Six tips for a more resilient approach to deal with stress, pressure, risk and uncertainty at work.
There is a pervasive and deep rooted belief in ourselves and our organisations which undermines our ability to develop resilience and creates ineffective working practices, impairs our performance and has a negative impact on our work life balance.
The core of this belief is that being busy and under pressure at work creates the conditions for high performance. This is a pervasive belief in organisations and we all have a strong internal voice which supports this “busy pressure” myth. As Weisinger and Pauline Fry point out in their recent book ‘How to perform under pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When it Matters Most’ – this is a myth – none of us perform at our best under continuous pressure and stress and in fact our performance and our creativity deteriorate. We suffer from decision fatigue as the day progresses and over time our ability to make consistently good decisions erodes as we begin to reduce our horizons and screen out information, slowing down our speed and decision making. As the volume of what we can do goes up, the quality of what we do decreases.
I find that the majority of people I begin to work with find themselves in a distracted, anxious, overwhelmed state, too busy to think, too busy to take the time to talk or attend a workshop with me. The paradox we have to get through is that initially taking time for reflection only makes things worse as at the start reflective space tends to make people aware of the task list getting bigger and they become more anxious about what they haven’t yet completed.
So what are the challenges and tips which enable us to save time and energy at work, change our thinking and enable us to be more effective in pressured and often risky, uncertain and volatile work environments?
Here are 6 ideas to get you thinking:
1. ‘Eat That Frog!’
As Brian Tracey so memorably put it - meaning stop procrastinating and putting off what is difficult to do and do it now! People waste far too much time and energy putting off difficult tasks. Notice that the anticipatory anxiety we have about doing difficult things is rarely born out in practice. Often we ask ourselves afterwards, ‘why did I worry so much about that?’
So take control and make sure that you do the unpleasant parts of your day as soon as possible- eat that frog and feel the benefits.
2. Do Less!
Stop tyrannizing yourself with long lists of tasks which you feel you have to complete. This creates a distracted anxiety and makes you feel overwhelmed before you start. Don’t “just do” what you feel is urgent or what other people tell you is urgent as this will lead you to being reactive and responsive rather than getting on with what you need to get on with. It also means that you may ignore, miss or fail to complete the things that are important rather than these which may feel urgent but aren’t important. Take control of your time and work, focus on four key things at a time and include a mix of the urgent and the important.
3. Take a mindful pause!
There is a lot of research about the benefits of mindfulness generally in our lives as well as the positive impact of a mindful approach to our work. But how do we make a start when everything is too pressured and demanding and we can’t stop for a minute? Mindfulness and meditation practices are often rooted in the breath as a way of staying anchored and focused in the present rather than worrying about what has just happened or what is about to happen. So when you have completed a task and before you start another just take a conscious pause and think about your breathing. Take four breaths and connect each to a thought. What just happened? Do I need to do anything as a result? What am I doing next? How do I need to be? This slows our thinking down in the here and now. It also stops us flitting between emails, phone calls, meetings and other work in an unfocused way. This means we can stay in control of ourselves moment by moment and stop wasting energy.
4. Give yourself a break!
We are not at our best under continuous pressure. Decision fatigue sets in and we lose the ability to concentrate and focus. Often people don’t take regular breaks, they miss lunch and can sometimes feel there isn’t enough time in the day for a break. Taking reflective space during the day to process what happens during the day helps you to respond more strategically, dynamically, flexibly, appropriately and creatively. Reflection can still be focused and can allow you the space to refocus your thoughts. Ensuring that you stay hydrated and eat well will help you sustain your energy and concentration during the day.
5. Meet less and for shorter periods!
In my coaching work, one of the things I do regularly is challenge clients about their meeting commitments and schedules when they say to me that they have no time. My expectation now is that people can often save up to a third of their time by making their meetings with individuals and groups more focused and by stopping going to or having meetings that serve no purpose or don’t support their work. Conversely some meetings such as task focused planning and review meetings and more reflective time in supervision and appraisal with managers are important and these are often ones we skip or avoid or can’t find time for. Take time to critically appraise who you meet and why.
6. Take the pressure off!
There is a difference between stress and pressure. Often we put ourselves under too much pressure too much of the time. It is easy to see almost everything that we do as absolutely critical and urgent and we develop a fear of not being good enough unless we are continually busy. This belief and habit drive the distraction and anxiety I spoke about earlier and lead to people not being able to switch off from work. So give yourself a break! Realise that putting yourself under pressure all the while does not give you the best chance of performing well. In fact it actively undermines it. Make sure you have a work life balance and the support of colleagues, friends and family. Doing something unrelated to work helps you to relax and it will also support your unconscious processing and provide you with insights when you are not actively seeking them. Finally most people feel more isolated and vulnerable at work than they say and we often fear that we are the only people who feel this. One of the real benefits from the workshops I run with people who work together is that, at some point, they discover the same shared vulnerabilities and can support each other. It is important not to feel alone and isolated with our challenges at work as this can lead to burn out. The nature, quality and quantity of our supportive relationships are a key component of our reservation of resilience.
So give yourself a break! Realise that putting yourself under pressure all the while does not give you the best chance of performing well. In fact it actively undermines it. Make sure you have a work life balance and the support of colleagues, friends and family. Doing something unrelated to work helps you to relax and it will also support your unconscious processing and provide you with insights when you are not actively and anxiously seeking them. Finally most people feel more isolated and vulnerable at work than they say and we often fear that we are the only people who feel this. One of the real benefits from the workshops I run with people who work together is that, at some point, they discover the same shared vulnerabilities and can support each other. It is important not to feel alone and isolated with our challenges at work as this can lead to burn out. The nature, quality and quantity of our supportive relationships are a key component of our reservoir of resilience.
It is hard to break the habits of busyness and the cultures which support them, but the tide is turning and there is growing awareness, knowledge and research about the importance of resilience in promoting a successful, sustainable, efficient and effective approach to performing well in the workplace. To take the first step in developing the resilience habit try out whichever of the tips here chimed with and spoke to you whilst you were reading it. Good luck, let me know how you get on and do get in touch if you feel we can be of more assistance.