me recently. I’ve had to force myself out of this slump as the longer I feel down and wasteful the more my business is going to suffer, which is going to cause a downward spiral on the rest of my life. The first thing I did was practice not thinking about my private life.

Blocking things out

This is the hardest but the most important step. If you’re feeling down about a particular event in your life, blocking it out for me was the best way of going forward. I have tried doing the opposite – working for a couple of minutes whilst occasionally allowing myself to think about my private life – wondering about the future, questioning why this terrible event is happening to me- but, all of this just leads to an overwhelming amount of negative emotion. It affects your work; you start feeling like it’s becoming a grind. As a programmer, doing the simplest of tasks like finding a good background color for a tab felt like a bullet point on my todo list. I would literally spend 30 minutes trying to complete this.

The only way to have a productive day is to block it out. You have to give yourself time to feel depressed, but letting it take over your working day is not going to do you or your business any favors. I’ve had down-right depressing evenings when I’ve been alone, but during the day I have coached myself mentally to work hard and strive to push my business as far as I can. If you can work solidly for five or six hours a day, you can then use the rest of your time to come to terms with your emotions. The idea is to get at least some productivity out of your day.

My first tip for blocking this out is just giving yourself little mental tasks: for the next 10 minutes try not to think about whatever it is that’s concerning you. Try and give yourself a task to do for the next 10 minutes- take your rubbish out, wash the dishes, go send that cheque to the bank. Each time you do it, you are slowly conditioning your mind to block out your bad thoughts, slowly allowing yourself to get on with the task at hand without stopping to think about other distractions.

My second tip is that if you do think about your situation, try and quickly break out of it. Make a conscious effort to do something; make a cup of tea (never a bad idea), call up a customer to get some feedback (probably an even better idea). You need to start pushing yourself to snap out of your depressed state. I found that I slowly started to focus even more on the task at hand just because I keow I’d have to go and finally answer those 20 emails from that client who didn’t read the documentation. Even if you don’t think this will help you at all, give it a try and you might be surprised at how your brain slowly starts to expect things, even on a subconscious level.

Make a daily to-do list

Making a daily to-do list is something you should probably do even if you aren’t feeling down in the dumps. When you know you have things to do, and a specific list of objectives, it’s a lot harder to ignore and you’ll strive to get them done. It also makes it a lot easier to accomplish them, because that mountain you thought was going to be impossible to climb, is now broken down into more manageable tasks that you can complete.

The best time I find to make my to-do list is at night. This is because you’ve been working throughout the day and have a good idea of what needs your attention, what pressing issues are cropping up and after relaxing in the evening, you’ve had time to process the day’s events, make plans for other daily-life tasks you need to get done and are generally more aware of what you need to do tomorrow. If you start making your todo list in the morning, you’re tired and you’ve got to go through all the work-related stuff you manage and see what needs doing. If you’re like me, you have to manage a lot of things at once, so having to go through all of them in the morning and looking for jobs to complete can become exhausting. Not to mention it can make you feel less motivated to get up in the morning because you have to make that list. The idea is to make it as easy as possible to get yourself working because once you start, it’s much easier to finish.

The other benefit of making a to-do list, is the satisfaction of completing those tasks. It feels like a small victory when you look at that long list of things you’d planned to get done and are surprised that you managed to complete most of them easily and efficiently. It takes a while to get into this habit of planning every night, but once you do, you’ll feel the benefits for sure.

Seek support

I think one of the worse things that can come from dealing with any tragedy is the loneliness. You often feel like you’re the only one going through bad times and that other people simply don’t care.

This is where you’re wrong. You need to tell your friends, family, loved ones, possibly even internet strangers how you’re feeling. Once you open yourself up, you’ll often feel the weight of what has been bothering you ease slightly because the support you receive from your friends helps you. I can remember the difference between not telling anyone and airing my awful predicament to my friends and it really did help me. Especially because it allowed me to realize that life can be okay after experiencing something devastating.

If you don’t have anyone to reach out to, you can always use Support Lines, the Internet and other avenues of free anonymous support. You might feel a little ashamed by reaching out to these people – but don’t! Because these people have so much more wisdom and advice than I can ever give you. In fact, it can sometimes be better to listen to someone who understands your situation better than having a friend talk to you.

Moving forward

It’s been about 2 months now since I experienced my own personal tragedy and I can say it definitely does get easier. There are times when I still feel awful, depressed and hate everything, but these moments become fewer and farther between the better moments of life. It’s an unfortunate part of life that will affect many of us, and as entrepreneurs it can be very damaging to our businesses if we let it.

Keep working, keep moving forward, use your life experiences to make yourself a better person and you’ll soon find the relief and comfort that will guide you out of the darkness.