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If at 4 a.m., you suddenly wake up and the first thing that pops into your mind is an unfinished work project, it might just be your overactive professional ethics giving you grief. But if it happens again… and again, you might have a problem. And you should l look into it – sooner rather than later – because there are no stress-free jobs left and short deadlines, tough performance metrics and toxic colleagues are more common today than they’ve ever been before.
The simplified objective sounds pretty straightforward: keep your cool, stay focused and follow through with your tasks. But things are easier said than done and it helps to have a clear (re)action plan at hand.
Start With the Basics
We are all familiar with the ‘fight or flight’ response our brain delivers as the only possible solution to conflict; we either hide our heads in the sand and avoid an unpleasant/difficult conversation or mount up a proper reaction meant to enable reconciliation.
When taxing is the predominant attribute of your job, it could be very useful to put together a ‘go-to’ idea set for dealing with stress-inducing triggers. If it’s the volume of a project that trips your anxiety, find out what are the tools that you can use to mend specific pain-points (i.e. identifying errors or incomplete information, getting extra hands on deck, tracking progress, etc.) and do not hesitate to use them.
If your priority assigning system functions correctly, you’ll be able to navigate out of stressful context in no time.
Re-frame the Perspective
When we’re dealing with problematic circumstances, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or caught between a rock and a hard place. If these feelings pile up, pushing through is likely to require even more resources.
So why not test this approach instead? Take a step back, get a bird’s eye view on the situation and try to anticipate potential stress points appear; be prepared to use different solutions. Observe what works (and how) and add new entries to your ‘go-to’ plan.
Human beings communicate, with themselves and each other, in very diverse ways and this feature crosses over to the process of perception – something particularly visible with non-material objects of attention.
Some people tend to ‘attack’ a new project from over-complicated perspectives; they either overthink everything or, they get lost in the irrelevant minutia. Apart from the frustration of not being able to see the forest for the trees, both situations add to job-related stress and impact productivity. Keep this in mind at all times and favor the KISS/Keep It Short and Simple/action principle over anything else.
Breaks Bring Balance
It may not always sound feasible but it’s still good advice and you should put it to practical use. It has already been shown that efficiency constantly decreases during the 8 hours of the working day. The same happens to our abilities to laser-focus on specific tasks or contribute to relevant ideas exchanges and, when the minimum threshold is reached, the brain switches to autopilot (going through routines with little or no cognitive involvement).
That only adds to the stress and contributes to burnout episodes. Since we are hired to be productive and engaged, the autopilot mind frame is bad news. Let’s circle back to KISS – the brain changes modes as a means of saving energy, therefore consider one or more solutions that could supply additional fuel.
Specific supplements that help with focusing might be an option if time limitations leave no room for slower paced ones (a good night sleep, a membership card to your nearest swimming pool or, better yet, a week-long vacation). That being said, don’t be so fast to dismiss the value of short 30 minutes walks, a few well-chosen stretches or an extended lunch – they can do more than you expect, on occasions.
It’s true, quick fixes serve their purpose but, it comes to nurturing your physical and mental energy, balance is essential. Remember that everyone (yes, that includes you) requires breaks! We all need to switch off, relax and recharge our batteries before we can switch on again.
There is no precise formula to ensure high productivity despite stressful working environments and physical constraints. Every case is different, every person more or less equipped to handle the resulting effects – but, one thing is clear: staying productive in pressure heavy wworkplacesis a question of (self-imposed) discipline, clarity and dosing efforts. It’s not impossible; you just need to get out of your own way to do it.
Ryan Yarbrough is a small business consultant, speaker, and the manager at Davis Financial Services, a small business consulting firm.