Why is it that some people seem to keep their cool under pressure yet others quickly find themselves feeling overwhelmed, distracted and stressed out? Surprisingly, it’s not because a lucky few are born with a coating of psychological Teflon rendering them immune to stress or have an innate ability to prioritize the important over the urgent. Far from it.
What differentiates the strongest performers across every sphere is not good luck or good genes, it’s the daily actions they take to manage their internal resources and harness the resources of those around them. In short, successful people do things others don’t.
If you’re feeling under pressure to get it all done but you know that even if you worked around the clock you still wouldn’t, run a little experiment with yourself and apply one of these strategies below and observe the impact it makes on what you get done every day and how much better you do it.
1. Embed Recharge Rituals Into Your Day
Studies have found that if you regularly invest time in activities that nurture your well being you will have more energy, handle life’s curve-balls life with greater agility and get more done in your working hours than you would otherwise.
As counter intuitive as it may sound, particularly to fast paced Adrenalin junkies who thrive on hustle, regularly taking time out to disengage from your work makes you far more effective when you return to it. Exercise, meditation, reading, listening to music, gardening or even the latest fad: coloring – all of these activities help you refuel and “tune up” so that you can handle life better and maintain the perspective that keeps you from making small problems big (a trait of people who are burned out). As Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz wrote in The Power of Full Engagement, building daily rituals for renewal and recovery is vital to sustain high performance over a longer period of time.
2. Narrow Your Focus
Ever lay awake in bed at night wondering how you’ll get it all done only to wake up unsure of what to focus on? Then you’ll know the havoc that stress can play on your productivity, sense of well being and ability to lead others. It’s why when expectations and responsibilities mount, you need to be increasingly intentional in where you will channel your time and energy. As Kathy Calvin, CEO and president of the United Nations Foundation, shared with me during our conversation, the more pressure you feel to deliver, the more important it is to decide up front on the one thing you will accomplish in the day ahead. Breaking a big project down into smaller chunks, each with their own deadline, and single handling each one in a focusing time block is a more productive and healthier way of completing a big task.
3. Nurture Your Tribe
The people you surround yourself with have a profound impact on your mental outlook and emotional state. Make a list of the people you want to spend more time with and invest time every day in building up the relationships you already value. If you happen to work in a toxic environment where backstabbing is the norm, try to keep your interactions with those who engage in it to a minimum and be careful not to descend to the same level of behaviour of those who are pulling you down. Research has found that people with five or more close and trustworthy friends are 60% more likely to be happier and exponentially more productive. Likewise, happier workers are 33% more likely to support their colleagues! So it’s a “win:win:win” but it begins with you taking responsibility for the energy you put out as well as the energy you let in.
In our over-wired world, it has become increasingly important to set boundaries with technology. Yet if only it were that easy! Our brains have grown addicted to the micro-hit of endorphins we get each time we check our email or see the latest tally of likes on our LinkedIn post. While unplugging may initially feel like your right arm has been cut off, a few device-free hours can be highly restorative, liberating and just what the doctor ordered. Literally. The world will continue to turn without you, but you’ll return to it a whole lot fresher.
5. Breathe Deeply Often
Every day you inhale and exhale over 22,000 times. All without any conscious effort on your part. However taking a few moments throughout your day to pay attention to your breathing – simply following your inhalation and exhalation and noticing how it feels to within your body – can help to short circuit your stress response and keep you from walking around in a constant state of emergency.
Taking just two minutes to take 10 long deep diaphragmatic breaths can not only calm your nervous system but can help you put your problems back into perspective. If you don’t think you have two minutes, take five. Try it. It will help to cultivate the much talked about “mindfulness” which has been shown to ward off stress and heighten productivity and performance across multiple measures.
6. Give Yourself Permission To Make Imperfect Decisions
Studies show that people who try to make perfect decisions every time, even about the small things, not only reduce the quality of their decision making about the big ticket items, but are less happy with the decisions they do make. Giving yourself permission to make less than perfect decisions – whether its about the format of a Powerpoint presentation, which colour to paint your office or which hotel to book on an upcoming trip – frees you up to focus your time and attention on more important things. As Sheryl Sandberg says, “Done is better than perfect” and often lowering your bar to “good enough” can serves you so much more. Tick the box. Move on. More important things await.
7. Take A Vacation
No one is so indispensable to their team that they couldn’t possibly take a day off, much less a week’s vacation. Research shows that people who use their annual vacation time are more likely to be promoted than those who don’t. Stepping away from your busyness and slowing down will help you recalibrate priorities, so you can refocus on the vital few over the trivial many.
Remember, being busy and being effective are two distinctly differently things. Hurrying around furiously ticking things off your “To do” list can provide a false sense of significance and leave you very busy but not very productive. If, according to Parato’s Principle, 80% of those things are low value, they are actually hampering your success, not advancing it. Challenge your perception of urgency that leaves you running around treating everything as an emergency (few things truly are) and you as the only person who can possibly fix it.
8. Double Your “No Thank You” Rate
Saying yes is always easier than saying no because that’s exactly what people want to hear and gives you a quick shot-in-the-arm of people pleasing gratification. Yet the more invitations, offers and opportunities that come your way, the more you need to practice saying, graciously but clearly, “Thank you, but no thank you.”
Don’t let your “FOMO” – fear of missing out – keep you from attending to the things that will ultimately land you the greatest yields both professionally and personally. Sure, it’s nice to be part of everything and take care of everyone, yet attempting to do that will not only leave you burning out and resentful of the very people you’ve said yes to, but you’ll damage your reputation when you start dropping balls and have less capacity to see, much less seize, the best opportunities when they arise.
You get what you tolerate and you, yes Y-O-U, teach people how to treat you.
If you’re the “go to” person for everything and are continually being asked for a “little favor,” it’s because you’ve trained people to expect that you will drop everything and say yes. Sometimes you need to be brave and say no to the “good” so you can find time for the “great.”
9. Make More Requests
If a lot is expected and asked of you, you need to ask more of others. This includes outsourcing, delegating or simply getting others to step up and take on their fair share. Take a look at what you are spending your time on that could be done by others. Sure they may not do it just as well as you (though perhaps they might do it even better) but taking it off your plate it frees up your time to focus on far higher value-adding activities. Not only that but it can give others a valuable opportunity to expand their own skill set and grow confidence for bigger things themselves.
10. Get Your Beauty Sleep
Last but not least, get more sleep! In her book The Sleep RevolutionArianna Huffington wrote “We sacrifice sleep in the name of productivity, but ironically our loss of sleep, despite the extra hours we spend at work, adds up to 11 days of lost productivity per year, per worker – or about $2,280.” So try to get to bed at a similar time each night so you can get seven hours of sleep.
Of course, if for any reason you can’t, try taking a short nap. Research has found a short nap of 20-30 minutes can help to improve mood, alertness and performance. Nappers are in good company: Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Napoleon Bonaparte, Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison are known to have valued an afternoon nap. Clearly they weren’t slackers. Give yourself permission to do the same.
Closing your eyes more often can wake you up the fact while there is never enough time in the day to do everything, there will always be enough time to do the important things.
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