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Is Being a CTO Burning You Out? 8 Hacks to Combat Stress

December 12, 2016

beat stress as a cto

When you’re the one responsible for the success of a new technology or application that your company is developing, stress comes with the territory. When problems and delays with development arise (and they always do), you can find yourself in a stressful work environment for weeks or even months at a time.

When you can count on stress being there, you have to take steps to shield yourself from burnout. Now, burnout looks different for different people, but it is always the result of prolonged stress that isn’t properly managed and it always results in a reduced ability to handle your work. Reduced energy, reduced focus and a reduced ability to handle stress are all common results of burning out. Burnout can even lead to increased feelings of depression and/or anxiety, further jeopardizing the project you are working so hard to finish.

With so much on the line, you need to account for your own needs as much as the needs of your team. You are playing an important role, and the stress that results from this pressure needs to be managed. If you neglect your need to combat stress, it may get the better of you at the worst possible time.

These hacks will help you to manage the stress of product development and ensure that your high-stress job doesn’t get the better of you.

Identify Sources of Stress

The first way to hack through your stress problem is to identify the major sources of stress in your life.

Think back over the past month, and make a list of everything you can remember that made you stressed out. Once you have this list, examine it to see if you can be more specific. For instance, if you put “work,” and believe this is your top stressor, list the specific tasks, people or procedures that are stressing you out.

Once you have your stresses list, and have gotten as specific as you can with it, try to number this list from the items that give you the most grief to things that are (by comparison) just annoying. Doing this exercise helps you to identify the things that are the biggest contributors to your stress levels.

Articulating your stressors won’t make them go away, but it will help you to prepare for the stress these events cause you. Knowing your biggest stressors will also help you to take steps to manage the processes and people that are making your life harder. Stress is much easily combated when understood, so identify your biggest stressors is the first step to avoiding burnout.

Make Time for Sleep

Sleep is something that is frequently sacrificed by people in high-responsibility, high pressure positions. No matter how well you can handle your work after little or no sleep, this extra productivity is not worth the long-term effects of burning the candle at both ends.

In the short term, operating on less sleep means that you have reduced critical thinking ability and a reduced ability to remember information. Over time, lack of sleep will lead to an increased risk of heart disease, worse dietary choices, worse skin, memory loss, brain damage and even death.

Your circumstances will always play a part in your sleep cycle, but you can’t afford to go too deep into sleep debt. Over time, your ability to “power through it” will weaken, and will leave you more vulnerable to burnout. Make time for sleep, and you will find that your time awake is spent much more effectively and experienced with less stress.

Plan More for Yourself

When work takes the front seat in your life, it’s easy to neglect the things that make you happy outside of work. When this work takes a stressful turn, it’s important to remember the things and activities that make you happy and plan these things into your schedule.

Whether you love gardening or gaming, Sudoku or surfing, you need to make time for the activities that you enjoy outside of work. Neglecting these activities for too long will mean that your stress-fighting arsenal is lacking in key tools for regular, healthy recovery. 

Eat Good Food

Tight schedules and stressful work often make people sacrifice good food for convenient food. While your fast food or instant noodles may be tasty, this sort of salty, fatty food will let you down. Compared with healthy eaters, people who eat bad/junk food experience twice as much stress and half as many positive “lifts” (good sleep, positive emotions, engagement at work, etc.)

Just like star athletes manage their diets for increased performance, healthier eating habits will help you to experience less stress and greater attention. Eating good food will help you to have more physical and mental energy, which will lead to getting more done and experiencing less stress.

Socialize

No matter how crunched you are at work, making time to socialize will be essential for combating stress. Though you may interact with many people at work, and may socialize during breaks, most of your workday interactions are delegations and communications. These sort of interactions don’t help to fight stress (and can even cause it), so it’s important to balance your need to socialize with the demands of your job.

Relaxing and socializing with friends is essential for managing workplace stress. Even if you work with these friends, it’s important to interact with people on a personal, non-professional level. This way, you can recover from the stresses of your work and ensure that you don’t lose touch with the people you enjoy spending time with.

Meditate

Meditation is one of the most effective, efficient stress management tools at your disposal. Studies have shown that practicing regular mindfulness meditation leads to an increased ability to deal with stress and anxiety, as well as growth in the learning and cognition centers of the brain.

Now, you don’t have to burn any incense, but you do have to look at meditation as a serious tool. Though you might have a hard time viewing sitting quietly for 20 minutes as productive, think of how, in high stress situations, a single, deep breath can keep you from breaking down. Meditation is like this steadying breath, allowing you to disconnect from your stress for a short, vital period of recovery.

There are many guided meditation resources out there, but simply taking 10-20 minutes a day to sit quietly and recover from stress will help you immensely. Look at this time investment as a simple preventative measure you’re taking to ensure that you are able to work your hardest without burning out.

Exercise

Exercise is an excellent stress management hack that will help you to have more energy, less stress and a healthier life. Studies have shown that regular exercise helps to reduce stress and anxiety, and this is crucial for any CTO who want so avoid burnout.

Having a less stressful life comes from finding a better balance. By exercising your body regularly, you allow your mind to relax and take the back seat as you run, swim, hike or shoot some hoops. No matter how you get your exercise, adding more physical activity to your schedule will help you to achieve a healthier work-life balance and experience less stress.

Project Management Apps

Technology can also be a life-saver for people in high-stress positions. Using project management, collaboration and prioritization tools will help you to get more out of your work week, thereby reducing the stress you experience on a daily basis.

Workflow management tools like Trello allow you to manage your projects, tasks and objectives with Kanban boards. Whether you’re making a to-do list for de-bugging your company’s next app or organizing the work that needs doing around the house, this tool will help you to keep everything straight in your busy life.  Evernote is another great tool for working on content with key team members and lets you give key employees access to collaborate on ongoing projects, plans and documents.

VP of Marketing at Digital Astronauts

Ronny Cheng is one of the Co-Founder’s of Digital Astronauts and has helped drive lead generation in the software industry for organizations of all sizes — from start-ups to Fortune 500’s. He helped build one of the first online software review websites, specializing in CRM, ERP, and HR software. He’s a nationally published author with extensive experience working with the HR/Recruiting industries largest brands. In his spare time, you can catch him on Instagram doing his best food blogger impersonation.

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