Stress is a constant factor in the lives of nearly all career professionals. Much of the stress we experience, however, is self-induced. In other words, we generate stress as a result of our own actions rather than it emanating from an external source.
When we try to cram too much into a day, an hour, or whatever time we have available, the resulting experience is stress. When we take on too much in terms of what we buy, what we manage, what we need to organize, or what we’re simply trying to keep pace with, the predictable outcome is the experience of stress.
What if it was within your capability to minimize the daily level of self-induced stress that you typically incur? The excellent news is that it is within your power. By taking a few small steps in the course of the day, you can minimize the stress that you might otherwise experience based on self-generated behaviors.
Here are some ideas to help you avoid traversing the road most trammeled, i.e., incurring self-induced stress:
Acknowledge that you generally do your best work when you’re in control of your immediate environment. If you have a pressing issue to handle or something that requires mental consternation, take the time to secure your immediate environment. If you need quiet, post signs, turn the sound off on your cell phone, or hide from the rest of the office if it helps. The 10- to 20-minute stretches of solitude that you carve out for yourself to tackle challenging tasks can yield immediate rewards. Not only do you often finish tasks more quickly than you had first presumed, but you’re also able to turn to the next task more readily.
Recognize the most vital times of the day for you to tackle challenging tasks. For most people, based on current studies, these times are 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. Your productivity peaks might be somewhat different. In any case, you need to know when they occur.
Realize that some tasks, especially those you haven’t attempted before, require extra care and attention. These often include math calculations or arranging items in sequence. If you opt to tackle such tasks when you know you’re more likely to be energetic, focused, and ready to proceed, you have a higher probability of succeeding.
Establish relationships with co-workers so that you support one another in your quest to get things done. Thus, you respect each other’s quiet times, especially if you have presented such times to one another. For example, you might say, “I need Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2 to 4 to myself.” Also, avoid sending extraneous emails and texts to co-workers that they don’t need to receive. Shorten long memos that can be summarized in a paragraph or two. Cut down on sending anything that could wait ‘til later, be discussed in person, or appears neither important nor urgent.
Leave yourself some slack. If you jam-pack your calendar with tasks and activities, day after day and week after week, when something happens out of the ordinary — an emergency, an imposed deadline, or some shift in your areas of responsibility — you undoubtedly experience stress. By allowing a little slack in your daily calendar, even five to 10 minutes here and there, you establish a built-in safety cushion of sorts. Even if addressing an emergency requires more time than the slack time you built in, you still feel a bit better about tackling the issue because you have some slack. As a result, self-induced stress tends to diminish.
For the balance of your career, you’ll experience stress from many sources. Hopefully, most of them are external, not self-induced. With awareness, forethought, and planning, you can keep self-induced stress to a reasonable minimum.