Work Smarter, Not Harder: A Short Guide to Dealing with Stress08 November 2019
What is it to be human? Two thousand years ago Plato defined us as “featherless bipeds", upright and bald. In the mid-1700s, we became Homo sapiens – wise men – defined according to our ability to discern and practice reason. Today, say the memes, we are “monkeys with anxiety”, caught up in an existential tangle, burdened by the global issues of a new millennium, too exhausted to capitalise the first word of a sentence... Stressed, in a word. The tired generation, and no wonder! With everything moving so fast, relentless and unyielding, we’ve taken the opportunity today to share some tips on managing your workload better.
Take a step back. Dedicate a little bit of time to spelling out everything that’s going on and ordering it by priority. What do you have to do now? What do you want to do now? How can you balance these two questions to get the most pressing things ticked off early without totally demoralising yourself?
We say: make a list on a bit of paper and ordering things by how urgent they are. Try to reward yourself every so often with a little break – a task you want to do – to balance out the distribution.
- Talk it through
The idea of ‘stress’ can be difficult to get your head around. By sitting down and talking through the problem with a friend, you can start to divide your stress up into concrete, manageable chunks. Ask what it is that’s causing you to feel the heat and what power do you have over it?
We say: recognise the value of taking off an hour or two every so often to check in on where things are at and what you want to do next. Verbalising your doubts is a good way to test how sensible they sound!
- Recognise the value of stress and take back control
In controlled amounts, stress is the force that allows us to overcome life’s challenges: it’s that little boost of applied pressure – and adrenaline – that says: ‘hey – this is pretty important!’ A bit of stress can be very handy in motivating you to prioritise and get going. But when things get too much, know how to boil off the excess. Take back control. Professor Cary Cooper, occupational health expert from the University of Lancaster, writes, “that feeling of loss of control is one of the main causes of stress and lack of wellbeing.”
We say: If stress is no longer a force for good, take a step back. Breathe. Download a Mindfulness app. Go for a walk. Find a way that suits you to get the balance right, and take a mental note of the warning signs that you give off when it’s all starting to get a bit much.
- Manage your expectations
We’re quite simple creatures, really, motivated by reward and demoralised by punishment. Find ways to boost your morale by giving yourself the odd pat on the back. It doesn’t have to be anything big. Setting overambitious targets is a sure way to compound stress with a sense of failure and the pressure to get everything done as soon as possible can get in the way of you doing a good job.. Break your work down into bite-size pieces and – at the very least – take a moment to say well done to yourself after each milestone.
We say: Instead of trying to write that 3,000 word essay in one go, plan ahead and aim for 500 words a day over the course of a week. Forgive yourself if you miss a day. Don’t beat yourself up. The main thing is that you find a way to put pen to paper and do something and get it done on-time in the end. Whatever it takes to feel you’re pointed in the right direction – do that!
- Rethink the way you do your work
If you find yourself getting into the same ruts, try something new. Stress can feed into the age-old loop of negative behaviours and thought processes. By breaking the chain, you start to undo the knots that stress has built up. Whether you change where you work or reorder your day, injecting something new into your routine is a good way to freshen up your mind a bit.
We say: think about the different ways you can relate to your work. If you’re revising, could you get the same information from a podcast? Would flashcards make a welcome change from long-form notes? What can you do to break the block, to get a different perspective and overcome the friction between your work and your response to it?
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