Where there is work, there’s workplace stress. Heavy workloads, looming deadlines, constant interruptions and delicate interpersonal relationships can challenge even the healthiest psyche, but some simple techniques can help keep you calm and collected while on the job.
Here are 5 strategies to quickly reduce your stress at work:
Reject The Multitasking Myth
The term “multitasking” was first introduced in the 1960s to praise the proficiencies of computers and their ability to perform more than one task at a time. At some point between now and then, society decided that the human brain had the same capacity… and that it should be central to an effective work ethic.
There’s just one problem; despite the idea that “more is more,” multitasking is not actually a viable option for most of us. Studies show that 98% of the population literally cannot concentrate on more than one thing at a time. As a result, most everyone who divides their attention between multiple tasks will find the end results reflect a lower quality of work, with less creativity and more errors.
Plus, multitasking isn’t just unproductive, it’s stressful. People who are heavy multitaskers report higher levels of anxiety and tension, and feel they are putting in more effort, have a heavier workload and are under greater pressure at work than their unitasking counterparts.
Instead, consider “time-chunking”. This technique requires grouping similar activities together to prevent the loss of focus and productivity that happens when we’re constantly switching between tasks. For example, block out two hours to write a report, and do nothing else during that time. No answering emails, no taking phone calls. You’ll be surprised at what can be accomplished in short bursts when you remove near-constant interruptions.
Prioritize Your Projects
Despite rhetoric to the contrary, not every project is urgently urgent. If you find you have dozens of tasks on your to-do list every week, it’s time to prioritize.
Make it a habit to set aside a few minutes each morning to review your tasks and list them in descending order for the day according to urgency. Once you’ve determined your Top 5 tasks, focus on them exclusively until they are completed. If any of your priority tasks remain incomplete at the end of the day, move them to the top of your list for the next day, then fill in your new Top 5.
Something to consider: If certain things consistently fall to the bottom of your priority list without ever rising in importance, it may not make sense to include them in your workload. Sometimes those tasks just fall away or can be reassigned to someone who has the time to complete them.
Recognize Self-Imposed Stress—And Check Yourself
As in life, there are two types of work stress: internal and external. External stressors such as poor management, work overload, or office politics may be beyond our control, but a large percentage of our stress is self-imposed, and internal stress makes external circumstances more difficult to handle.
If you’ve got a constant internal dialogue running that says you’re not doing enough or that you’re not smart/talented/experienced enough to get to where you want to be professionally, shut it off. That type of self-defeating thought pattern magnifies every failure and contributes to higher anxiety and stress levels.
When you find yourself spiralling into negative thought patterns, stop what you’re doing. Take a deep breath and do a self-check. Ask yourself these questions:
• Are my thoughts based in fact, or are they my own interpretation of circumstances?
• Am I assuming the worst possible scenario will occur? How likely is that, really?
• Will the thing I am so concerned about right now matter a week from now? A month? A year?
Interrupting a perfectionist thought process can be enough to derail it, and when you answer these questions honestly, you’ll often find that you’ve worked yourself up over matters of no real consequence. Once you recognize that you’re putting undue pressure on yourself, it’s much easier to let that stress go.
Step Away From The Desk
Research suggests that work breaks lower your stress levels, revive focus, improve decision-making skills and allow you to think more creatively. It’s also been established that we function best if we renew our energy at 90-minute intervals, so regular breaks should be a non-negotiable component of everyone’s workday.
Still, a recent poll indicates that “…more than half (51%) of those studied said it is rare or unrealistic for them to take a proper lunch break away from their work.” The practice means many of us are suffering from increased fatigue and irritability, and poor time management and reduced problem-solving capabilities.
Any break is better than none, but a “movement break” is your best bet. Do some jumping jacks. Stretch. Offer to make an office coffee run. Do anything, even if it’s just for a few minutes, that gets your body moving, provides a respite and allows you to come back rejuvenated and ready to do your best work.
Define Your Boundaries
We have become a society that places a high value on accessibility, and it’s common for people to engage in office politics that have them working longer hours and socializing outside of work in an effort to get ahead. However, when you pair those trends with the expectation that we be reachable by phone, email or text around the clock, it leaves precious little time to call our own.
It’s important to be very clear about your work/life boundaries, both with yourself and with others. The stress of being constantly “on” can quickly lead to job burnout, which is a serious issue with far-reaching career implications. Remember, it’s perfectly acceptable to pass on drinks after work to go home and decompress, or to refuse to answer emails or texts after 9pm. Define your boundaries—and stick to them.
By Renee Goyeneche, as published in Forbes on 10th July 2019