Many of us find ourselves juggling a variety of responsibilities with the line between work and life becoming increasingly blurred. In fact, we get so used to being busy that we often don’t realise that the pressure put upon us to manage everything well accumulates.
This often translates into stress before we experience symptoms of burnout. As a result we may find our ability to focus limited, and our mental health compromised.
Please don’t get us wrong, we don’t want you falling into the productivity trap either. The pandemic has influenced society to think that a minute not spent being productive is a minute wasted.
It really isn’t.
Never forget to set aside time for yourself and close ones to do the things you love (or nothing at all). When we say ‘productivity’, it means being productive at a level that is right for you and your responsibilities during work, so that you can enjoy your personal time after.
Here are five practical ways to stress less, fight burnout and be happy:
1. Set realistic goals
Stress and burnout is often caused by overloading ourselves with too many or too unrealistic goals. As human beings, we are a continuous work-in-progress. This also means that we are constantly looking forward, whether it be in our personal or professional lives.
Setting goals is important, but setting realistic goals is more important. Especially when it comes to burnout from work, goals go beyond setting tasks to be accomplished by a certain deadline. They serve as a direction, a sense of motivation and energy to accomplish greater things. Only if we start looking at goals in the right way and practice diligent realistic goal setting, can we work smart rather than just work hard.
We all know we should set SMART goals – goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.
But do we really hit all the points when setting them?
Afterall, goals set are meant to be achieved, so let’s not put unnecessary pressure on ourselves by setting extremely unrealistic goals that have no way of being met.
2. Try productivity techniques that work for you
There is a saying that goes “The same hot water that softens the potato hardens an egg”.
Each and every individual responds to pressure differently. We all have unique ways in which we handle situations. We also shouldn’t forget that we all work at a different pace, and that being productive has a different meaning for everyone.
When trying to stay productive, do it in a way that works for you. There are so many ways that will potentially help us focus at work. While some may prove effective, not all approaches will suit us. You have to test a few out, and choose one that works for you.
It all boils down to time management. There are people who find the Pomodoro Technique where you purposefully schedule periods of work and breaks helpful. Essentially, you work for 25 minutes straight, also known as one Pomodoro, before taking a 3-5 minutes break. After four rounds of this, you can take a 15-30 minutes break to recharge.
The Flowtime Technique is a more flexible Pomodoro technique. Basically, you set a specific time period and use this as a basis to determine how long you can focus, and notice at what point in time you need a break. The specific time period initially set is usually between 10-90 minutes. As soon as you can’t stay focused, you take a break. During your break, you keep track of the:
- Start time
- End time
- Work time
- Break time
- Number of interruptions
We strongly encourage having a productive morning routine so that you start your day by eating that frog. That means tackling the most important task that you’ll likely procrastinate on. Don’t let these tasks sit too long.
Whichever technique you find works best for you, stick to it and soon you will form a habit of managing your time well. Over time, you’ll start to see your efforts pay off and productivity levels within the same time frame increase. You’ll realise you even get the chance for coffee breaks, guilt-free.
3. Curate yourself a conducive work environment – make it a happy place
In 2019, burnout was officially classified as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Previously, it was perceived that burnout was but a consequence of a person’s own shortcomings. Clearly, as we now know, this is not always the case.
There are so many factors to be taken into consideration. One of these is the physical workspace one operates from for many hours a day. An uncomfortable workspace has a big impact on performance.
The manner in which a communal workspace is laid out and decorated can only do so much. Customarily, we all have our own personal working space. Curate yours in such a way that will allow for optimal productivity. Doing some basic housekeeping before getting to work is a productive thing to do at home anyway. Put away what you know to be distractions and make sure the resources you need to get the job done are within arm’s reach.
If you’re in the office and your colleagues are loud or distracting, consider investing in noise-cancelling headphones.
4. Take the right amount of breaks
Yes, yes. We know we’ve covered the Pomodoro Technique and Flow Technique that are time management tools. But in all seriousness, remember to take breaks. It’s easy to get so absorbed in work that we forget to just sit back, rest and refresh. A person who works regular full-time hours typically has an hour break a day. This accounts for the time to have lunch after an entire morning of work before continuing into the late afternoon.
How effective is this practice?
We have been living in a world where this has become the norm for many years now. Surprise, surprise. Studies have shown that fewer breaks and longer working hours do not necessarily translate to greater productivity.
You know yourself best, and what you need to be at your best. Pace yourself accordingly. Take the right amount of breaks. Doing this will help you stay on track and help steer you away from succumbing to stress and burnout in the workplace.
5. Reward yourself
When a dog gets a treat after successfully performing a trick, it is able to associate that trick with something that is positive – a reward. In his studies, psychologist Ivan Pavlov found that—to an extent—humans react similarly. We also abide by a reward system.
There is an association between one’s performance at work and the recognition or reward received afterward. When we get credit for the work we’ve done, whether it’s tangible or not, we acknowledge the fact that we did a good job. On the flip side, if we do not get credit for our work, we’ll be less motivated to perform the job as we aren’t as invested in it.
It can be as small as treating yourself to a chocolate after completing a 30-minute task, to something bigger like a weekend getaway after completing a major project milestone. Having said that, rewards and benefits can only go so far so it’s important to change things up, and even add simpler rewards like compliments to self into the mix. Ultimately, we make our own best cheerleader!
Let’s fight stress and burnout together
From setting realistic goals to rewarding yourself, be sure to check in with how you’re doing along the way. A healthy amount of stress can be beneficial and pushes ourselves beyond what we think we are capable of. However when stress from work or your personal life becomes too much to handle, take a moment to pause and find stress relief methods to help manage it, or ask for help.
Look forward, as when there is light at the end of the tunnel, it makes going through dark uncertainties a little easier. Focus on the light you will bask in later instead of the difficulties along the way.
Remember to keep yourself in check and try out the different ways to manage it to see what works best for you. Let’s fight stress and burnout together, as happy people make happy employees!