If workplace stress is draining your energy, Marshall Atkinson has some advice to help you vanquish your demons

For a lot of us in the decorated apparel industry, there’s an overwhelming avalanche of work to do every day. You know what I’m talking about. It never ends. You complete one task, and in a matter of minutes, four or five more are added to the pile. Sooner or later, your enthusiasm for this business and your role in it wanes. It’s like an energy vampire is sucking the lifeblood out of you every time you think about that pile of screens that need to be reclaimed, or another 5k .jpg art file redrawn. In the movies, vampires can be defeated with a combination of garlic, crucifixes, wooden stakes and holy water. This article is all about kicking that vampire’s butt, reclaiming your energy and getting your mojo back.

Identify your stress

Do we have stress in this industry? Are you kidding? Stress is the norm. It’s how you deal with it that matters. The first thing I want you to do is to name your stress. You have to identify it. Say it out loud. I’m not kidding. Why? Stress is the number one energy vampire, so once you’ve identified your stress point, you can work up an action plan to deal with it. Stress comes in many forms. It could be a task you hate to do, like accounting. Maybe it’s dealing with an employee problem. Cash flow. Craftsmanship. Sometimes it’s the pressing need to finish 15 things at once. You need to get these out in the open. Stop dealing with them internally. Start seeking relief by developing a plan to handle whatever is stressful for you in a positive way.

Stress action plan

After you’ve named the stress, start a list of what’s causing this stressful situation. For example, let’s say it’s a cash flow problem. You’re really busy, and because of that there’s a lot of money going out due to buying goods, paying employees and expenses… but the money isn’t coming back in fast enough. The answer could be in how you take jobs. Instead of offering terms like Net 30 or a 50/50 payment plan, move to have the orders come in with 100% payment upfront. This is a growing trend in the industry, and one that’s making a significant difference to the cash flow situation for many shops. Remember, what got you into this situation isn’t going to be the way out of it. You have to do something differently. A policy change, or even a new set of customers, could be the solution. Situations don’t solve themselves.

Ask for feedback

Another great step is to admit that you don’t have all of the answers. I know, you want to be in control, but talking it out with a friend, colleague, or a coach (like me), can help you get a different perspective. If all you know is your experience, why not look for a different viewpoint? In fact, just talking about the situation with someone that can actively listen can do wonders for your mental state. That’s the beauty of conversation. Just getting it out.


Here’s one tip that always works: you don’t have to do everything. The biggest enemy in your business is time. There are only so many hours in the day, which is why a lot of entrepreneurs in this industry work a dozen or more hours a day. Sooner or later burn-out sets in. Delegation means getting someone else to do the things that you don’t have time for, don’t like to do, or really aren’t even good at doing. But before you hand someone a time bomb, make sure they understand the expectations, how to actually do the work, and what success should look like. Check in on them occasionally just to make sure everything is okay.

Hire some rock stars

This industry is full of rock stars. Not in the sense that they can fill a stadium full of people with their music, (although some probably can), but in the way that they bring incredible knowledge, joy and enthusiasm to our world. You have to have people in your life like that, especially at work. So, are you surrounding yourself with rock stars on a daily basis? Or are you trying to find the lowest wage person that will accept the job? If you want a great work culture that’s built to slay energy-draining vampires every day, that’s not going to happen at minimum wage.

The price for eliminating those energy vampires is about 20%-30% above the norm for those positions in your area. Regardless of your, or anyone else’s, policy on not disclosing pay, word gets out. Yes, I’m completely aware that labour and salaries are the biggest expense in any business. However, better employees do better work. Things get handled faster, quality goes up and customer satisfaction increases. At the end of the day, it’ll be worth it when that momentum shift accelerates your business to the next level due to the increased quality of the people in your business. Can you imagine the company you could build with the best people working for you?

Get some sleep

When you’re focusing on work, it’s extremely easy to overlook what’s happening to your body health-wise. As an adult, you should know better. Your body needs adequate time to heal, recharge, and get ready for the next day – and you’re almost certain to miss out on sleep when you’re working round the clock. If you’re tired, lacking in energy and find it difficult to concentrate, the energy vampire is taking control. Consider altering your routine so that you can get the rest that you need: cut back on nicotine, caffeine and alcohol, and keep your bedroom as dark as possible so that you can sleep through the night.

Food to fight the energy vampire

Food. My favourite subject. I don’t know about you, but I consider myself a food expert. Nevertheless, I sometimes wolf down the wrong food and pay the price for it. If you need more energy throughout the day, it’s a good idea to look at your diet. The food you consume fuels your body, so you can’t expect to feel your best if you’re surviving on a diet of burgers, chips and chocolate. We all know that vampires hate garlic, but if you want to fight off some stress and get an energy boost, here are some other foods that could help: water (are you drinking enough? Have another glass right now); fruit (strawberries, blackberries, apples, oranges, bananas); fish (wild salmon, sardines); vegetables (spinach, Brussels sprouts, avocados); beans, pulses and rice (ground flaxseeds, soybeans, brown rice); skimmed milk; and Omega 3-fortified eggs.


While our industry is certainly a physical one, the fact remains that not everyone gets enough exercise. I certainly need to exercise more. When exercise is part of a person’s daily routine their mental firepower increases, keeping them sharp and focused. Exercise leads to better moods, which can affect interpersonal communication. Does your job depend on you talking to people? I’ll bet it does. If that doesn’t convince you, studies show that a workout can reduce stress and boost concentration, memory, learning potential, stamina and creativity. So, get out there and break a sweat!

Take control

Everyone and every situation is different, so there isn’t one tried- and-tested way to slay your energy vampire. But one thing’s for sure: if you don’t make a change now, you’ll feel worse as time goes on. Work suffers. Things get missed. More problems arise. Opportunities are overlooked. So take control of your energy vampire — before it takes control of you.

Marshall Atkinson is a leading production and efficiency expert for the decorated apparel industry, and the owner of Atkinson Consulting, LLC. Marshall focuses on operational efficiency, continuous improvement and workflow strategy, business planning, employee motivation, management and sustainability. He is a frequent trade show speaker, article and blog author, and is the host of InkSoft’s The Big Idea podcast.