Susan Fletcher is a practicing psychologist, speaker, consultant and author of Working in the Smart Zone and Parenting in the Smart Zone. She’s the CEO of Fletcher & Associates Psychological Services and Smart Zone Solutions. A stress-management and productivity expert, Fletcher is also a wife and mother of three.
SUCCESS: Do you think people create a lot of their own stress?
Susan Fletcher: I think it’s very common. Everyone does it. It doesn’t mean every bit of stress we have is self-created. But every single person can make things harder than they need to be.
SUCCESS:What are some ways people create their own stress?
Susan Fletcher: People do it by reading into things too much. Sometimes a look is just a look. People make things bigger than they need to be. In an effort to increase value, they will make a project bigger than it needs to be and maybe not even realize they are doing it. What it really does is clog the system in terms of productivity. I believe that creates a lot of stress. Especially in this economy, there’s a lot of competition to show value, and this can create stress. Another way people create stress is when they believe they are the only person who can do something, and they don’t involve or collaborate with other people. They don’t delegate or assign accountability. Women do it at home a lot, and I believe both genders do it a lot at work.
SUCCESS:Is it an issue of control?
Susan Fletcher:I don’t know that they are always control issues. The people who do it—one of the fi rst things they say is, “I don’t really want this responsibility. I don’t want to be the only one who does this,” whether it’s at home getting the baby sitter or the one at work doing the fi nal proofi ng. They will say they don’t like doing it. So, I don’t think it is control. I think it’s trust—the unwillingness to transfer trust.
SUCCESS:How can people learn to transfer trust to reduce stress?
Susan Fletcher: I really like (Stephen Covey’s son) Stephen M.R. Covey’s Speed of Trust stuff. He says people have to be able to do it before they feel it. Just like with your kids, you have to give them a little rope. And with someone who works for you, you have to let them fail because failure is feedback. But you have to keep giving them pieces of the project rather than just saying, “It’s easier to do myself.” You have to let the rope out a little bit more. You have to create an opportunity for trust and to learn from mistakes.
SUCCESS:How does self-created stress play out at home?
Susan Fletcher: Sometimes a dirty coffee cup is just a dirty coffee cup. It’s not a passive-aggressive way to say you are not appreciated. It’s hard for high-achieving people to look at something really simply. I can’t tell you how many people I have talked into hiring someone to clean their house. People laugh when I tell them that, but you’d be surprised how hard it is to convince people to do it. I tell people, “You can’t hire someone to spend time with your spouse and kids, but you can hire someone to clean your house, do your laundry or mow your lawn.”
SUCCESS:That’s true. So what are some other solutions for selfcreated stress?
Susan Fletcher: Sometimes people don’t see what they are doing is ineffi cient. It’s really important for people to ask themselves, “What’s my ultimate outcome I want here and what do I need to do to get there?”
People who are stressed get stuck answering e-mails for two hours at the expense of higher value items that need to be taken care of. They lose their objectivity because there is so much going on. It’s not that they can’t prioritize; they just have something they need to take out of the high-priority column.
It’s sort of like when you are in your house and you open the fridge and ask, “Where’s the mustard?” and your family member says, “It’s right in the door of the refrigerator.” Sometimes we get hyper-focused and lose peripheral vision.
The No. 1 thing to reduce stress is to have an accountability partner. It could be a friend or family member—probably not someone you live with because you don’t want to muddy the waters. It has to be someone you will listen to but who will hold you accountable. My friend Trudy was my accountability partner for my last book. I’d call her, and she’d ask, “How many chapters did you work on this week?” I’d know she was going to ask me on our Thursday call, so I’d tell myself beforehand that I better get something done.
SUCCESS:That leads perfectly into our next question. You are a psychologist, businesswoman, author, wife and mother of three. What’s your secret to managing stress in your own life?
Susan Fletcher: Well, for lunch today I had a bowl of Cheerios, so I don’t always do what I want to do. But tonight I will eat right and get back on track. We have three boys and I have been a Cub Scout leader [for them]. Even though I loved it, I am very deliberate and said I will do it for X number of years. You have to say no to things you might enjoy but that are not in line with where you are personally or professionally at the moment. Right now I leave work in the afternoon to be with my kids. I tell people to be selfi sh with their yeses because they are golden tickets.