Every now and then we all experience at work that odd week from hell, where to-do lists run for miles, projects crash and burn, bosses snap, and all you want to do is climb underneath your desk. But there are ways you can reduce stress at work and come out on top during times like those, unscathed. While I can stand here and lecture you on the importance of being realistic with your schedule and with how much you take on at work, I know just as well as you do how easy it is to let things run away from you. One moment you have a decent looking inbox, and the next you promised your boss three impossible projects and to come in on weekends because, hey, you're a go-getter.
During moments like those, grab the brown paper bag and breathe. Things might seem like they're about to collapse around your ears, but you can check that stress and make it out in one piece. All it's going to take is some ruthless prioritizing, along with a new-found respect for the word "no." So are you ready to remedy this? Below are 11 tips on how to reduce stress at work.
1. Jot Everything Down
From to-do lists to ideas, insignificant reminders to instructions, jot absolutely everything down. The less you have to deal with remembering, the more space you can free up in your mind to focus and slay at work. Motivational writer Henrik Edberg at self-help site The Positivity Blog explained, "Then you don’t have to worry about forgetting. And you will free up your mind for focusing on other things than remembering." It might seem like an insignificant step, but think of it this way: Obama wears the same uniform every day so he doesn't have to waste brain power deciding on what to wear. The little steps count.
2. Say No
If you're already stressed, you won't be doing anyone a favor taking on even more commitments. Think of it this way: The quality of your work will suffer, so it's not worth putting it on your plate to begin with. Lifestyle writer Laurie Erdman from self-improvement site Greatist advised "Explain to others that you are overcommitted and that you must say no. And yes, you can even tell your boss 'no'; just explain that one more project will mean the quality of your work will drop." And that's totally reasonable.
3. Work In 90-Minute Increments
Where you might think that going full steam for eight hours is totally doable, science isn't on your side. Human behavior writer James Clear pointed out, "Dr. K. Anders Ericsson at Florida State University discovered that the top performers work in approximately 90–minute sessions and then take a break. They focus intensely and then give themselves time to recover and regain energy." Set up your day the same way and you'll have more energy to keep on grinding with less the stress.
4. Leave Work At Work
The second you leave those office doors, make email dead to you. Clear pointed out, "on the evenings when I’ve ignored my inbox I’ve noticed something: nothing changes. When the work day starts, I still have things to do and people to respond to; the additional time the night before doesn’t make the next day any easier." The boat won't sink without you answering a client's email at 10 in the evening — during stressful stretches at work, guard your unwind time ruthlessly.
5. Stay Objective During Bumpy Moments
When something goes awry or you get denied for something at work, it can be easy to shape the story in a way that makes you take it personally. Business writer Jenna Goudreau at Forbes explained, "Your perspective of stressful office events is typically a subjective interpretation of the facts, often seen through the filter of your own self-doubt." Rather than thinking it has to do with your competence or lack of trust in your abilities, look at the events objectively. Take yourself out of the equation and look at why your idea got shut down/ your boss snapped/ you didn't get lead in the project. Chances are there are solid reasons that have nothing to do with doubting you.
6. Keep Your To-Do Lists Short
When you sit down with your first cup of coffee, it might feel tempting to take out a pen and create a to-do list that will get you a month ahead. It might sound like it'd be productive, but it's a disaster of an idea. Edberg offered, "I got more done but I was stressed and felt overwhelmed a lot of the time. Today I use a very short daily list of just the 1-3 most important tasks." If you're already stressed, focus on three major goals for the day and steer your energy into accomplishing them. The rest of the less time-sensitive to-dos can be pushed towards a more chill day.
7. Make Unwinding A Priority
When stressed, most of us think that working even more is the answer — the more we get done, the faster we can get back to our regular schedules, right? Not so much. Instead of putting in more time, make unwinding a priority. Erdman recommended, "Each week, schedule some time with a loved one to just be together, hang out, and laugh." Having a fun night out will have you feeling recharged and ready to hit the ground running the next day.
8. Stop Seeking Other's Approval
You put unnecessary stress on yourself by trying to get other people's approval around the office. Rather than doing that, focus on your work and let your skills do the talking. Goudreau advised, "If you’re too caught up in others’ perceptions of you, which you can’t control, you become stressed out by the minutia or participate in avoidance behaviors like procrastination. Ironically, once you shift your focus from others’ perception of your work to the work itself, you’re more likely to impress them." If you're already stressed, don't add onto it with your ego.
9. Spend 80 Percent Of Your Time Over Solutions
Say disaster strikes and a project goes awry or a delivery got messed up. Give yourself two minutes to hyperventilate and shake your fists at the sky, and then use the remaining 80 percent of your time focusing on solutions. Edberg pointed out, "You’ll live a much more action-filled life and feel less pessimistic and powerless if you do." Make stressing out a non-option — there's always a way to fix things.
10. Be Your Own Cheerleader
Negative thoughts can be just as stressful as office events outside of your control, so instead of tearing yourself down build yourself up. Goudreau recommended, "Instead of being harsh and critical of yourself, try pumping yourself up. Encouraging thoughts will help motivate you to achieve and ultimately train you to inspire others." You can just as easily tell yourself you're smart enough to push through a task as you can tearing yourself down, so why not go with the former?
11. See What You Can Cut
Believe it or not, there are things in our schedules that — while they might seem relevant — could be cut with little or no impact. So take a peek at your commitments and see what you can bow out of until things get a little less stressful. Edberg suggested asking, "What things could you stop doing altogether with no or very small consequences? What things are your heart maybe not in like it used to be? Could you say no to one or a few of those things to have more time and energy for what matters in both your professional and private life?" See what doesn't do much in the scheme of bringing you closer to your goals and put it on pause for the time being.
Keeping these tips in mind, you can make it out of the Week from Hell all in one piece.