In the age of technology, where everyone is accessible all of the time, it can be difficult to "turn off" work. We are constantly connected, getting email and Slack messages at all hours of the day and notifications for any new communication. While this increases productivity in many ways, it also increases stress.
According to a survey conducted by the American Institute of Stress, 40% of workers reported that their jobs were very or extremely stressful. Stress in the workplace has become an epidemic, and we're all looking for ways to feel more peaceful and focused at work. Many of these solutions are self-care tactics, like meditation or a walk around the block during our lunch hour. But what happens when those practices aren't strong enough? Here are three practices that can help you reduce stress when self-care isn't cutting it.
1. Delegate tasks.
Many of us are leaders both at work and home; the demands never stop, and we can feel pulled in all directions by the never-ending list of chores, deadlines and tasks. The key to finding more balance and less stress is to delegate the tasks you don't like and aren't good at, and then use your time only for the things you like and are good at, or love and are great at. I use a practice called Delegate and Elevate, developed by entrepreneur and author Gino Wickman, to categorize my tasks both at work and home. Simply categorize all of your tasks into these four quadrants:
- Love and are great at
- Like and are good at
- Don't like but happen to be good at
- Don't like and are not good at
Once you have a clear visual of where your tasks fall, focus on delegating all of the things you don't like or aren't good at.
It can be difficult to delegate at first, but you'll often find that there is someone else who enjoys the tasks that you don't like. One of my employees loves to research and create spreadsheets. These are some of the last things I would ever want to do, but when I ask her to do them, she is excited. Figuring out which tasks you can swap with your co-workers will bring you all closer to feeling more fulfillment and less stress at work. Try handing off things without specific instructions as to how to complete the task. This hands-off approach creates space for others to shine and for you to learn a new way of doing things. As long as the task gets completed and you have less stress, who cares what the process is?
2. Take a clarity break.
A common reason many of us are stressed is that we simply have too much going on in our brains. It can be difficult for busy leaders to carve out time for thinking, but it is crucial to make time to innovate and create. I do this by taking what Gino Wickman calls a "clarity break." This is a regularly scheduled time that you set aside to reflect and focus on the business instead of thinking about all the things going on in the business. If you're just starting this practice, begin by spending 60 to 90 minutes away from the office each week at a quiet place where you can write out your thoughts on paper. As challenging as it may be, choose a space where you can unplug from your phone and computer to minimize distractions.
It might be difficult to carve out the time at first, but you'll soon realize that you are getting time back because you have a clearer vision and will be able to execute it more effectively. Giving your brain a chance to recharge actually increases your creativity and productivity. Taking clarity breaks reduces stress because you will be able to confirm that you are on track and all bases are covered. It will also bolster your confidence as a leader and help you identify and address big-picture solutions so you can implement them before you miss an opportunity.
3. Learn to say no.
Having too many commitments creates stress. As leaders, many of us have trouble saying no to things. We want to be helpful and don't want to pass up an opportunity to move forward personally or professionally. Every time you say yes to something, however, you're actually saying yes to multiple obligations. Did you say yes to being on that committee? That means you also said yes to attending several meetings, making phone calls and attending to other to-dos leading up to the big event. Rarely do we pause long enough to consider all these other commitments before saying yes.
Next time someone asks you to take on a new responsibility or job, don't be too quick to say yes. Instead, tell them you'll think about it and need to check your schedule. List all of the additional things you'd be saying yes to by committing, and evaluate whether they align with your greater goals. If not, say no.
Saying no without guilt or excuses is a habit that takes practice to build. Remember that "no, thank you" is a complete sentence. Many of us feel the need to give a reason or excuse for declining, but in reality, we don't need to say anything further. "No, thank you" or "I'm unable to do that, but I appreciate you thinking of me" is perfectly fine to say. If you're determined to live your life by design and decrease your stress, you must learn to say no to things that do not serve your goals. Saying no allows you to focus on what you've intentionally said yes to and to maximize those opportunities.
A large part of managing stress effectively is time management. Do you let others push their demands on you, or are you more intentional and proactive with your time? Delegating the tasks that don't fulfill you will give you time back, as will saying no to the things that don't align with your larger goals. Taking time to frequently reflect and give your brain a break is also key; you will be able to see the larger picture and focus on the big initiatives that will truly drive results while letting go of the minutiae that usually drives stress. Start using these practices today; they address the time management issues that self-care won't.