It is no shock and awe surprise that most of us spend more time working than we do on any other activity. As the pressure to do more, faster, better with less continues to mount the work day just dominates our lives. Life is becoming more and more hectic, as we all switch to a 24/7 lifestyle, thanks to smart phones, tablets, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. As a consequence stress levels seem to be constantly rising. If we don’t want to have major health problems, we must find simple ways to reduce stress at our workplace.
Here are some working habits that we can adopt to minimize worry, fatigue and potential ill health:
1. Clear your desk of all papers except those relating to the immediate problem at hand.
The reason we have all that paper around us is we are filing it on our desk. TRAF it instead.
Toss it away. Whenever I look in my physical files, I always notice that there is a lot of paper which I never look at and never need. At the magical point of deciding to toss or file, I utter these fatal words to myself, "I had better keep this in case I need it". Years go by and I never needed it. In fact, I have usually completely forgotten I even had it in the first place. I am sure I am not alone. So let’s toss it out early rather than later.
Refer it to someone else for action. This is Delegation 101, but most of us are weak on the delegation front, mainly because we don’t do it the right way. Normally, we say dumb things like, "It will be quicker if I do it myself". When we do actually get around to delegating tasks, we just dump the offending documents on their desk, tell them to take care of it and then breezily glide off into the distance. Instead, we need to have a proper conversation with the delegatee on why doing this task is in their interest and map out the follow-up process. We need that conversation so we get their buy-in. If we get that ownership, then we can hand over responsibility, lighten our load and move to a "monitor only" mode.
Action it. Either we knock it off right there and then, if we can do it in under two minutes or we should park it and add it to our To Do list, prioritized for a later time. To do it later, go to your diary, find the day when you will be able to do it and make an appointment on that day with yourself, to devote to completing that task. Putting the item in the diary and nominating exactly when during the day you will work on it, increases the chance of it getting done when it needs to get done.
File. Before you take the plunge and file it, ask yourself if you really, really need this information? Maybe you only need a small part of it, in which case take a photo of it or get that bit into Evernote or some similar alternative. You might scan the document and file it electronically and eliminate the physical record completely. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable doing this with certain bits of paper, but I will guess the majority could be safely scanned and then unceremoniously dumped.
Some workplaces have adopted the paperless nirvana and everything is scanned and stored digitally. The team get a tiny little wheeled cabinet to hold everything! I look at that and say to myself, "if they can do it maybe I can do it too!".
2. Do things in the order of their importance.
Major insight - not all bits of paper have the same value!!! Prioritising work is a must. We can’t do everything but we can do the most important things. We just need to decide what they are and start there. We keep moving the paper around our desk, as we grapple with what to do with it all. The sheer volume starts to weigh on us and we have trouble sorting the numerous sheafs littering our desk. A quick sort into two piles of high and low priority will soon having your eyes occupied with only the most important items rather than drowning in paper.
3. Learn to organize and delegate responsibility.
This is similar to Refer except that with expert delegation the task never arrives on your desk in the first place! You head it off at the pass, and make sure it is re-routed to the delegate first. Our job is to discuss the task with the delegatee before they start work on it. Monitor their work to make sure they are on track and then let them do it – don’t buy it back under any circumstances. We also need to inform others in the team, that from now on the delegate and not you, need to see all the information on the topic. Get helpful team members to stop copying you in on every related email (and all the other irrelevant emails they copy you on in as well!).
4. Don't keep putting off problems.
Having said that though, there is both positive and negative procrastination. Deciding not to do something now may be the best choice. We just need to be aware that this is what we are deciding. Negative procrastination is not doing something we should, when we should be doing it, because we are immobilized through fear of making a decision. When you have a problem, solve it then and there, if you have the facts necessary to make a decision. As the saying goes, "if you have to swallow a frog, do it in one gulp!".
None of these ideas will be news to any of us. We know all of this, but we just don’t do it. We understand the concepts but we don’t apply. We get it, but we do nothing about it! Distress arises when we feel overwhelmed and somehow paper and email gang up on us to increase our stress levels.
Simple works best, so let’s get started with some simple solutions to our work overload situation.
Some key learnings:
1. TRAF our way into better productivity
4. Swallow our frog in one gulp