Start Addressing Your Work Stress Today!
Stress is an omnipresent force in our working lives. Whether it’s constant email traffic, never-ending requests, or our boss’ mood, stress factors are everywhere. That’s where stress-reducing habits come into play.
To counter external pressure, we need ways to boost our calmness, serenity, and working rhythm. In other words, we need boundaries that draw a clear line between productive, calm work, and stress-increasing activities.
On this basis, here are six powerful habits that will help you reduce stress at work.
No matter if you work in an office, at home, or on the road, you need ways to offset inevitable stress. In short, you need safeguards that will prevent stress factors from taking over.
The following six habits will help you find that balance in a professional context.
Value deep work over shallow work
In his 2016 bestseller Deep Work, Georgetown professor Cal Newport builds a case for valuing “deep work” over “shallow work.” In this context, he defines “deep work” as:
“Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit.”
These activities include deciphering complex topics, making business calculations, and also computer programming, all in a distraction-free setting.
In contrast, “shallow work” concerns:
“Non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted.”
As such, email traffic management, social media postings, and lackadaisical communication fall into this category. How does this differentiation influence daily stress factors? In a nutshell, deep work reduces our stress factors while shallow work increases their intensity.
Because deep work is about focusing your creative and cognitive energy on one particular task, you eliminate stress factors’ breeding grounds.
By prioritizing distraction-free intellectual work, you choose to put stress-driving forces like email traffic and futile requests into the background.
Of course, you’ll need room for emergencies, but deep work should always come first. The value of deep work is that it will boost your productivity and increase the quality of your work. As an example, Tom Karwatka, CEO of Divante, partly credits deep work to his business’ 30% yearly growth. He also emphasizes the improvements to his employees’ output and work-life balance.
That’s why, as an employee, you shouldn’t be scared to convey the upsides of deep work to your employer. In the world of uber-connectivity, it may be a counter-cultural trend, but its advantages are becoming more and more visible.
Prioritize working wellness
Much like deep work, wellness rituals are a great way to reduce stress at work. The concept of “health at work” is becoming more and more critical as many companies understand its benefits. Facebook, for example, offers a bike-sharing service that allows its employees to cycle around the humongous Facebook campus.
Nevertheless, to reduce your stress levels, you need to set wellness rules for yourself. Many of us don’t work for tech-giants or trendy startups. As such, especially entrepreneurs and senior employees need to find rituals that secure daily wellness.
Here are a few ways to achieve working wellness, both in your office and at home:
- Make sure that enough natural light penetrates your workspace.
- Walk as much as possible, especially during lunch breaks.
- Improve the smell and air of your workspace by opening windows and installing a scented candle, for example; and do an office workout.
- Blogs like SnackNation offer excellent examples of how to stay active while sitting in an office chair.
These rituals will help you stay physically and mentally sharp on workdays, limiting the possibilities for stress to take over.
It should be no surprise that much of our professional stress is the result of disorganization. A cluttered email inbox, loose stacks of contracts, and a sheer unlimited number of distractions like newspapers and open social media tabs characterize many employees’ lives. All of these elements invite stress. That’s why we need to deal with them swiftly and conclusively.
In my personal experience, the following organizational rules worked wonders:
- If something takes less than five minutes, do it immediately!
- Paper is a no-go. Only use paper if there is no alternative.
- Give the different sections of your workspace a specific function. As an example, one part is for electronics, another one for books, another for mail.
- don’t keep more than three tabs open.
- Last but not least, always clean up a mess when you create it.
You can add many other rules to this list. The challenge resides in identifying simple ways of staying organized at work to eliminate potential stress factors.
Establish boundaries with coworkers and business associates
No matter if you work in a cubicle or manage a startup, boundaries with your peers are crucial. In many corporate environments, saying no isn’t tolerated, let alone encouraged. Companies expect their employees to be available 24/7 and to accept as many challenges as possible.
A “yes” mentality will only take you so far. According to Karen Dillon, coauthor of How Will You Measure Your Life? “You want to be viewed as a ‘yes person,’ a ‘go-to person’ — a team player.” Trouble is, agreeing to work on too many assignments and pitching in on too many projects leaves you stretched and stressed.”
That’s why you need to set boundaries that allow a firm, polite, and well-argued “no.” Your co-workers, superiors, and business associates need to understand that another project on your shoulders will hamper the success of both yourself and the organization.
As such, you need to explain the limits of your stress tolerance and underline their value. Once your peers understand and know your boundaries, they’ll be much more likely to accept your “no.” Better still, this will reduce your stress levels and put you in a better position to perform.
Set technology rules
Akin to working wellness rituals, technology rules can reduce stress at work. In today’s world, most white-collar jobs are heavily reliant on technology, both in terms of production and administration.
Our email inboxes are always open. Colleagues expect a reply within minutes. And worst of all, companies now encourage instant messaging for “smaller” tasks.
Technology engulfs modern workplaces, and there are very few counterexamples. Some companies embrace email minimalism — like French technology service provider Atos Origins, who reduced their email traffic by 60% following a “less-data” policy — but most strongly encourage an increase in the use of technology like Slack or Trello.
Consequently, to reduce stress at work, you need to establish personal technology rules that will work in any professional context. If you’re an entrepreneur, putting automatic email responders in place and deciding on when you use technology is naturally easier than if you’re an employee.
Nevertheless, most corporate settings will offer some flexibility when it comes to the use of technology.
In this context, the best way to reduce technology-linked stress is to set personal rules — like no emails before 10 am or no phones after 6 pm — within the limits of your company’s internal policies.
The lesson here is the following: don’t get yourself fired, but don’t let technology drive you into quitting either. Balance out technology-related stress factors with personal rules that respect the norms of your environment.
Finally, one of the most potent ways to reduce stress at work is the elimination of perfectionism. Start your days with a simple truism: there is no perfection. Perfection doesn’t exist, and chasing it is a surefire way to increase stress at work. Instead of trying to hand in the perfect work assignment, focus on progress.
Every task you complete will have flaws. That’s why you shouldn’t beat yourself up for every single mistake. Try to assess the results in comparison to previous work. Progress is a much better indicator than perfection and also a powerful habit to reduce stress.
By chasing small improvements, you don’t feel the stress of “not being good enough.” In other words, you know that you can improve by 1%. And by improving 1% every time, you’ll be 100 percent better at some point.
As James Clear writes in Atomic Habits, “If you can get 1% better each day for one year, you’ll end up 37 times better by the time you’re done.”
Once you grasp the power of progress, you’ll prioritize slow growth over instant results, and this new prioritization will drastically reduce professional stress!