Stress is a fact of modern life: a direct result of more technology and less time. Before the computer, the mobile phone, the instant access to information and rapid exchange of emails, life was slower and more predictable.
So how do we manage in this always-on world we’re living in, what strategies should we adopt to make sure that far from drowning under the pressure we’re able to stay on top of things and actually increase our productivity? Here are a few hints to send those stress levels plummeting and your production levels soaring.
1. Get organised
A simple but highly effective start to the de-stressing process. Begin every day with a clear desk, literally and mentally. Set out your objectives for the day and list them. Everyone loves ticking off items, and it's a really positive thing to do. Be realistic with your objectives and identify the order of priority. Bear in mind that the unexpected will always happen, and that your day will be peppered with interruptions. And if you just can't find time for one of today's non-priority items, it can go to the top of tomorrow's list.
2. Plan ahead
You may be starting each day with a 'to do' list, but you also need to look further ahead. Identify events, projects and tasks which are coming up and be sure to make space in your schedule for them. And don't just do it once. Check and update your calendar regularly - it's a good idea to schedule your own 'diary meeting' at the same time every week.
3. Don't take on too much
It's the easiest thing in the world to agree to just one more little task. Be careful – by mid-morning, those little tasks can quite easily turn into a mountain of work. You have to find a way to say 'no'. No need to be abrupt – try something along the lines of 'I'd love to help you out but I have a backlog building up. If I can get through enough work, I'll give you a shout later and see what I can do to help'. You're giving a firm 'no' but showing a willingness to assist others once your personal responsibilities are fulfilled. If a manager is trying to pile work on you, show your work list and ask whether he or she would like to change the priorities in order to accommodate this new task. This puts the onus back on the manager and explains why you might not be able to deliver on time.
4. Take time out
If work is getting on top of you, develop the discipline to turn away from your work or screen and just breathe deeply for a few seconds. The 'square breathing' technique is a great way of self-calming – just Google it to learn more about the technique. Then get up, take a brief walk to the kitchen or coffee machine, just to give yourself a change of environment. Don't leave it long enough to get out of work mode – but a few seconds to recentre yourself can really make a difference here.
5. Cut down your interruptions
You can't do much about phone calls, other than not answer them. Obviously, you need to take important calls, but if a call appears to be something that can wait, let voicemail do what it was designed to do. Follow the same procedure with emails and internal messages – if they need a swift response, get on with it. If not, leave them for a while. It's a good idea to schedule a number of periods during the day when you can respond to emails and calls.
6. Have a lunch break
A tough one, this. Many work environments can leave employees feeling slightly uncomfortable taking time off to eat. Try not to fall into this pattern – even if you just give yourself time to grab a sandwich and have a quick walk. Any smart manager knows that a break from your desk makes you more, not less productive.
7. Look after yourself
If you’d look after yourself, no-one else is going right, right? Something as simple as making sure you eat healthily, get a little bit of exercise and are well rested can make a huge difference. You know how much rest and sleep you need to function properly so get that early night, stay off the booze and don’t push yourself beyond your limits.
8. Create a stress toolbox
You need a set of solutions for when things are getting on top of you. There's plenty of online information about this subject but a few of the basics can work wonders in bringing your stress levels down. Deep breathing is an excellent way of regathering your thoughts. Another great method for banishing negativity is to identify a 'special' place – somewhere you can quickly go to in your mind which oozes positivity. It might be a favourite beach, or landscape, a building or a restaurant – whatever works for you. Just pay a quick mental visit for an instant lift in mood. If a physical aid works for you, try squeezing a small ball, or holding a pen or some small keepsake.
9. Don't always seek perfection
Any employee worth their salt will try to do as well as they can in every aspect of their job. It's not always possible, though, to get everything right. The important thing to remember is that it's okay to make a mistake. It happens to everyone – even managers and senior executives. The trick is to recognise and embrace any mistakes you make and to learn from them.
10. Talk to your boss
If you’re really feeling the pressure then talk to your boss. They might not know how you’re feeling and once they do they might be able to give you more support, more time or more resource. Their priority is getting the job done and having a team member wilting under the pressure won’t help them achieve it, give it a go, if they say no then at least you know where you stand.
11. Have a plan B
A sure sign of being too stressed is thinking that your job is everything and that there’s no way out and no options other than to keep on slaving away. None of these things are true, no job is the ONLY job you’ll ever have, no role is that important and there are other employers out there who would love to have you working for them if your current role isn’t right for you. Take control, take a step back and look at your options, a call to a recruiter isn’t a bad idea either… I’m just saying…