Find your focus and achieve success in your FEC with these useful tactics for managing stress before it starts.
People today are pulled in so many directions that it’s become fashionable to wear your stress and exhaustion like a badge of honor, donning shirts, cups and social media posts with such wit as “held upright by caffeine and mascara” and “can’t adult today.” While these messages provide a fun chuckle, it does cast a rather alarming light on the state of our lives.
Each quarter at CenterEdge, our entire team gets together for site-wide training, team building sessions and a bit of fun. One of last week’s sessions was "Stress Management: The Keys to the Success Kingdom." Considering that stress can negatively affect productivity, relationships at work (and in every area of their life) and even one’s overall health, it’s a topic that everyone can benefit from.
So much of what’s taught about stress management are focused on tips for in-the-moment stress symptom relief. Those techniques are certainly relevant, but they attack the symptoms of stress rather than the root causes. I have learned over time that a lot of stress is caused by a lack of clarity about how we can achieve the success that we seek.
To that end, here are five easy steps you can take immediately to help cut off stress before it starts.
No. 1: Discover what’s important to you
With so many issues vying for your attention, sometimes the only way to reduce your stress levels is to go back to the heart of who you are and what you’re trying to accomplish. This is what Simon Sinek calls your “why,” what Rick Warren calls your “purpose” and what Gary Keller calls your “ONE Thing.”
My personal guiding value is to “be the change I wish to see in the world.” In Keller's book, The One Thing, he lays out the principles of the “ONE Thing” as a type of lens through which you filter life ambitions, long and short-term goals and even which activities you should do first on your ‘to do’ list. It is a veritable handbook to help you cut through chaos and find the clarity that comes from focusing on the right things.
To apply the ONE Thing, according to Keller, ask yourself a focusing question in any area of your life, such as: “What’s the one thing that I can do that, such by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” Building a habit of using this focusing question will help you outline a clear plan to get the results you seek, whether it's your 1-year and 5-year goals, or plans in the next month and the next week. It can even help you decide your very next task.
Having this kind of structure not only shows you the most important tasks to spend your time on, but also eliminates the stress that occurs when you have too much to do and aren’t sure where to start.
No. 2: Schedule your vacations first
It might sound crazy, but what I’ve found is that most people work better when they have clear deadlines. To stave off stress, Keller advises you maximize your productivity by blocking time for the most important work on your calendar. Nothing should be more important than making time for the activities you enjoy the most.
Scheduling vacation time means you know how long you have to do your most important work before your time away, which helps minimize procrastination and makes you more productive. It also helps you plan for and save what you’ll need for your vacation, which reduces stress about financial burdens, as well as remember and appreciate what the hard work is all for.
Time away offers many other stress-reducing benefits as well, including happiness boosting events to look forward to (which make you more productive, according to Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage), improved relationships and so much more.
If you’re a leader in the FEC industry, remember that your team is taking their cues from you. If you’re stressed and never take vacation, your team will believe they should behave similarly. When you never take time off, you withhold leadership and growth opportunities in your absence and send the message that you don’t trust your team to manage without you. This can cause them to become overly dependent upon you, which prevents you from getting time off that you need, and can even cause resentment from teams that would thrive with additional responsibilities in your absence.
No. 3: Manage distractions
In addition to systematic scheduling and knowing what you need to focus on, it’s equally important to manage the chaos around you in the form of distractions. This can include training (or retraining) your team that during the hours of 9 and 11, for example, you are unavailable to them so that you can focus on your most important tasks such as conducting sales calls or developing your revenue building strategies.
In short, it isn’t enough to know what you need to focus on if you aren’t willing to make it happen no matter what. Some tips for managing distractions include:
- Make specified time in your day to manage email and social media vs. having it open all day long.
- Keep a “declutter” list that gives you a place to jot down random thoughts or tasks for a later time so you don’t lose the thought or your momentum.
Signal to others during scheduled focus time that you’re not to be disturbed. While great managers shouldn’t close themselves off in their offices all day, pockets of designated office time for you to focus on your most important work are essential.
No. 4: Understand that multitasking is a myth
While we’re talking about managing distractions, let’s talk specifically about multitasking. The most important thing you can learn about multitasking is that you can’t do it effectively. Not just you – no one can.
Sure, you can walk and chew gum while listening to a podcast. You can also ring something up while answering a birthday party call, but when it comes to focusing on your best work, multitasking is merely succumbing to distractions. Distractions cause you feelings of overwhelm, reduced productivity and – you guessed it – stress.
Bottom line: your most important work needs your undivided focus.
No. 5: Celebrate your big and small successes
Similarly to how looking forward to a vacation contributes to your overall appreciation of life and happiness, celebrating smaller goal achievements and wins (no matter how minor) can also give you a more positive outlook, which helps you manage potential stressors much better than you could with negativity always looming.
Celebrate milestone achievements with activities you like to do, from a quick walk outside to a phone call with a friend, or even a bag of popcorn as a mental break. This will help you transition your mind from one activity to another with the positive momentum to keep you producing at the highest level. Also, if you feel a bit down or start to notice the beginning feelings of stress, try offering someone else a positivity boost by recognizing or celebrating a success with a member of your team. If you do, I promise you’ll both reap the benefits of the pick-me-up.
While doing all of these steps may seem like a daunting task, remember that it’s about practice, not perfection. The more you work at it, the better you’ll get.
Have other ideas for keeping stress at bay? Share them with us in the comments or on Twitter!