I am always amazed at how many people stress out over seemingly manageable deadlines at work. Back in the day when I was an attorney with a law firm in Washington, D.C. associates would come in my office riddled with concern over some legal brief to which they had to respond.
Without hesitation I would always smile and ask them how long they thought it would take to write the response. Almost without exception they would respond it would take four to five hours to complete.
I would then ask when the brief was due. Typically the answer was in about five days.
“So”, I would reply, “You need to find four to five hours in the next 120 hours to complete this assignment.” Their brow line would begin to soften. “Huh?” was often the response I would get from some of our finest legal eagles. I would repeat myself this time slightly raising my eyebrows to connote an “Are you getting this?” look.
“You need to find five hours in the next 120 hours to complete this assignment.” The response would begin: “Well, when you put it that way…” I would reply: “What other way would the time-space continuum have me put it?” The tension would ease. The air would soften. And you could actually watch them physically begin to relax.
We are often faced with matters which induce the reaction known as stress, especially in the workplace. Perhaps the single largest cause of stress in the workplace is the imposition of significant work obligations coupled with perceived unrealistic deadlines. But irrespective of the burdens imposed upon you, stress, in and of itself, can impose an even greater burden upon your productivity and actually adversely affect your ability to accomplish your assigned tasks.
To be effective you must teach yourself to live with stress. You must teach yourself to embrace the situation, move beyond your trepidations, and get the job done. Here are four steps you can take today to knock out work-place stress:
1. Remember, the Glass is Half Full: If there is anything that the last few years has taught us it is not to take employment for granted. That is not to say that you should be happy to be in an abusive atmosphere. But for every project you get you can either look at it as yet another thing heaped upon your plate or a blessing that there is work to be had. Think about it, would you rather things be so slow you are sitting at your desk twiddling your thumbs waiting for your business to fail or would you prefer that business is thriving and everyone is getting lots of work. In this economy try looking at assignments as a good thing, as the glass being half full. So the next time an assignment is handed to you do not stress out because of the increased amount of work, be thankful there is work to be had in your company and get on with it.
2. Compartmentalize: Learn to compartmentalize your assignments. Looking at everything you have on your plate can induce stress, diminish focus, lead to lower productivity, and ultimately – in, a vicious circle, induce greater stress. Focusing on what you have to do right now can reduce those levels of concern. Set realistic daily goals for that which you need to do and then only focus on getting those goals accomplished. By focusing on a smaller subset of the larger picture you will derive a sense of accomplishment from your those goals being met that, in turn, will allow you to focus more on those daily tasks reducing the overall tasks on your plate which will lead to reduced overall stress levels.
3. Compute and Communicate: Stress is also caused by concerns imposed by an unrealistic goal. Like my example above, however, such stress is often misplaced. When you are assigned a new task that induces stress because of a perceived unrealistic deadline stop and take a minute to really think it through. How much time do you estimate it will take to complete the task? How much time is there before the deadline? Is there enough time before the deadline to complete the task and those other items on your desk? You would be surprised at how often this simple exercise can lead to a direct reduction in your stress level. Rather than assuming it is going to be impossible to achieve this goal actually determine if it will be. If it is attainable congratulations, you have just reduced your stress level.
But what if after conducting this analysis you are convinced it cannot be accomplished? In a word, communicate. Stress can also be caused by bottling up your fears of failing at a task in which failure is assured. When that occurs, communicate to the person assigning the task that it likely cannot be accomplished in the parameters given and offer a candid, non-confrontational or judgmental explanation as to why. Once out in the open a solution may be presented.
4. Accept the Inevitable: Understand that whatever is going to happen is going to happen. The project is going to get done, it may not. The assignment will be completed within the given parameters, or it will not. But whatever the outcome, there is an end in sight. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. And no matter what that light is, at some point the stress you are experiencing, the task you have been assigned, the project you are working on, will be done. And all that will remain of the same is the recognition that you either did, or did not, get it done. But it will be over. And knowing that the matter causing your stress is finite is powerful medicine to fight the stress, to sooth your nerves. You will get through this, one way or another, and that realization in and of itself will help you soldier on and fight back whatever nerves still remain.