Have you ever wondered how many times a day you are distracted? And it’s not just because you are procrastinating over writing a report or avoiding having a challenging conversation with one of your team.
Take a moment and think about it: how often does the following happen?
- A colleague or client calls to ask a question
- One of your team asks if they can run an idea past… now
- Email pings in and you can’t resist the urge to check it, then find yourself responding
- Your mobile rings, someone else wanting your time
- Messenger is open on your PC, and a friend is asking if you will be making it to the gym tonight
Moreover, let’s get real; all these can happen in the space of an hour or less.
Udemy In–Depth 2018 Workplace Distraction Report showed that 70% of workers felt distracted when they were on the job with 16 % admitting they almost always felt distracted. The figure rose to 74% for Millennial and Gen Z employees.
The reality is when we are so distracted; our productivity decreases significantly. However, our to–do list doesn’t get shorter; it gets longer as it is continuously being added to.
This is a recipe for increased stress, and I have only referred to this one contributory factor to workplace stress. In this article, rather than list many more I want to share some ideas on how you can handle stress at work whatever the cause.
A great place to start is to look at how you can prevent stress before it happens.
Prevention Is Better Than Cure
Energy And Focus
Tony Schwarz wrote a book called the Power Of Full Engagement (I would recommend it). In it, he shares how working in 90-minute cycles followed by a brief recovery period clears any build–up of stress. Short breaks can include taking a short walk, doing a 10-minute burst of exercise at your desk or even walking up and down a few flights of stairs.
Managing your energy includes thinking about what you eat and drink. While a sugar or caffeine–fuelled snack may taste good and give you a spike of energy, in the long run, this is short–lived, and your energy levels quickly drop. It also causes your body to develop a self–perpetuating cycle of then needing another sugar/caffeine boost. This biochemical response will eventually lead to a whole host of other problems for you to sort out.
Remember, healthy snacks, and drinking water will help fuel you and help you focus for longer. So on the plus side, your body is living biochemistry that is far healthier.
While there are different schools of thought on sleep, the fact is your body, and that includes your mind, needs time to recover.
You may not feel you need the regular 8 hours that some of your friends and family do but burning the candle at both ends will not help set your day up to start with energy and focus. Matthew Walker has written an insightful book on Why We Sleep, which I’ve recommended to many. As we get more time–pressured it’s easy to believe we can cut back on sleep and there not be any significant detriment. The thing is there isn’t a noticeable one if we lose an hour a night. Well, not immediately but over time it impacts things like our creativity. A valuable asset for most leaders I know.
If you find your mind is racing and preoccupied when you get to bed, test this simple breathing technique for yourself, recommended by Sharon Melnick PhD, a business psychologist.
Cover your right nostril and breathe through your left for 3-5 minutes. That’s it; you don’t switch nostrils. This left nostril breathing technique activates the calming part of your nervous system.
Did you arrive at the number of distractions and interruptions you experience across a typical working day? However many it is, you can reduce this and reduce your stress levels.
Of course, I am not naive enough to think you can eliminate them all, and there are places you can start.
- Switch off notifications on your phone and pc. If not for the whole day, do it for a block of 90 mins to allow you complete focus on the activity at hand.
- Plan your day into blocks of time (30, 60 or 90–minute chunks) where you focus on specific tasks. These blocks also include allocating time to talk with your team and colleagues.
- Share with your team and colleagues your new routine so that they know when you will be at your best to give them the time they deserve and need. There is nothing worse for either of you than saying yes to an interruption, only to keep on trying to do 2 activities at once; or having the conversation while mentally also fretting about the task you’ve just paused to have the conversation.
- Quit starting your day by looking at email. Using email as a to–do list absorbs time and can accelerate stress building as you get sucked into dealing with others’ issues rather than making progress on your tasks. Instead, add in short blocks of time across the day to check–in and respond to emails.
I could continue, but I would suggest you change a few habits and build from here.
Identify Your Stressors
You may or may not have a good handle on what contributes towards you becoming stressed. If not,
use a journal for a week or two and keep a note of what situations you experience where you notice you begin to feel stressed. Write down how you feel, how you responded at the time, who was involved, and where did certain situations take place. After a few weeks, review it and notice what patterns emerge.
Create New Responses
From your journal, you will notice specific patterns. It may be that when there are numerous disagreements in a meeting that you get angry and it comes across as impatience, and your speech becomes clipped and short. Maybe you withdraw.
Either of these responses has the potential to impact your working relationships, which can add to your stress levels. Instead, explore and commit to some different behavioural responses that serve you, your colleagues and the outcomes you want to achieve better.
Set Boundaries And Implement Them
With mobile technology, it’s easy to feel that you must be available 24/7. It is, however, totally unrealistic. Success isn’t all about work ethic; in fact, if you’re following the work ethic principle success isn’t going to be anything like it could!
Make it important to yourself and your loved ones and establish boundaries, both work-life boundaries but also boundaries in work. (This begins to relate to my earlier point about working in blocks of time and communicating this to colleagues.)
Some new habits would be that:
- You don’t check email where ever you are after 7 pm;
- You don’t take calls while in meetings;
- During meals, your phone is switched off;
- You allocate some social media time for yourself at specific times in the day or once a day.
Different strategies will work for each of us. Decide what’s best for you and work with it.
We each have different stress triggers and ways of handling stress. Preventing stress from occurring will serve you well. Knowing exactly what your triggers are, how you currently react and deal with your stress is next. Finally deciding to introduce some new responses will result in your stress decreasing and contribute towards you being more comfortable to work with and be with at home.
Here’s to a less stressful life.
Until next time.
About blue pea POD
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