by Jennifer Barham
Stressed at work?! Ask any marketing professional how many projects they have on their calendar at any given moment and you’ll be shocked (or maybe not) to learn that statistically that number is 30 or more. Forty percent of all large corporations are facing restructuring, leaving employees feeling insecure about their prospects. Today’s workers experience 7 interruptions an hour, totaling over 2 hours of distraction each day. Yes, all of this chaos equals stress in the workplace.STRESS SABOTAGES
Take a look at just a handful of statistics that recent studies have found concerning stress and how it affects the work we do:
- 80% of workers feel stress on the job
- 7 in 10 adults report that workplace stress affects their personal relationships
- More than 20% of workers spend over 5 hours daily ruminating on stressors
- 25% say their job is the number one stressor in their lives
- 40% of adults say stress plagues them and leaves them sleepless at night
- The fallout of stress-related illnesses costs businesses $200 to $300 billion a year in lost productivity
- Missed workdays due to depression costs the economy $23.3 billion per year
- 12.8 million work days a year are lost due to work-related stress, depression, or anxiety
Looking at this list, you might guess that everyone feels overwhelmed and overly busy. And yet, despite how loaded down and busy we are, we somehow are not as focused and productive. According to research, stress makes people about 50% less productive and engaged in their work.
So what’s the remedy? Is there a way to manage stress and enhance work life so that we can get done what we desire and with a state of mind that isn’t harmful to ourselves? Can we remain focused and balanced? Can we have energy for work and energy left for outside of work? Yes, and it’s related to a practice you might be familiar with or have heard of: mindfulness.
Mindfulness means focusing your attention on the present and observing what is in front of you, ignoring or shutting out distractions as you go. Easy say, hardy do. (We will talk in a minute about HOW to deal with distractions.) While this seems easy and too good to be true, it’s neither. It takes work, but it’s scientifically-proven to work in at least four areas:
- Increase in productivity OR reduction of procrastination
- Increase in resolving workplace conflict
- Increase in better business opportunities
- Increase in self-regulation and interpersonal working relationships
Before we talk about mindfulness, consider the disturbances to your day that drain your energy. Distractions are hands-down the biggest time-sucker in our days. They steal time, focus, and emotional energy, so limiting or avoiding them is the best plan. We often think that distractions come primarily from the outside – a co-worker needs something, email notifications ding, a phone call needs handling, etc. Actually, we are our own worst enemies when it comes to interrupting our own work. We check email while we’re in the middle of a project. We answer texts from friends or family members while we’re in meetings. We stop to play Tetris or look at social or take a break to grab a snack and on and on, all the while avoiding what really needs to be faced.
Stop sabotaging your work and really dig in to the interruptions that derail your day. Chances are you can curtail them.
- Shut off all notifications on your devices during blocks of time that you need to get deep, uninterrupted work done.
- Batch check emails, texts, and notifications at one or more scheduled times during the day.
- Block schedule your day for 60-90 minutes to get related tasks accomplished.
- Take scheduled breaks so that your mind and body recognize the break
- Use “do not disturb” mode on your devices, your desk, your door to let people know you are working and cannot be distracted.
- Put your phone away, at least for a bit, when you are really trying to plow into work.
- Set a timer to make yourself focus on a task.
- Stop trying to multitask. It’s a myth. Single-tasking is the way to be productive.
Now, about mindfulness. Since approximately 60,000 thoughts stroll through our minds each day, it’s probably a good idea to rein them in and make the majority of them work for us and not against us. (Shut up, harsh inner critic!)
- Act, don't react. When an incident pops up at work that you would normally react to quickly (and perhaps overreact), take a few seconds to think about what is actually happening. What is your responsibility and what is someone else’s? Can it wait for a bit? What are your options concerning the situation? Acting instead of reacting will help you stay calm and in control of yourself and your sanity.
- Reset quickly. When and if tensions get high or situations send you spiraling, reset as quickly as possible to a calm attitude, which will help you make better decisions and preserve your energy.
- Breathe. Breathe, breathe, breathe. It’s always a good idea and a helpful way to reset your nervous system and calm your mind.
- Plan to be energized and focus. Schedule your days around your personal best times to get work done. If that’s early morning or late night, plan to do the bulk of your work then. Maximize your own time.
- Recognize choices. Feeling trapped or stuck is not only a waste of time, it’s a huge drain on mental, physical, and emotional resources. Recognize that no matter the situation you’re in, you have choices. And even when choices are limited, you can choose to act like an adult and have a positive attitude. Knowing we have choices helps us to feel free and empowered.
- Identify self-inflicted stress. Only you can control you – your eating, your sleeping, your time, your habits. If your choices are inhibiting your success, reconsider them.
- Prioritize your priorities. Prioritize YOUR priorities. Not someone else’s expectations. Identify what is most urgent and important to you, and go from there.
- Be a light. Spread cheer. Tell a joke. Lend a hand. Avoid gossip. Stop criticizing.
- Be your BEST critic. Make your thoughts work for you. Instead of criticizing or shaming yourself, recognize the wins in your day – how hard you worked, how productive you were, how well a call went, how you handled an office conflict.
Work life is always a wobble and we’re always looking for that perfect balance. One way to do that is by practicing mindfulness. Focusing on what’s in front of you and being aware of your surroundings will help keep your work more engaging and will help you be more intentional when distractions pop up.