The phone rings. An email dings. Your Slack pings. You have a Zoom in five minutes, a deadline in three hours, and you’ll probably have to work overtime to cover for your sick colleague. Of course, you’re stressed! You are probably one of the 57% of U.S. and Canada workers who feels the negative impact of daily stress (the likelihood is even higher if you’re a woman). And the line between work and home blurring during the pandemic has not helped.
Like most employees, you might feel overwhelmed trying to:
- juggle a heavy workload
- prove your productivity to your supervisors
- manage conflicts with clients and colleagues
- obtain a feeling of job security
These stressors might be contributing to serious concerns, such as:
- decrease in energy levels and effective performance
- mental health decline, such as depression and anxiety
- negative physical manifestation, like sleeping difficulties or appetite changes
Fortunately, there are things you can do to reduce such stress. On a practical level, you can improve your organization and time management skills. However, you can also work on something seemingly less tangible — your mindset. Read below for ideas to help you in both aspects.
Scheduling: Devote yourself to a schedule and you will feel less stressed.
- Block times: Each one of us has a unique combination of roles to play in our professional lives. Dedicating time to each role can help relieve the anxiety about having to do everything at once. Let’s say you are responsible for managing a project, completing data entry, and seeing clients. Try to figure out when you’re most productive at each task. Perhaps you like to work on projects in the morning when you’re most creative; complete data entry in the afternoon since you feel sluggish; and see clients in the evening when your second wind hits. If that’s the plan you make, stick to it and you’ll see that the pressure over having “so much to do” starts to dissipate because there’s a start and stop point to each hat you wear.
- Turn off emails: When you are blocking time, you must be dedicated to the task you plan to accomplish. Turn off your email notifications during your block times and set aside separate block times to check and answer messages. Otherwise, you will feel that every new request is equally as important as the other. You’ll spend more time adding to your to-do list rather than crossing things off from it.
- Take breaks: Just as productive time should be uninterrupted, breaks should not be skipped. Sure, make exceptions if you are “in the flow,” but remember that breaks are scientifically proven to improve memory and increase creativity and productivity. The only way to prevent burnout is to ensure you have fuel to run.
- Be proactive rather than reactive: Reflect on common issues that come up in your work and find a way to address them upfront. If you get asked the same question multiple times a day, it might be time to create a manual for your colleagues. If you keep forgetting to do a monthly task, set a recurring reminder. This way, you spend less time putting out fires and more time being productive.
- Manage your projects: Work backwards, always. If something is due December 31, make an outline on October 1 and give yourself ample time to not only break the project into smaller parts, but also have time to deal with unexpected roadblocks. Take away the looming fear of the size and impending deadline of the project by controlling how you will tackle it.
Boundaries: Establish boundaries to preserve your peace.
- Ask for support or delegate tasks: If you are feeling overwhelmed or suddenly have too many projects in the works, it’s not a sign of weakness to seek help. Perhaps you need to run a report, but don’t quite know how to; rather than spend hours of your time watching tutorials, ask a colleague to train you. Or, if a project you took on has spiraled out of control, present a few tasks you need help completing at a staff meeting. Usually, people are happy to collaborate.
- Talk honestly with your supervisor: It can feel vulnerable to express your true thoughts and needs to your employer. But you must remember that your supervisor is not only there to hold you accountable to your work; your boss is also there to support you. They have invested in you, and it is part of their responsibility to ensure your wellbeing so that you can continue to do good work for them. The worst they can say to a request in the moment is “no,” but they will probably appreciate knowing how you’re feeling, so that they can help you feel less stressed moving forward.
- Say no: If people have come to depend on you to take on extra tasks, you are still allowed to start saying no. You don’t need to volunteer on a new project at the staff meeting and you don’t need to do more than what is in your job description. Nor do you have to be overly apologetic or explain why you’re saying no. “Thank you so much for thinking of me, but I can’t take this on right now” is a perfectly appropriate response to a request.
- Treat the personal professionally: The logic of block time applies to your personal life as much as it does your professional life. You wouldn’t delay scheduling a meeting with your boss, so don’t delay scheduling a doctor’s appointment. You wouldn’t watch a show while you were in your staff meeting, so you shouldn’t answer emails while having dinner with your family. If you’ve read Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you’ll know that you can think about your personal life in multiple categories — brother, friend, gardener. Tell yourself you will only take “this much time” to wear a particular hat each day and switch that hat when it’s time to do so. Taking this practice seriously can feel hard, but commit to it, and you will feel better in the long term.
In addition, remember to take care of your physical and mental health to manage your overwhelm. See if eating well, exercising, meditating, and sleeping enough helps. Consider therapy to access stress management techniques. And remember that if these strategies aren’t helping, it might just be time to take a vacation; a sustained period of separation from work stressors, whether it’s at home, in a different city, or in nature, could not only resolve your stress but also literally save your life.
Lizzy Solovey is a Career Coach at the Ignite Career Center.
Whether you are new to the job market or a seasoned professional, the Ignite Career Center, a program of Jewish Community Services, can help you go farther and get there faster. Our highly experienced Career Coaches provide individuals of all backgrounds and abilities with the customized services and tools they need to stand out from the competition. For information, call 410-466-9200 or contact us through our website.