Most of us have heard the story about how to boil a frog. Simply placing a frog in boiling water is not going to get you the frog stew you were hoping for. He will immediately recognize the dangerous temperature and hop out of the water. However, if you place a frog in temperate waters, incrementally increasing the temperature, the frog will not notice the subtle changes and will slowly but surely boil to death. As a business owner I find this anecdote especially helpful.

Although I certainly don’t want to “boil” myself or my employees, if I want to make significant changes to deliverables or expectations I need to do so slowly and steadily. I also need to be keenly aware of their limits in order to avoid causing my team to “hop” out of the company. The same can be said about my professional and personal life, which often overlap. Taking on responsibilities, implementing change and recognizing my boiling point is essential to preventing myself from becoming a stressed, overworked, fried frog.

The good news is that throughout my years as a small business owner, I have learned that I am the one who controls the temperature. Each new meeting, scheduled phone call, volunteer opportunity, LinkedIn message, email or promise to give advice, slowly turns up the heat – bringing me closer and closer to my boiling point. The big question still remains: As a business owner, can this “boiling over” truly be avoided- Can I swim through my day in comfortable waters? I am happy to say, yes, it most certainly can!

5 Ways to avoid the slow boil.

1. Prioritize and set reasonable expectations. Although I’d like to end the day with an empty inbox, I know that is just not possible. No matter how perfectly I schedule my hours, not only will there be unforeseen hiccups, but there are simply not enough hours in the day to accomplish all my goals. Continuing to fall short of unrealistic plans is not only debilitating and stressful, but it shows that I am unable to adequately prioritize the needs of my company. Setting reasonable expectations that are aligned with the priorities I established will allow me to feel successful as well as accomplish what I set out to do that day, week, or month. In fact, there is a sign I hung over my desk a few years ago that simply reads “Did you produce activity or RESULTS today?”

2. Take a preemptive strike! Prioritizing my company’s needs and setting reasonable expectations are the first steps to controlling the flame. However, if I don’t have procedures in place to efficiently meet those expectations, I will continually be distracted and overwhelmed. Establishing protocols for returning emails and phone calls or scheduling meetings is essential to keeping my expectations reasonable and attainable.

3. Recognize the signs when the temperature is rising. It did not take me long to learn that my best ideas are NOT developed in the middle of the night. So if I’m tossing and turning at 2 a.m. it isn’t because I’ve created our newest pitch. It’s more likely that I am overwhelmed and unable to “shut off” at the end of the day. Lack of sleep, headaches, ending the day with more To Dos than when I started, are all signs that things are heating up and I’m on my way to my boiling point. It is at this point that I need to make some adjustments.

4. Learn to say NO! I’d like to be all things to all people. However, if I add a task or two for each one I accomplish, I’m never going to be “done”. It’s easy to be the “yes man” because as a business owner I want the reputation of being someone who meets the needs of my clients and provides the personal touch and constant communication. This approach will ultimately bring in more business! Saying “no” often feels counterintuitive and risky. Unfortunately, it is a necessary skill that I need to master, in order to be successful and stop myself from reaching my boiling point on a daily basis. Prioritizing the needs of my business and personal life, setting reasonable expectations and goals and delegating effectively makes it much easier for me to say “no”. If I can maintain a clear view of where I am headed, it becomes much easier to turn down the things that will derail my focus.

5. Recognize accomplishments and schedule some “Me Time”. Nothing slows the churning waters like taking a moment to sit back and recognize when I’ve met a goal or reached a milestone in the business. Not only does the act of taking a pause literally slow me down, but the psychological benefits are important as well. Just like cooling down after my five-mile run brings down my body temperature, taking a step back and acknowledging the successes will calm the mental frenzy that accompanies a full schedule. Even more importantly, with my full schedule, I have learned that nothing gets done unless it is scheduled – even fun! In our household, Wednesday night is “no screen night”. I commit to my family that I will turn off my screens and leave the office by 6:30pm, to allow us to eat together, play games, talk about our day, etc. And while we also have time as a family the other days of the week, I know that Wednesday is my time to regroup and in some cases, reconnect with those that matter most! My wife and I also scheduled date nights, and we do the same with the kids once a month, carving out time for my wife and I to spend with just one of our kids at a time.

There is a certain amount of “heat” that goes along with being a business owner- that’s unavoidable. Learning to manage that heat and keep it from reaching a boiling point is the key to being a successful leader, parent, manager, volunteer and husband, and to keeping my sanity.