Becoming Stress-Proof: Sarah Dunn of Ready Set Organize On How To Reduce Or Eliminate Stress From Your Work

An Interview With Savio Clemente

Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

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Ask for help. If you find something difficult to accomplish, rather than stumble your way through it, ask for help. This may require you to drop your ego. Find someone who knows what they’re doing and have them show you how to do it. It’ll save you a headache and time in the long run.

With all that’s going on in our country, in our economy, in the world, and on social media, it feels like so many of us are under a great deal of stress. We know that chronic stress can be as unhealthy as smoking a quarter of a pack a day. For many of us, our work, our livelihood, is a particular cause of stress. Of course, a bit of stress is just fine, but what are stress management strategies that leaders use to become “Stress-Proof” at work? What are some great tweaks, hacks, and tips that help to reduce or even eliminate stress from work? As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Sarah Dunn.

Sarah Dunn is a professional organizer and owner of the San Diego-based organizing firm, Ready Set Organize.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to know how you got from “there to here.” Inspire us with your backstory!

I love transforming disorder into a functional space. What is even more inspiring, though, is the transformation I see in my clients. They tell me they are sleeping better, have more respect for themselves, and are performing better at work. All because of simple changes in their physical environment.

I’ve always been an organized person myself, but it wasn’t until a few years ago I started helping friends declutter and organize their own spaces. Realizing that transforming one’s environment leads to much greater and more consequential transformation, I was hooked.

From 2015 to 2021, I was an event planner by day — everything from team happy hours to weddings to 10,000-person festivals. During that time, organizing was just my side passion. When COVID shattered the live-events industry, I decided to turn my passion full-time. Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of overlap between event planning and organization. Just as I’d anticipate the way guests would flow through a festival, I plan for flow in my client’s homes.

I now run the San Diego–based organizing firm Ready Set Organize. We are a team of 6 and growing as fast as we can. We organize everything from pantries and kitchens to closets and bathrooms, offices, garages, and more. We even work with corporate clients and companies.

What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self?

There’s a saying that the best time to start was yesterday and the second best time is today. If I had the opportunity to meet my younger self, I would tell her to get started earlier. The earlier start, the sooner you’ll reach your goals.

That being said, I don’t regret the path and time it took me to start my business. In my early 20s, I had a grueling inside sales job where I was required to call 80 to 100 offices a day. I got hung up on a lot. I’d wake up in the middle of the night feeling anxious about work the next day. I often wondered how long I’d make it at the company or when I’d have the confidence to quit. (For the record, I never did: I was eventually let go.)

While it wasn’t enjoyable at the time, with hindsight, I see the lessons that came from working a demanding job like inside sales. Sales are an integral part to any successful business, if not the most important aspect. Learning how to find an ideal customer, to ask the right questions to understand their needs, and to articulate process and pricing are all things I gained from a job I so badly wanted to escape from.

During my late 20s, I worked as an event manager at a venue in San Francisco. This job gave me my attention to detail, taught me how to handle client expectations, plan for flow and function, and project-manage many different details and timelines. Each of these aspects translate to my business today.

It’s easy for me to say this now, but there’s a lot that can come from the unknown and exploration. There’s some expectation that we’re supposed to leave college knowing what our life’s purpose is or what our career should be. That’s unrealistic. Trying something and giving up on it a year later doesn’t make you a failure. It’s only a failure if you don’t learn something — and I guarantee you can learn something from that experience.

None of us are able to experience success without support along the way. Is there a particular person for whom you are grateful because of the support they gave you to grow you from “there to here?” Can you share that story and why you are grateful for them?

There are many people I’m grateful for because of the support they’ve given me, but I’ll focus on my husband here. Not only did he encourage me to start this business, he’s been impactful at every stage. For the first four months, he covered my portion of rent, which allowed me to operate from an abundance mindset, knowing that no matter what amount of business I brought in, I’d still be able to cover my other bills. I recognize and mention this because it’s a privilege not everyone is afforded.

Since then, he’s helped me rebrand, improve my business processes and marketing, and scale the company. I spend so much time interfacing with clients that by the time I get home, I’m not particularly inclined to work on something so involved like a rebrand. He’s taken the initiative on a lot of these things which, as I’m sure your readers know, is often the hardest part.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think it might help people?

Yes. I’m brainstorming an e-course to make our services accessible to a larger audience. I’m thinking about how to grow into new markets. I’m working on growing the team and giving more people the opportunity to work for us. We’re also in the process of buying a company van, which will help our clients by allowing us to show up fully prepared with everything we might need for their project. So a lot of new things are coming!

Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Let’s now talk about stress. How would you define stress?

In Developing the Leader Within You 2.0, John C. Maxwell writes, “There are seldom two consecutive problem-free days in a leader’s life. Most leaders are either entering a crisis, in the middle of a crisis, or just resolving one. Maybe that’s why when asked, ‘What is life?’ a group of psychiatrists at a convention answered, ‘Life is stress and you’d better like it.’”

Problems are stress, so we must get used to approaching problems as possibilities. We can learn a lot about ourselves as leaders when we examine how we handle stress and problems. Are we crippled when stress arises or do we use it as an opportunity for creative problem-solving? Get curious.

In the Western world, humans typically have their shelter, food, and survival needs met. So what has led to this chronic stress? Why are so many of us always stressed out?

Yes, in the Western world we typically have our basic necessities met. We also have an endless roster of people who are more successful, talented, beautiful, and rich than we are — right at our fingertips. You may have heard the expression “comparison is the thief of joy.” There are studies that say positive moods contribute to our ability to manage stress. If we’re spending an average of two hours a day on social media, there’s no doubt some portion of that time is spent comparing our lives to others’. By doing this, we’re negatively contributing to our mood and our ability to tolerate stress. So that’s one reason.

Another reason is our modern world demands so much of our attention and there’s some expectation to be reachable at any given moment. We might physically leave work at 5pm, but can we ever really “turn off” if we’re getting pings on our phone with each new email we receive? It’s tough.

What are some of the physical manifestations of being under a lot of stress? How does the human body react to stress?

Inability to rest or get deep sleep, fluctuations in weight, and anxiety are all physical manifestations of being under a lot of stress.

Is stress necessarily a bad thing? Can stress ever be good for us?

Stress isn’t all bad. In fact, some stress is good for the body. When we work out, we’re putting our body under physical stress. In yoga, the teacher will hold us in chair pose longer than we’d like so we can get used to being under that particular form of stress. It’s these practices that help us become more resilient when stress arises.

In Developing the Leader Within You 2.0, John C. Maxwell reminds us about “the youth who asks his mentor, ‘What’s life’s heaviest burden?’ The response, ‘Having nothing to carry.’ What you face helps you to face yourself, and what you are able to carry defines you.”

Is there a difference between being in a short term stressful situation versus an ongoing stress? Are there long term ramifications to living in a constant state of stress?

I’m no doctor, but according to what I read, chronic stress leads to health problems. If you have a negative relationship with your manager or work for a company with a toxic culture, you may want to reconsider your job. This is the type of environment that leads to anxiety, depression, isolation, and other health problems.

Is it even possible to eliminate stress?

You may not be able to eliminate stress altogether, as most people will have at least some low level of stress at any given time in their life. But there are practices one can cultivate to handle stress better. One of the simplest practices is breathing. Inhale for a count of four seconds, hold for four seconds, and exhale for eight seconds. Repeat this six times and in just over a minute and a half, you will feel more relaxed.

In your opinion, is this something that we should be raising more awareness about, or is it a relatively small issue? Please explain what you mean.

I think people are well aware of their stress levels and we should be raising more awareness on how to combat it.

Let’s talk about stress at work. Numerous studies show that job stress is the major source of stress for American adults and that it has escalated progressively over the past few decades. For you personally, if you are feeling that overall, work is going well, do you feel calm and peaceful, or is there always an underlying feeling of stress? Can you explain what you mean?

I own my own business, so there’s always going to be some level of stress. Being responsible for my own livelihood, solving problems as they arrive, and leading a team is always going to produce stress. The key is figuring out ways to cope with the stress.

Okay, fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview: Can you share with our readers your “5 stress management strategies that busy leaders can use to become “Stress-Proof” at Work?” Please share a story or example for each.

1. Ask for help. If you find something difficult to accomplish, rather than stumble your way through it, ask for help. This may require you to drop your ego. Find someone who knows what they’re doing and have them show you how to do it. It’ll save you a headache and time in the long run.

2. Practice the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule). For example, if you work in sales, you may realize that 80% of your sales come from 20% of your efforts. We waste a lot of time on tasks that don’t produce much return. Figure out what actions produce the highest return and focus your efforts there.

3. On that same note, learn to delegate tasks that are time-wasters. As a business owner, I’m responsible for sales, marketing, accounting and bookkeeping, client work, and social media. About a year into my business, I started to feel exhausted. I always had something to do, yet never enough time. I evaluated what aspects of the business were absolutely necessary for me to continue doing (sales, bookkeeping, and some client work) and began to outsource the rest. Social media was draining a lot of my time for little return. In today’s day and my industry, it’s still a necessary evil, but I decided I wasn’t the one who needed to be managing it. I now have one of my team members making 75% of our Instagram content. It’s given me time back to focus my efforts on the rest of the business.

4. Hire well and develop your people. Consider how the 80/20 principle works with your team. 80% of your team’s results will come from your top 20%. Conversely, you’ll waste 80% of your time trying to train and improve the bottom 20%. Instead of wasting your time on the bottom percent, spend your time developing your top 20%. Give them the tools and resources to develop the 20% below them. Focus your efforts on your top producers and know when to let the bottom 20% go. This may sound harsh, but time is one of our only finite resources and it’s best not to waste it.

5. Leave blank space in your calendar. In our productivity-obsessed world, it’s easy to pack your schedule full by the half-hour increment. This is not easy to sustain and doesn’t allow for time to download and digest between tasks or to respond to other things that are bound to come up.

I’m in the business of helping people declutter their lives. After we pull down suitcases, pillows, shoes, and boxes of sentimental trinkets from the top shelf of their closet, I’ll encourage my clients to keep it clear. They’ll look at me like I’m crazy for not utilizing the shelf. I’ll tell them that just because the shelf is there doesn’t mean we have to use it. Some white space is good. The same goes for your calendar. It’s often during these times of pause that our best ideas and greatest insights come to us. Give yourself the space to ponder.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have inspired you to live with more joy in life?

Because I quoted from it twice, I’m going to mention it again: Developing the Leader Within You 2.0 by John C. Maxwell. It’s less about living with joy and more about personal development. But this book has helped me realize how important the team is to success. My team brings me so much joy and our company would not be where it is without them, that it’s helped me reconsider how I’ll go about developing the team as we move forward.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I’d start an afternoon adult nap movement. Naps shouldn’t just be for kids. There’s a lot of science out there that a quick power nap can do wonders for your mood, concentration, and memory. We should bake naps into our days.

What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?

Find me and my team on Instagram @readysetorganize.co or at our website: www.readysetorganize.co.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.

About The Interviewer: Savio P. Clemente coaches cancer survivors to overcome the confusion and gain the clarity needed to get busy living in mind, body, and spirit. He inspires health and wellness seekers to find meaning in the “why” and cultivate resilience in their mindset. Savio is a Board Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), #1 best-selling author, syndicated columnist, podcaster, stage 3 cancer survivor, and founder of The Human Resolve LLC. He has interviewed notable celebrities and TV personalities and has been featured on Fox News, The Wrap, and has worked with Authority Magazine, Thrive Global, BuzzFeed, Food Network, WW and Bloomberg. Savio has been invited to cover numerous industry events throughout the U.S. and abroad. His mission is to provide clients, listeners, and viewers alike with tangible takeaways on how to lead a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. Savio pens a weekly newsletter in which he delves into secrets to living smarter by feeding your “three brains” — head , heart , and gut — in the hope of connecting the dots to those sticky parts of our nature that matter to living our best life.

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Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor