Thinking That Does Not Solve

Part III - Manage Work Stress

In my last post, I talked about the benefits of tackling difficult problems first. I also shared a few rules that have helped me prioritize work. These are only a few of many steps towards learning how to dance with stress. 

In a constantly changing world of work unfortunately this is not enough.

As priorities and expectations mount, we need more methods to protect us from power of anxiety. Without proper systems and boundaries, the cumulative affects of stress can quickly disengage us from our daily routine.  

With this in mind, let's look at 3 additional ways to manage stress related to having too much to do with too little time.

Step 4

SYSTEMS

Click here for Step 1, Step 2, and Step 3

Systems are excellent at helping us manage heavy workloads. The challenging part is finding one to regularly follow. 

For those of us that cannot manage task lists, positive change comes at glacial paces.

There are a plethora of systems to choose from. You can make work-lists as simple as a checklist or as complicated as a program.  

It’s all about finding what works best for you.  

If you have never thought about an organized system, here are a few places to start:

Getting Things Done, Strikethru, and Goalless Living.

One thing to keep in mind is that every systems makes the same assumption. For example, without surplus of work, spending time creating or finding a system to mange work related stress might be a waste of your time. 

Step 5

BOUNDARIES

Timing is everything - stress is caused by having too much to do in too little time.

The real solution is simple in principle and difficult in practice.  

There’s nothing more vital to dealing with stress than establishing and maintaining well-defined boundaries. 

If your boundaries are pre-established then it’s less likely you will say yes to new tasks before completing important ones in your possession. 

For 9 to 5’ ers (people who have a traditional boss and a steady paycheck)

When confronted with a surplus of tasks, test the importance and urgency of the new work.

Confirm the timeline, and don’t be afraid to ask for the reason for the due date. 

Some due dates are arbitrary, and you can push back on them if your plate is too full.  

However, some due dates are backed by good reasons, moving the task further up your priority list.  

If you still have confusion about which tasks are most important, ask your supervisor.  

Remind your supervisor what you are working on right now, and ask them which task should take precedence.

Seldom bend your own rules (unless the rules themselves are adding stress). 

For example, if you have a rule that says anything that takes less than two minutes should be completed immediately, then never postpone those tasks.

It might be tempting to push remedial tasks into the future, but doing so will only add unnecessary layers of stress.

Setting boundaries on rules that you will always follow is crucial for avoiding future stress. 

Limit accessibility to distractions. 

Distraction show up in many forms. 

Social media, a team member, the news, and your stock portfolio all can contribute to distractions that separate you from important and urgent work. 

Distractions are usually enjoyable and instantly gratifying, which is why we have a difficult time turning them away. 

Saying no to distractions isn’t always easy. 

This requires intentional practice and a reward system that favors boundaries that allow deep and focused attention to complete meaningful work.

For some, setting boundaries will be difficult, especially, if you are an entrepreneur or someone who loves what you do, because there might not be a clear and distinctive boundary between work and personal life.

For Entrepreneurs

The first step is to manage your availability.  

There’s a reason why high-powered executives often hide behind personal assistants.  

If they said yes to everyone who wanted their time, they wouldn’t have much ability to do the work they need to.  The same is true of you as a business owner.  

You need to carve out the time to do the work that is necessary.  

The best way to do this is to carve out your day in chunks of time.  

Make sure part of your day is dedicated to creative or deep work, part is dedicated to meetings and phone calls, and part is responding to emails.

Don’t be afraid to change your physical space. 

Arrange meetings in places around town just to change your environment.  

If you are able to remain productive, visit a coffee shop and work from there.  

Use your flexibility to your advantage.

Find a way to separate your time.  This is particularly hard for business owners, who feel like they need to be on-call and busy 24/7.  And there is truth to the problem.  

If you are running your own business, you will spend an enormous amount of time growing it.  

But at the same time, you need to carve out time for the other things that matter: friends, family, and movement. 

If you don’t take breaks, you will burn out, and that’s not good for you or your business.

Step 6

TAKE A BREAK

It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the best actions you can take when you are starting to feel overwhelming stress is to take a break.  

There’s a common logical fallacy that we’ll get more done if we just spend more time on task.  

The problem is, our minds are only hardwired to focus for so long, and if you’re fiddling with a few words on a presentation in a dazed stupor, you’re not doing yourself any favors.

Stand up, step away from your work, and take a break.  

You’ll find that when you come back to your work, you’ll actually accomplish much more.

If you want to up it even further, stretch and or workout during your break.

It doesn’t need to be intense (although it certainly can be), but movement has been shown to release chemicals in the brain that will help you tackle your work with renewed focus.

Now that we have covered several topics, it's time to tie it all together.

Reflection

Step 1

Sit down and start freewriting about the problems you’re facing.

Put down on paper whatever comes to mind.  

Make a list of every single thing you need to do, from your laundry to a slide deck for a meeting.

Don’t stop until you couldn’t think of anything else.

______________________________________________________________________

STEP 2

Tackle the hardest tasks first. 

If you have a difficult time deciding what tasks are hard, then find tasks that are important and urgent. 

Use the 80-20 rule. Work on 20% of the things that are causing 80% of your stress. 

Focus on linchpin tasks. 

______________________________________________________________________

STEP 3

Make your list and focus on only a few tasks at a time.  

Find a system that works well for you.

Take breaks. 

Set boundaries.

Organize work by importance and urgency.

Challenge due dates - tell us what you did? Did it help you or hurt you? 

Say “no,” to distractions like social media, a team member, the news, and your stock portfolio.

______________________________________________________________________

STEP 4

Change your physical space. Keep track of whether or this helps.

Find a way to separate your time.

Are you more stressed now than you were before? 

If so, do the exact opposite of what you did.

______________________________________________________________________

STEP 5

Test the actions you took. 

Identify what worked. 

Eliminate what did not work. 

Consistently use what worked. 

Find new examples to test the value of the experiene and sustainability.

______________________________________________________________________

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Albert Einstein