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Stress Management For Stressed Managers: Managing Your Life Towards Greater Productivity
Tue 20th September 2011
You might not be able to prevent stressful work from dropping on your desk, you might not be able to control the tasks that you'll be obliged to do. Consequently, the key to holding back stress levels for many managers is in their own approach, both to work and to life. And the most important lesson in all of this is: work isn't everything. Repeat after me, work isn't everything.
With that thought clear in your mind - and, as it happens, reducing stress will improve your productivity, so your work won't be getting left behind - we need to look at what can be done to ensure that work isn't everything. We said earlier that stress management needs to relate to work and to life as a whole; we'll look at stress management techniques within the workplace first.
To begin with, the situation at your desk can play a role. It helps to be comfortable, in a supported, upright position, with enough light and the tools you'll need regularly (keyboard, mouse, phone, pens, etc.) within easy reach; if these aren't all set up for your benefit, if merely being at your desk is making the work day harder, then stress will build up more rapidly and to a higher point.
However, the tools of your trade don't have to be the only items on your desk; a token representing positive emotions can be of great assistance. This might be the family photo that many have, it could be a reminder of a recent holiday or a pointer to one upcoming, it might be connected to a hobby or project - whatever you can find that works for you, it doesn't need to be big, it doesn't need to do be comprehensible to anyone else, so long as it's connected in your mind with happiness and contentment. Stress can build up like a runaway train, more tasks or problems pushing it further and faster down the same line - and the positive token on your desk can be seen as changing the line, redirecting the train, taking it away from the stress and allowing your mind to recover. It's worth regularly taking a moment to focus on the token rather than the work, and allow yourself to breathe.
The work itself can also be managed to keep stress firmly under control. Scheduling is essential: there are few things in a working day that can more certainly be relied upon to create excessive stress than an unruly and overwhelming pile (whether metaphorically or literally) of work with no set plan of how to work through it. Assess what needs doing; prioritise those activities with the greatest ratio of benefit to effort; construct a schedule that clearly shows what you'll be doing and when, and that allows you enough time to complete the tasks in hand. When you know what you'll be doing at what time, and when the work can be expected to be completed, there's no more reason to worry about how you'll get everything done or where you should even begin: all is planned out and under control.
Even when you're not at work, however, you can manage the stress levels that work may place upon you. It's important to have home life that allows you to relax and switch off - an oft-forgotten but vital element of a healthy, happy and productive lifestyle, ever less common in a world where many businesses expect work to always take priority over the rest of an individual's time. Again, schedules can help, but you'll be scheduling good things: quality time, by yourself, with family or with friends, spent on activities that you enjoy (or just relaxing); and, of course, be sure to take time for holidays, for getting away from it all and recharging. And if you absolutely must take work home with you, that needs to be scheduled in, with a clear start and finish point, never taking priority over the rest of your life.
Work isn't everything, remember. So it shouldn't be given a greater priority then it's really entitled to. Of course, work is important, but so is having a healthy and happy life as a whole - and it should never be forgotten that the two are closely related to one another, that a managed working day improves quality of life, and improved quality of life leads to greater and more effective productivity at work. Failing to control work-related stress can be a vicious circle, dragging you in a downwards spiral; managing yourself works the other way, always onwards and upwards. And the ideal time to start taking control is right now.
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