Are you always stressed and hurrying at work? Our culture is obsessed with rushing, and it negatively affects not only your ability to lead but also your ability to live a healthy and happy life at home or work. If you want to improve your mindset and productivity, you must learn to break your rush syndrome cycle. In my book, “Are You Always Stressed and Hurrying at Work?” I cover how rushing robs your focus and damages your mind and body. Here are six actionable strategies from my book to help you relieve work stress.
1. Quit jumping from task to task
Scientists tell us that the human brain can only hold five to eight small thoughts in our minds at once. Efficient multitasking is a myth, yet we all try to do it anyway. The result is usually a whole host of unfinished tasks instead of one or two complete items. Despite tackling multiple things to feel more productive, we become overwhelmed and need to be more energized.
Instead: Allow yourself a more natural flow of focus and release. Move from a single item to a single item on your list. Start something and give it your full attention, then complete the task and take a small respite (like checking your phone, getting a drink or looking out the window) before going on to the next item, refreshed. Our brains are much better suited to this ebb and flow through concentration levels; you will feel happier and more successful as you move through your day and likely accomplish more.
2. Quit letting big tasks drown you
Similarly, it can be just as stressful to stare down at a mountainous job, knowing it will take hours or days to complete. When you force yourself to relentlessly hammer away at one item without pause, you’re associating negativity with the work and stifling your creativity. Every opportunity will tempt you to avoid the task and feel imprisoned by it.
Instead: Make room for both reflection and regeneration. Break down as much as possible into smaller subtasks that allow you to feel progress and take small breaks at each milestone. Letting your mind relax and refresh will improve your mood, relieve stress and elevate the quality of your work.
3. Quit letting others interrupt you (or interrupting yourself)
Leaders need to be accessible, and I always advocate that my clients make themselves available to their direct reports for check-ins, advice and general feedback. However, I firmly believe that we all need time and space to concentrate on our work without interruption. You lose focus and momentum if you constantly stop mid-task to respond to messages, emails, phone calls or visitors. You’ll feel frazzled and unsatisfied because you aren’t making progress. It will take time to build up to full steam on a task, perhaps only to be interrupted again.
Instead: Model good habits to your staff and coworkers by setting boundaries and time away from phones and other distractions to concentrate on tasks. Set guidelines for yourself on when you’ll check your email or phone. Allow yourself scheduled time for those diversions in between milestones. You will feel less stressed, less hurried and overall more confident in the work you complete. You’ll also feel more confident that you have a good handle on tackling only the topmost priorities.
4. Quit nitpicking
Details are essential, but it can be bad for you and your organization if you get too obsessed with the little things in your work. If you find yourself nitpicking your own or others’ work, you might be wasting your time trying to perfect what doesn’t matter and neglecting the overall purpose of the work. All that time spent in the details will make you feel rushed as you hurry to catch up on the day.
Instead: Look at the big picture. Step back and ask yourself, “What really matters here?” You may be recentering and shifting your efforts to the most critical work areas. It can be a huge relief to let go of the little annoyances, accept imperfections (like that margin that just won’t line up) and focus on overall success. If you need any more convincing to allow yourself to destress by not getting hung up on the details, remember that executives are always looking for leaders who can accurately and consistently focus on the bigger goals your company is striving to achieve.
5. Quit neglecting yourself
It can be tempting to try to make more time in the day by skipping out on what you should be doing for your health and well-being. When rushing, it’s easy to snack instead of eating a proper meal or sitting too long without a break. When we exhaust ourselves this way, even our sleep suffers, with our brain whirring away at all the unfinished tasks of the day.
Instead: Treat yourself, body and mind, like an expensive race car. Drivers don’t win championships in beat-up vehicles starving for oil and running on fumes. You must be at your best if you want to do your best. Damaging your mental and physical health for short-term goals will not see you succeed overall. Taking real breaks, eating well and even walking at lunch have been shown to improve productivity and reduce stress.
6. Quit working until you’re miserable
Once, when working with a coaching client on her career advancement goals, we did a 360 review in which we interviewed superiors, peers and direct reports, and she was shocked at the feedback. Despite her unwavering dedication and commendable work ethic, the feedback highlighted an unexpected aspect. While she prided herself on long hours, colleagues found her demeanor less favorable. The relentless pursuit of tasks left her appearing stressed, and her interactions were often brusque, diminishing the positive impact she intended. What she believed was an investment in her advancement turned out to be detrimental. Senior staff expressed reluctance to collaborate, citing concerns about her harried demeanor and hesitancy to involve her in new initiatives. Recognizing this feedback became pivotal for reshaping her approach for more effective professional growth.
Instead: Recognize that achieving success in your role extends beyond tirelessly working at maximum capacity. Continuously pushing yourself to exhaustion, resulting in frayed temperaments, is detrimental to your well-being and has repercussions for those around you, both at work and home. Striking a balance is critical to fostering a positive and productive environment for everyone involved. If you tend to overwork, start doing as I suggested to my client, and set some healthy boundaries for yourself on your work habits. If it helps, think of your regeneration and off time as a necessary part of your work and schedule that, too. You will be more productive in the long run, set a better example and foster a more pleasant environment for those around you.
Does any of this resonate with you? It likely does, as rush syndrome is pervasive in our culture. By breaking free from the perpetual need to hurry, you empower yourself to think more creatively, enhance your leadership skills and achieve greater success in your career — all while deriving more fulfillment from life. Reducing the urgency in your actions will immediately positively impact reducing stress in your work environment.