Every week there seems to be a new piece of research showing that our stress levels are higher than ever. While a certain, healthy level of stress is to be expected, left unchecked tension causes illness, impacts productivity and makes life miserable. To help you keep your work-life in balance, we look at a range of different ways to manage workplace stress.
Time Management Reduces Stress
There’s no doubt that being disorganised greatly contributes to work stress. Turning jobs round at the last minute because of a forgotten deadline isn’t much fun. And it’s hardly setting the scene for producing your best work either.
There are plenty of tools to help you manage your workload: Asana, Basecamp, Trello and Resource Guru, to name but a few, are free and online.
Others prefer a good old-fashioned to do list so they can gleefully cross off tasks as they’re completed.
Some find a combination of these tools to be effective. However, it’s worth taking a minimalist approach to organisational tools or you could find yourself spending more time organising than doing.
Organise at The Start and End of Each Day
Finding time to ensure you’re organised can be a challenge. A good approach is to take five minutes at the end of each day to assess where you are up to, what’s been done and what’s still outstanding.
Then create a bullet point list of between three and five activities to be closed out the next day. If you work in a fast-paced environment, quickly scan your emails first thing for any emergencies and re-jig your list.
Start your morning with your absolute must-do task and then work through your list in order of importance.
Avoid an Email Avalanche
It’s very easy to get swept up in emails. Turn off your email notifications and try setting specific times of the day to check your inbox. This has been shown to reduce stress levels associated with email overwhelm.
Listen to the 1980s anti-drugs campaign and ‘just say no’. People-pleasers will find this difficult to do but if you don’t start to put yourself first you won’t be in a position to help anyone because you could end up going off sick. Over time, returning home exhausted erodes relationships because you’re too tired to hold meaningful interactions with those you care about.
Getting home on time with gas in the tank will mean you can enjoy your family life rather than simply being present.
When you’re next asked to do something that will mean another late night or weekend working, consider that saying ‘yes’ to work means saying ‘no’ to family and friends.
‘No’ Not an Option? Negotiate
There are other ways to gain control over your day. If extra work is needed, test how urgent it really is.
If other jobs need to be pushed to one side, let your manager know what squeezing this job in means for other deadlines. Then stick to your normal working hours and go home on time rather than being tempted to stay and complete work that can be done another day.
Organisations that consistently expect more than their employees can deliver won’t respond well to workload negotiation tactics. If this sounds like the business you work for, it could be time to find a new job with an employer whose work-life values match your own.
Longer Hours = Less Productivity
Working longer can make you feel as if you’re being more productive. But time and again, productivity studies find that, while this might be true for a one-off push, regularly working longer hours reduces productivity.
Pressure and the resulting anxiety are also a contributing factor to falling ill. Because stress affects the immune system, it means you’re more likely to come down with another illness requiring you take time off.
In fact, over 11.7 million working days are lost in the UK due to anxiety, depression or work-related stress. This makes working additional hours counter–productive in the long run for both you and your employer.
Employ Coping Mechanisms
Balancing work with life and doing what brings you joy will increase your energy and naturally reduce stress.
Build your diary around things that matter to you, outside of work, to bring other areas of your life into focus. If you enjoy spending time with friends and family or participating in sport or yoga, add these activities into your diary as non-negotiables.
Turning off technology will also help keep you sane. Unless your contract specifies it, you cannot reasonably be expected to be available at all times of the day or night. Switch off your phone and switch over to a personal device in the evenings and at weekends.
Pro tip: Struggle to finish work on time? This simple hack programmes your computer to automatically switch off at a specified time so you’ll leave on time every day.
Break the Stress Cycle with Good Sleep
High stress levels often mean poor sleep. Which can contribute to your stress levels. Which reduces sleep quality … You get the idea.
Relying on alcohol or meditating before you go to bed can help when stress levels aren’t out of hand. But if things get too bad, these approaches won’t work at all.
A better tactic is to manage your stress throughout the day using mindfulness techniques to ground yourself in the present moment, re-focus and stay calm. Master the art of mindfulness and you won’t need that glass (or bottle) of wine because you’ll finish work feeling calm and in control.
The greatest stress-buster of them all is exercise. Even finding five minutes in your day to get up, stretch your muscles and re-energise is a powerful antidote to creeping stress levels. This video from Fitness Blender can be completed in an office and is great for desk-based workers.
Stress is the enemy of good health, effective working and an enjoyable life. While reducing stress may feel like an insurmountable task, start by implementing one enjoyable stress-reducing activity. This will put you in a better place to identify and tackle sources of stress in your work life.