THE DAWN OF a new year is the perfect time to reconsider not only the way you work, but how it could be leading to unnecessary and unwanted levels of stress.
We spoke to career coach and trainer Ronan Kennedy to see what you can do to solve issues that could be affecting your enjoyment of work, sleep and relationships.
Here are a few of his simple tips that could genuinely change your working life.
1. Don’t get bogged down in ‘busy’ work
Got a looming to-do list that you never seem to make headway on? There are two things you can do to address this, shares Kennedy:
Focus on the one most important thing you need to do each day – this will get you closer to your target or result than a long list. When people think everything is a priority, nothing is a priority – ask your manager for clarification, get them to rank tasks in order of importance.
Kennedy suggests to check whether there may be a more efficient way to complete a task, ringing someone for an answer rather than researching online for example. Getting caught up in non-urgent tasks can be a serious time-killer, warns Kennedy:
A lot of time you get caught in busy work rather than necessary work – you might be checking emails four times an hour when once an hour is enough. Even in high-volume customer service, checking every 15 minutes rather than two minutes can boost productivity.
2. Address conflict right away
Work with someone who makes your work about ten times more difficult?
Do it early – avoid letting the conflict brew or escalate. Meet the person informally and go for a walk. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend coffee, it can make people more stressed. Identify that both of you are on the same page, on the same team, trying to do your best.
Focus not on the problem but as how you can work together to make things better:
It’s really good to be honest but do it in a soft and polite way. Rather than ‘you didn’t do a good job’, say, ‘I understand that you’re working as well as you can, but how we can do that better as team?’
3. Got a problem with your boss? Come to them with a solution
Nearly all boss-employee conflicts stem from a lack of communication, and this can be happening for two different reasons, shares Kennedy, who gives the following advice:
Identify the issue that is frustrating you – a lot of the time it’s lack of communication. This can be because they are a bad communicator or because your boss doesn’t know what to do so they don’t communicate their indecisiveness.
So, what’s the answer in tackling it, then?
Drop them a quick, concise email saying you were hoping to cover some of these topics and: here are some of my suggestions, I would love to get your feedback. When you do sit down, ask very clear questions – do you want me to do this? If this happens, is that good or is that bad?
4. If you’re getting physical symptoms, think about a new job
It can be difficult to spot when levels of stress have become intolerable, and may indicate a need to switch role or company, but here’s what Kennedy has seen from his clients:
If you’re not able to sleep, feeling sick, crying before/after work or finding that you’re taking days off – that’s a real sign. If you feel you have a difficulty with a project or a colleague and you don’t want to repair it, that’s a big sign too that your mind is made up about leaving.
Regardless of your decision as to whether to stay or not, these things should never be ignored as they may affect the next role you take, says Kennedy:
One of the things I always tell people to try and resolve issues that they have before they think about moving job. Otherwise this problem can follow you elsewhere. A bad communicator in one job will still be a bad communicator in another, for example.
5. Use tricks to cut your cortisol levels
Taking short, enjoyable breaks during work can be a brilliant way to boost productivity, says Kennedy:
It’s a great idea to get out of the office and take a walk. Smokers always go outside to smoke but why not walk around the block? Psychology circles would also say that watching a short, funny video at your desk would both increase productivity and engagement for employees.
And when you’re too busy to take a break, there are things you can do too, says Kennedy:
People who do a lot of phone calls should make their calls standing up – it reduces the stress hormone cortisol. I always say that before job interviews, you should stand up for two minutes before you go in, go to the bathroom and do it there, while breathing slowly and deeply.
6. Think about the language you use
Sometimes, even the language we are using to describe our situation can be adding to our mounting stress, highlights Kennedy:
Use strong and powerful language. You can describe something as a problem or describe it as a challenge, a disaster or a learning experience. It re-orientates us towards a solution so that you’re constantly thinking: what can I take from it? If you can orientate yourself to think ‘this has gone well’, that can be very powerful.
Similarly, there are three words that you should be very careful about using, shares Kennedy:
Ask yourself, am I generalising? Using always, everywhere or never are rarely accurate – ‘I’ll never get a job’ or ‘I always make this mistake’. Am I leaving out important information? Someone will have a bad day because they had a bad meeting at 5pm, but how was the rest of the day? Don’t lose your perspective because of one bad event.
7. Don’t check your emails on your commute (or at lunch)
Although it might seem like it’s preparing you for the day ahead, checking your emails before work can actually be detrimental, insists Kennedy:
Avoid checking your emails on your commute. Unless you get paid to commute, and most people don’t, you’ll think you’ve gotten a step ahead but you’ve really just prolonged your working hours. You won’t be able to reply properly so it’s just on your mind, occupying a mental allotment of time. Go in an hour earlier instead.
What else can you do about emails when you’re not at your desk? In short, put down your phone. Our “always-on culture leads to mental fatigue and means that our attention spans are getting zapped”:
Turn off notifications on a mobile phone, we just check our phones too much and it leads to so much anxiety. If you are going to lunch with a colleague, check your phone for ten minutes and for the remaining 50 minutes give yourself a break.
8. Cut work out of your leisure time
Similarly, there’s one topic that should be avoided at lunch with your colleagues – and that’s work:
Don’t talk about work at lunch – you’re doing the same as when you are in work except you’re not being paid. Avoid all topics of work with your other half or housemates or friends because you’re using mental energy on it and still haven’t really switched off.
Kennedy calls this ‘actively disengaging from work’. If you do feel the need to tell your partner or room mate about work, do it in a constructive way:
Discuss it and get it off your chest but avoid retelling the story and continuing to complain. I would encourage people to tell their friends, but if you find yourself complaining about the same thing over and over, you may need to take action on it.
Kennedy’s last nugget of wisdom for destressing?
Avoid screens for one hour before you sleep and charge your mobile phone outside of your bedroom to avoid checking it during the night. No one needs to update their Instagram at 3am!