Make 2016 your happiest and most productive year at work. By Liezel Joubert
For many of us, the thought of another 12 months of crazy schedules, never-ending to-do lists, facing that colleague you don’t like or getting into gear to go for the promotion you’re after is daunting, to say the least. So how can you stress less, get more done and be a happier worker this year? Janine Everson, academic director and senior lecturer at the Centre for Coaching at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business, has some tips.
CHECK YOUR STORY
‘I had a manager who labelled an employee as “lazy” and was on the verge of firing her,’ Janine explains. After being prompted by Janine, the manager had a conversation with said employee, only to find out she was struggling with a new system that had been introduced. By checking her story, the manager could identify the real problem and relieve the frustration and stress both she and the employee felt.
‘We should always check the stories we tell ourselves about others. Connecting on a human level and understanding other’s stories can reduce stress.’
FIND THE PATTERN
‘Ask yourself what behaviour patterns are leading you to being stressed,’ says Janine. Perhaps you start off your day scrambling to get the kids in the car five minutes after you should have left the house, or maybe a colleague keeps interrupting you while you are busy. Once you have identified the triggers, start working on fixing them. Which brings us to the next important point…
Janine says we often tend to make ‘silent wishes’ rather than putting in requests. If you wish your husband could help out more, that you could get a promotion or meetings would start on time, make this known. Have you ever clearly asked your husband to help out? Have you discussed your career path with your boss? Have you sent out a firm but friendly reminder to your colleagues to arrive on time for meetings? ‘Any time we complain, we should ask ourselves which requests we aren’t making,’ says Janine.
Get a grip on your to-do list
Janine suggests doing a task evaluation and finding out where all the things on your to-do list come from by labelling things as follows:
• Urgent and important Tasks that are critical to your job and need attention today.
• Not urgent, but important Strategic planning and process planning. ‘This is critical to our job performance, but it often gets neglected.’ Move these tasks up on your list to help you manage the weeks and months ahead better.
• Urgent and not important Email responses, phone calls and interruptions. It can probably be delegated or you can allocate a time to handle it and not allow it to fragment your entire day.
• Not urgent and not important Things that are not really part of your job description and that you should either say ‘no’ to (see below) or delegate. Helping someone out with their PowerPoint presentation or arranging the office party is nice, but it could be eating into your time and, in the long run, making you a grumpier and less productive employee.
CHECK YOUR HABITS
If you tend to label people, send angry emails, not listen to colleagues’ input, say ‘yes’ too easily or not speak up in meetings, now’s the time to change it. ‘Ask a friend to help you, put a Post-it on your screen, wear an armband, have a pebble in your pocket… Whatever helps constantly remind you of the habit that doesn’t serve you any more and that you want to change.’
Recent research conducted by social networking company Draugiem Group indicated that working 52 minutes and then taking a 17-minute break was the ideal working rhythm for the most productive employees. According to an article by Draugiem employee Julia Gifford, it’s also important to note that during breaks, the employees didn’t go online or on to social media, but rather went for a short walk, had a snack or interacted with others.
SHOW TECHNOLOGY WHO’S BOSS
Janine recommends a simple mantra: ‘I control it. It doesn’t control me’. In practice, this means learning how to use your smartphone and PC settings to best serve you. Switch off your email pop-up, use auto responses to let people know when you’ll be checking your mails again, switch off message alerts on your phone to minimise distraction and put your phone on silent when you’re working.
Shift from a ‘yes’ world to a ‘commit to commit’ world. So, rather than just agreeing to everything you’re asked to do, commit to doing things when you can. This gives you time to assess your current workload and be more realistic about what you’re able to do in the time given, says Janine. Also find out what company protocol is: are you expected to answer an email that comes through at 11 pm or on a Sunday, or can it wait until office hours? ‘South Africans are huge on the “yes” and often feel we can’t say no,’ says Janine. This can lead to overcommitting, burnout or failure to achieve all you agree to. ‘People will trust you more if you deliver on what you commit to do.’
We often set unreachable goals, says Janine. ‘Saying “I want to be happy” or “I want to be less stressed” isn’t very realistic,’ she says. We need to make observable goals. Ask yourself which noticeable goals will make you happy. Having a big goal broken down to a more doable and practical list will also force you to think about the habits you need to change to get to it. And again, asking for help to achieve them.
‘Incoming emails, an angry co-worker or a demanding boss trigger fight-or-flight responses, typically resulting in shallow breathing’, Janine explains. According to Harvard Health Publications, this stress can cause our diaphragms to not expand fully, which means our lungs aren’t getting enough oxygenated air, leaving us constantly a bit out of breath and anxious. ‘Deep breathing from your tummy helps to oxygenate your brain, making your thinking clearer and causing you to feel less stressed,’ says Janine.
In her self-improvement book Thrive, Arianna Huffington stresses how crucial sleep is for making decisions and being happy. She has compared sleep to charging our electronic devices. ‘Look at how meticulous we are about recharging our cellphones, as opposed to our brains, our spirits and our bodies. Sleep is not negotiable. It’s an appointment,’ she says. So if you want be at your sharpest, schedule in some extra sleep time.