Stress is inevitable for many working professionals — whether you’re dealing with an ambitious deadline, a new boss who loves to micro-manage, co-workers who don’t pull their weight, or unproductive meetings. Sometimes stress at work can motivate you to action. But when stress lasts longer than is helpful, burnout can be right around the corner, waiting to strike.
To combat stress, you’ve probably heard the usual tips like exercise more and get a good night’s rest. So what do you do when your schedule just won’t allow for these activities? When time is scarce, try these five simple stress-busting tips that you can easily incorporate into your already busy days at the office.
1. Gain control over your inbox
While email is used every day in the office, it can be counterproductive if it constantly overwhelms you. When emails get lost and conversations peter off, your email is no longer an effective method of communication.
To gain control of your inbox, filter emails by adding rules so you can easily sort through what’s coming to you. Use Google’s step-by-step directions for filtering and sorting emails by sender, subject line, and more. For example, if you get daily updates about a project, but don’t need to see them every day, you can filter those into a specific folder so you can check as needed, rather than as they come in. Make sure to create a separate email for subscriptions and promotions and keep your work email strictly for work.
In addition, resist the urge to read emails on your mobile device when you’re on the go unless you have time to appropriately respond. This helps prevent you from forgetting to respond to an important email and keeps work in the office and out of your personal life.
2. Focus on things you can change
When you’re trying to deal with stress at work, it’s important to start with small, achievable steps that you can control. If you’re on a tight deadline, for example, it may be unrealistic to take an hour lunch. Instead, take several short, frequent breaks, which can actually improve performance on a prolonged task.
Once your schedule settles down, work on addressing the core problem, which may be that you have too much on your plate. In this case, focus on scaling back and delegating to your team, rather than trying to do it all alone.
If you don’t have the option of delegating, be honest with your manager when she asks you take on a new project. If you truly don’t have the bandwidth, let your manager know or ask to work on the project with a co-worker so you can split the workload.
3. Set goals with a coworker
Setting goals for your workweek might feel like an achievement in itself. Completing those goals, however, can be more difficult if you feel isolated or have minimal support. Instead, ask a coworker to join you to boost accountability and keep each other on track.
At the beginning of each week, set five goals for yourself. Email your accountability partner or take walking chats a few times a week to check-in with one another and share your progress. Checking off goals one-by-one can create feelings of accomplishment and help reduce stress. It’s also a great opportunity to provide support to someone else, while sharing challenges and best practices for setting and achieving goals.
4. De-clutter your workspace
While you can’t control every external circumstance, there are things you can control — like the digital and physical clutter in your workspace. Try these tips:
If you get distracted easily, hide your electronic devices until it’s time for a break.
Go offline from your social media accounts, messenger, chat or anything else that inhibits your workflow.
Keep your workspace simple, aesthetic and clutter-free. File or recycle any paper, put office supplies in one corner, and clear dirty coffee mugs or used dishes.
Build “office cleaning” into your schedule so you don’t forget. Friday afternoon, for example, is a great time to clear your clutter from the week for a fresh start on Monday.
5. Set a curfew and stick to It
You might think answering emails at all hours of the night makes you a go-getter, but if it’s increasing your stress levels and sabotaging your work-life balance, it’s time to set a curfew.
Emailing at midnight sets the precedent that you’re accessible all hours of the day, inviting your boss or co-workers to continue emailing you well after work hours. This is such a problem that France passed the “Right to Disconnect” law, requiring companies with 50 or more employees to establish a curfew for sending and answering emails.
To avoid burnout, remember that you have to unplug at a certain point. Acknowledge where that boundary is for you and stick to it. Your boss and coworkers will get used to your new email availability and you can focus on maximizing productivity during the day.
Managing stress at work
Stress at work is real and the power to manage it is in your hands — you don’t have to be bound to the effects of looming deadlines, exacting bosses and slacking co-workers. The best part: when you control your stress, you’re able to be the successful and effective employee you know you are.