Compared to the often stressful end of the year, work can seem positively blissful in January. As the holidays drag on, it can take months before things really kick off again in the new year. Even if stress is the last thing on your mind right now, it’s the perfect time to put some routines and coping mechanisms in place and prepare yourself for rougher seas ahead.
Sounds simple, right? After all, we all do it all day, every day. However, most of us are doing it wrong most of the time. There are many methods that teach proper breathing techniques, from workshops to instruction videos, as well as gadgets and apps to help you get it right, but really, all you need to do is focus on it once in a while. Remind yourself to take a series of proper breaths with deep, chest-and-stomach-expanding inhales and audible exhales several times a day. Bonus: The improved oxygen flow will make you less tired, more creative and more productive.
You may think you don’t have a minute to work out during busy phases, but exercise shouldn’t be the first thing to go when you’re pushed for time. Try to squeeze in a 15-minute yoga session before or after work, walk or cycle instead of using public transport or driving, or even just force yourself to do minimal desk mobility routines several times daily. Not only will exercise relieve the physical symptoms of stress, it will also prevent more serious adverse health effects of prolonged sitting. Of course, much like deep breathing, it will also improve oxygen flow and invigorate you for the day ahead.
It may seem shallow to worry about interior design when there’s work to be done, but colour, light and most importantly plants have been proven to reduce stress, improve focus and lift your mood. You don’t necessarily need to redecorate – maybe a little furniture reshuffle, some colour accents, better lighting and a bit of greenery will already do the trick?
Put Things Into Perspective
Retrospectives, kudos, health checks and other agile work tools are simple, yet surprisingly effective. They encourage everyone to take stock of a running or completed project, to evaluate what went well and what didn’t, all without pointing blame or making accusations. The sole goal is to learn and improve – crucially, by identifying both negative and positive aspects of the team’s work.
Verbalising and writing down the good things along with the bad helps you put everything in perspective. However, we humans are simple creatures and like getting praise, affirmation and rewards. Kudos cards are a great way to collect positive feedback within a company or team. Find out more about how to use them here. Receiving a kudos card telling them they did a great job every now and again will motivate team members keep up the good work. Knowing they are appreciated and that their work delivers rewards beyond their paycheque will encourage them to do better.
If you can’t establish some sort of reaffirming positivity practice within your team, simply do it for yourself. Keep a gratefulness diary where you write down one good thing that happened to you and one achievement you are proud of each day, or set up a buddy system with a friend and text each other one positive thing about your days in the evening.
Have you ever voiced your displeasure with the aspects of your work that stress you out? Don’t just passive-aggressively seethe over perceived injustices, bad practices or uncooperative colleagues. If you can’t organise an official team retrospective (see above), make a point of approaching them in a friendly collegial way to voice your concerns at a non-stressful time. Point out the issue, but keep your feedback positive and solution-oriented. If you can reach an agreement with one or more team members, put it down in writing, so you can refer back to it later.
If this doesn’t work, take the issue to your line manager, union representative or speak to someone in the HR department. If no one knows about your problem, no one can help you fix it. Ideally, once you raise an issue with superiors, they can help you fix it. Even in a worst-case scenario where they don’t, a well-documented escalation will prove that you did everything in your power to improve your situation.
Manage Your Manager
If detailed reporting of tasks is not a regular part of your job, spend a month documenting them all, along with the amount of time you spend on them. There are apps and online tools to help you with this, but a tally sheet on your desk that you add to day by day also works. At the end of the month, split the tasks into groups, focusing on essential tasks that you need more time for and non-essential ones that could be re-organised, more efficiently managed or differently distributed to ease your load.
In addition to making the minute details of your work visible to your boss, you can also use this exercise to better compartmentalise your tasks and break them down into manageable goals. Setting certain times of the day for answering emails, concentrated reading or writing time, as well as strictly limiting meetings and face-to-face updates, for example, can help set priorities and more achievable goals, making the overall workload seem less overwhelming.
It may seem tempting to spend lunchtime hunched over a sandwich at your desk or zone out in front of the TV after work, but don’t underestimate the positive effect of screen-free time. To truly unplug and unwind, you need to move away from your desk and computer at least for a short time during the day and log off completely after hours. Your refreshed brain will not only be more productive, but also reward you with reduced stress hormones, better sleep and a reminder that life exists outside work (and modern technology).