Stressed at Work? Blame These Habits

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With today’s technology, we have more freedom in when and where we do our jobs. But sometimes that’s also the very thing that leaves us feeling stressed at work.

I talked about this conundrum recently with business and technology writer Minda Zetlin for an Inc. Magazine online article. In our conversation, we covered six habits “that sap your productivity and can make you miserable at the same time.”

No Breaks? Big Mistake

Never unplugging is one of the habits that set you up for feeling stressed at work, productivity expert Maura Nevel Thomas says.

Never unplugging is one of the habits that set you up for feeling stressed at work.

There’s a common theme behind many of these habits: an inability to ever fully get away from work. Just because your job can follow you anywhere doesn’t mean that it should. Breaks aren’t just a nicety. You need them to do your best work.

Unwinding with friends, family and hobbies reduces stress and energizes your brain. But you lose those benefits if you spend evenings and weekends wrapping up “just one more thing” for work or constantly emailing.

Besides brief, regular breaks from your job, you also need longer periods away. Vacations recharge your enthusiasm and creativity. If you don’t use your vacation time, or if you never unplug from the office while you’re off, your performance will plummet. And so will your happiness.

So the next time you’re feeling stressed at work, ask yourself how long it’s been since you’ve been truly  away — physically and mentally — from your job. I’m betting that you’ll see a connection.

The Multitasking Trap

I also discussed a couple more unproductive work habits with Inc. First, adding projects to your to-do list that feel daunting, or that lack specificity, leads to procrastination. My advice?

To really increase productivity, give each task a due date, but be realistic about how much you can get done in a day (factoring in time for email and meetings), and build in time for unexpected tasks or priorities to arise.

And don’t worry about assigning priorities to your tasks. If only a few are due per day (this is what I find is realistic, on average), then it won’t really matter what order they are in. Also don’t worry about how long you think it will take you to complete each task. Take the time you would have spent pondering whether the task is high, medium or low priority and how long it might take you (you’ll probably be wrong), and use that time instead to refine the task down to a very specific, doable action. The example in the Inc. story shows what I’m talking about. “Google nonprofits in Texas” feels a lot easier than “Research local nonprofits.”

The final unproductive habit I urge you to avoid is multitasking. This is a hard one for a lot of people. When you’re stressed at work, the temptation can be to attack as much as you can, as quickly as you can. But multitasking doesn’t actually help you get more done. What does? Distraction-free periods focused on just one task.

Change Your Habits to Help Your Team

Do any of these habits sounds familiar? You’ll be happier and more productive if you kick them. And, if you’re a leader, your whole team will benefit. Take vacation time, for example. If you don’t use your days off, your productivity suffers. If your team follows your example and skips vacation, too, their productivity suffers. The same is true for multitasking. When you close the door (or put on headphones) to do focused work, you’re not only supporting your own productivity. You’re also showing your staff that it’s OK to shut out interruptions to get their most important work done.

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