Stress is rampant and dangerous. According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide. And more than 75 percent of all physician office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
Some of us are lucky and don’t experience extreme stress levels. Others are consumed by it. No matter the situation—a flat tire, a bounced check, an ill family member—you'll encounter personal stress. Then add work to the mix, and you’ll add a whole new set of stressers. And no matter what you do, you will take your work stress home, and that will affect how you behave outside of the office. The statistics don’t lie: Stress will make you unhappy and unhealthy. No one wants that, so do what you can to nip it in the bud.
The Stress Takeover
No matter how much you love your job, it can be a grind. Day in and day out, you’re responsible to complete a set of tasks at a level of quality that needs to sustain throughout your tenure with an employer. You’ve likely got professional goals and obligations to meet, and if you’re career-driven, you aspire to continue growing as a professional. That all sounds idealistic, doesn’t it? In fact, most employees find it hard to make the time to get their actual work done, because they’re constantly handling urgent requests, adapting to shifting business goals, and even organizational change. It can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be.
The Stress Takedown
In some cases, stress can be a roadblock to productivity and happiness. It could take you down if you let it. But you will not. With a bit of guidance and some discipline, you’ll be the one taking down that stress.
There are tons of resources available to help you cope—from books to programs, webinars, and more. But if you make an effort to organize yourself and stick to a few fundamentals that you can adapt to your personal work style, you’ll find your fists and teeth unclenching.
To Do? You Do.
If you are not keeping some form of To Do list, today is the day you will start. Creating a simple, actionable list is the first thing you can do every day to make sure you’re accounting for all planned tasks, and being honest about your workload. You can create your list in under 10 minutes using the following criteria:
- List tasks in categories. Some people prefer to list projects and break tasks out based on day they are due. Other list all tasks by due date. No matter how you list them, make sure you get them all—large and small.
- Assign a priority to the conflicting tasks. What’s the more important item, or how will it affect your work (or someone else’s work)? If you need help with that priority, ask a manager or co-worker for some help. After all, your To Do List could affect theirs.
- Estimate your time. If you really want to get serious about what you can and can’t do within a work day or week, assign a time estimate to each task. If you find that your estimates are off, track them and adjust as you go . If you record your results, you’ll gain some historical data on how you work—and how long tasks take you. That data will help you plan future tasks.
- Complete tasks. When you’ve finished something on your list, cross it off. It’ll make you feel good to see that list dwindle.
- Re-prioritize. New tasks come up all the time, and deadlines shift often. At the end of each day, so when you’ve got a few minutes, revise your list and assign new priorities.
You can employ these methods using one of many desktop or phone applications that exist, or simply by recording them in writing. Only you know what will be most effective for you, so test out a couple of options and commit to a practice that will keep you organized. You’ll be one step closer to being stress-free.
Communicate EfficientlyOur work world is flooded with real-time communication. It’s not unrealistic to say you could receive 50 to 100 e-mails (or more) an hour. Add instant messages, texts, and phone calls to that, and you've likely found your roadblock. That’s right, other people are killing your productivity and you are the only one who can fix that. You’ve got to set some serious communication expectations because if you don’t, you’ll spend time talking about work and not actually doing it.
- Check email periodically. Checking your email every time you receive a new message means that you’re being distracted often. Unless your job relies heavily on those messages, do yourself a favor and close your inbox and check your email in intervals. Maybe it’s every hour, maybe it’s twice a day. Do what makes sense for your role, and what will keep you efficient. No matter what you choose to do, make it a point to mention how you’re handling email with coworkers. After all, you don’t ever want to be seen as the person who never replies to email. Let them know that there is a method with solid reasoning behind it: PRODUCTIVITY.
- Do work in the office and use social media at home (or on breaks). There has been plenty of research done to prove the addictive quality of social media. Some people just can’t miss a thing. If you’re one of those people and you’re having trouble getting your work done, you might need some help. Go cold turkey on the Twitter during your work hours. In fact, turn all of your social networks off. They’re distracting you. If something really important happens you’ll find out about it.
- Cut the coffee talk. If you’re social at work, think about just how much time you find yourself standing around talking to your coworkers. It could be too much. You never want to cut that off completely, because being social allows you to know what’s happening around you and contributes to your happiness. Just be smart about how you are using that in-person time.
Only you will know what tactics feel right for you. A lot depends on the type of job you have and the environment that you’re in. No matter what you do, if you think about how you communicate and how that impacts your time, you can start to create practices that will cut down time that might be wasted otherwise.
When all else fails and you’re still buried under a pile of tasks, ask yourself, “If I do this first, how will it impact the rest of my work?” and “What can wait?” Those two questions—minus a list and some strict practices—will save you from a stress headache.
What it comes down to is that you’ve got to spend some time on your personal organization in order to actually be productive. Yes, you’ve got to spend some time to save some time. If you pick up just a few of these practices, you’ll save yourself from a time suck that will lead to stress.