When we were younger our work was play! The biggest decision we had to make was whether to play baseball, basketball, or football. Whether to ride bikes or go exploring in the woods. Which flavored icee to grab from the freezer. Which form of tag to play, hide and seek or cops and robbers. Oh what simpler times.
The answer to dealing with the overwhelming stress of work is not as simple as playing a game of tag. If only! Although, incorporating some sort of fun into life is an important part of the solution, it is a little more complicated than that. Life gets messy. Life is full of expectations many of which we come to believe we must meet in order to achieve success and avoid failure. Whether those are self-inflicted or brought on by our spouses, children, family, friends, bosses, or even societal norms, these demand pitfalls are something we have talked about in previous posts.
Yes, “hard work pays off” and “the early bird catches the worm”…or so I’ve heard. Note, I haven’t actually woken up before dawn and gone looking for worms. Jokes aside, do you find yourself working harder or working smarter? Because saying “No” to the boss may not be an option. So how do you manage the overwhelming pile of tasks that is in front of you?! The stress we experience is often the work of our own hands and how we choose to manage it is up to us.
1. Recognize that you have a choice and own it. While you might feel like standing up and walking out on your job, that is a choose, it is an emotional reaction rather than an informed, rational response made with prudence. You still have a choice so make it and own it. Whether or not you like the amount on your paycheck, you want one. The alternative of no paycheck brings a whole host of other stresses.
2. Identify your natural approach (pinpoint the pitfalls). There are lots of ways to get things done. And lots of ways to avoid them too. Being an escape artist is not just something Harry Houdini did. Our world today is full of ways to detach and unplug, including social media, TV, and video games just to name a few. So rather then get distracted lets get back to identifying your tendencies:
As a procrastinator, you may find that you routinely defer the unwanted tasks for a later day and time. Later is always the best option to you. Stop! Don’t avoid it anymore. You are called to Eat That Frog! Tackle it first and get it out of the way. Then, it is smooth sailing as you just successfully navigated the worst or hardest part of your day.
As a fiddler, you thrive on a steady stream of small accomplishments throughout your day. You also may find yourself getting bogged down with small, low hanging fruit tasks because they are easy. They get you the wins that give you a feel good boost. The problem is they don’t allow you to make a dent in your bigger goals. You may ask yourself, how can you begin breaking bigger goals in smaller ones, thus giving you the wins and still keeping yourself on track. So to answer your question, sit down and identify what are the rocks, pebbles, and sand in your life.
As the analyzer, you can’t find peace unless you are absolutely certain you are working on the most important thing at that very instant. By identifying and categorizing our activities into groups including Urgent/Important, Urgent/Not Important, Not Urgent/Important, and Not Urgent/Not Important, we begin looking at where we are spending most of our time and the traps you are falling into.
3. Set priorities and take action. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to click on each of the above approaches. Then spend some time with each of these three as you may not identify with just one. This isn’t an absolute situation. This exercise is a golden opportunity to grow in understanding yourself and possibly others (ie. co-workers, direct reports). It can help you pinpoint what is important to you and if you are truly oriented in that direction, what tasks are you completely averse too and which ones, while perhaps enjoyable, lead you to getting off track and running around later putting out fires.
In close, keep in mind that you are likely repeating what you are doing because it is engrained in you. Habits can be hard (not impossible) to break. It takes time and self-discipline to bring about movement. You may, correction…will, experience setbacks. Get back up and try again. The idea here is to make a choice to work smarter not falling back on the franticness of working harder. Having someone else to journey with you and help hold you accountable can be wildly beneficial. Here’s to unfreezing from self imposed anxiety and stress. You can do it!