The average business professional has 30 to 100 projects on their plate. Modern workers are interrupted seven times an hour and distracted multiple times a day. It is no wonder then that 40% of adults say they lie awake at night plagued by the stressful events of the day; I know as a registered manager in the Social Care sector, I experienced this on multiple occasions.
- So, is there a way to maintain a steady focus throughout the day and not become overwhelmed even when busy?
- Is it possible to do everything that needs to get done and still have energy left over after work?
- How do you keep cool under so many demands?
1. Act Rather Than React
Feeling that things are out of control, activates the stress hormone and, if chronic, wears down confidence, concentration and well-being. First, identify the aspects of the situation you can control and those you can’t. Start to address the ones under your control and let go of the rest. This is a skill you will need to practice and master and works well with the use of the Urgent/Important grid detailed below.
2. Take A Deep Breath
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, tense or stressed, a few minutes of deep breathing will restore balance. Simply shut the door of your office, or the toilet if no office is available! Inhale for five seconds, hold and exhale in equal counts through the nose. Do this 5 times. This gives you a minute to compose yourself and also these deep breaths have a physical impact on your body and you feel calmer almost immediately. This can also stop you from doing or saying something you may say in haste in a moment of stress, and then regret at leisure!
3. Eliminate Interruptions
Phone calls, pop-ins, emails and sudden, urgent deadlines can conspire to make you more distracted than ever. While you may not have control over the interrupters, you can control your response.
Accept the interruption, cut it off, or diagnosis its importance and make a plan. Some interruptions can be anticipated so forward plan; answer emails during certain windows, set up office hours to talk in person or close the door when you need to focus.
For unexpected interruptions; have a criterion to enable you to decide its urgency and/or importance. Once plotted on this grid https://tinyurl.com/2r7p4tbm you can decide on when it needs to be done and also who needs to do it. Delegation is a skill that can assist a manager greatly and has the added advantage of upskilling and developing teams.
4. Work Smart Not More
Most of us go through the day using a “let’s see how much I can get ticked off my To Do list today and try to go at the speed of light.” approach, thinking if we work the full eight to 10 hours, we’ll get more done. Instead, productivity goes down, stress levels go up and you have very little energy left over for your family and so work/life balance goes out the window.
Instead, schedule breaks throughout the day to walk, stretch at your desk or do a breathing exercise. Tony Schwartz of the Energy Project has shown that if we have intense concentration for about 90 minutes, followed by a
brief period of recovery, we can clear the build-up of stress and rejuvenate ourselves,” she says. However, time runs away with us so I personally use a timer to ensure I stop for these breaks.
5. Eat Right – Sleep Well
If racing thoughts keep you from falling asleep or you wake up in the night and can’t get back to sleep, there are many breathing techniques that will help. This is a personal thing however so have a look online and download a guided meditation or sounds that soothe you onto your phone. Here is one I found on YouTube but as I say, these will be personal to you https://tinyurl.com/mtj5vv35
Personally, I use a mixture of short guided meditations (they tell you what to do so your racing thoughts are pushed aside) and ocean sounds.
In relation to healthy eating; my own experience is that in an office environment, the biscuit is plentiful!! Try to change this culture by providing healthier snacks and fruit and stopping for regular meals rather than eating and typing at your desk which I have been guilty of on many occasions.
6. Change Your Story
Ultimately your stress will be driven by your perceived assumptions that others/superiors will think you cannot cope, or that you feel you are failing as you are not achieving all of your to-do lists in one day.
Step back and take a more objective view. Think about what you have achieved that day and also what will be the result of pushing something back until later. Once you have taken a breath you will probably realise that the only one who is bothered and is panicking about it is you!! Also, be ready and confident in saying ‘NO’. It’s an art which can reduce stress, bring order to your day and gain respect from others if you handle the refusal in a professional manner.
7. Cool Down Quickly
When you feel frustrated or angry, it’s a heated feeling in your body that can cause you to react. Instead of immediately reacting—and likely overreacting, take a “cooling breath”. Breathe in through your mouth as if you are sipping through a straw, and then breathe out normally through your nose. Done right, you’ll feel a cooling, drying sensation over the top of your tongue. It’s like hitting the “pause” button, giving you time to think about your response.
8. Build confidence
If you are confident, you will not seek others’ approval. As mentioned above; you are probably beating yourself up when nobody else is even aware of the situation. This will put pressure on you that is neither needed nor helpful and can cause procrastination.
Ironically, once you shift your focus from others’ perception of your work to the work itself, you’re more likely to impress them.
9. Influence Others
Even if you’re responsible for your behaviour and outlook, you’re still left dealing with other people’s stressful behaviour.
Always confront a problem co-worker or employee by stating the bad behaviour in a respectful tone, describing the impact on the team and the individual, and requesting a change.
For example, constant negativity might be addressed in this way: “When you speak in a critical tone, it makes others uncomfortable and less likely to see you as a leader. I understand your frustration but request that you bring concerns directly to me, so we can talk them through.”
By transferring ownership of the problem, you’re more likely to resolve it. I use the SBI method for this as described in my previous article – https://tinyurl.com/3u6ew5f6
Be Your Own Best Critic
As well as following these tips; consider that instead of being harsh and critical of yourself, try pumping yourself up. Encouraging thoughts will help motivate you to achieve and ultimately train you to inspire others. I used to literally judge myself and my performance by my TO-DO list but this only magnifies the things you haven’t achieved. Before you go home every day, congratulate yourself and your team where appropriate, on all the great things you have accomplished that day. Even on the worst ‘nightmare’ of a day you can always celebrate you all still being there and relatively sane, ready to fight again the next day!
Jayne Warwicker BSc – Founder of the Lioness Power System