How to simplify your week to reduce stress

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“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” Steve Jobs

I’m not one to quote Steve Jobs too much. He was brilliant, no question. But I’m not sure he’s the model to follow for a low-stress life in the workplace.

He seemed to ooze complexity. At least that’s what it looked like from my judg-ey overstuffed reading chair and ottoman.

I think he was onto something here, though, in understanding how we can simplify one of our real stressors at work — our workload.

Simplifying your work helps you do work that matters

If we think about the Apple products we use, they are dead simple.

My iPhone requires almost no instruction. The apps on it reduce complicated processes down to one or two steps I can do while I’m in the bathroom. (Don’t judge me, you do it too. 🙃)

In spite of the challenges the smartphone era has brought us, it’s also made so many things in life easier.

  • Don’t you remember what it was like trying to find answers to life’s big questions on Yahoo using your two-inch-thick Compaq laptop?
  • Remember scribbling tasks in your Monticello-themed, double-binded Franklin Planner?
  • Have you forgotten just how complicated it was to take your own pulse by using two fingers on one hand?

This was the crazy world the iPhone entered back in that dark age.

Apples’ development team started with the simplest version of what they thought could work and built on it from there. I’m sure they had a veritable scroll of features they probably could have included in that first phone (known then sweetly as “iPhone”).

But we’d probably still be waiting for that first iPhone, clumsily walking around with two fingers on our carotids and using hash marks to count our 10,000 steps.

The ensuing versions of the iPhone — all the way to today’s iPhone XR — came about once humans started actually using the phone.

I mean, who knew one day we would rarely even use these things as a phone? Who saw that one coming? 🤷

Use an MVP to simplify your work

You business-minded folks may recognize this process as a principle called “Minimum Viable Product,” or MVP.

(Bear with me. The therapist is using a business principle to make a point here.)

Entrepreneur Eric Ries was the first to toss this definition of MVP around in his book, “The Lean Startup:”

A Minimum Viable Product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.

In regular-people speak:

  • Build the simplest version of your product that will let you learn how people use it,
  • Gather feedback from them while they’re using it, then
  • Add new features from what you learned.
  • And so on, and so on….

This can save you time and energy because you’re not trying to build the best product ever by just guessing what might work. That’s so old school.

  • MVP gives you a real-life lab to build a product that helps people solve the annoying problems in their lives.
  • MVP helps you see what really helps people, not just stuff you and your team think is cool.
  • People tend to celebrate and buy stuff that helps them solve problems.

Maybe you don’t build a tangible product per se.

(Actually you do! Your work is your product. Make work your product!)

Apply the MVP principle on this Monday to simplify the rest of this week

This frees you up to do the work that solves real problems and creates forward momentum.

I don’t know about you, but nothing stresses me out more than doing work that doesn’t matter.

Here’s a little MVP roadmap I made for you:

1. Create and plan a wicked simple baseline for what you want to accomplish this week

I’m showing my INFJ skin a bit here, but planning is essential to reduce stress at work. Sorry.

You have to create some buckets, even leaky ones, to capture your important work or you’ll just end up with a messy pile of pointless doo-doo on Friday.

I know that may fly in the face of your possibly more spontaneous nature, but spontaneity and joy are not mutually exclusive.

Don’t go crazy and overplan (see also: procrastination).

But do plan, please.

Give some thought ahead of time about how you want this week to end up.

  • What do you want to hold in your hand on Friday (besides a cold beer)?
  • What MVP product can you produce this week that you can then build on next week?
  • Put everything else on a “next release” list of some kind.

Be honest about what you can really do. This is an area where we create a lot of our own stress.

Our work eyes are sometimes bigger than our work stomachs, if you will. 😋

Create a workable plan that is do-able with the time and resources you have this week and focus the week on that.

2. Protect your plan by establishing boundaries around your work

I know what you’re thinking. That’s great and all, but what about when my boss runs in with a little project on fire, and I’m the one who’s supposed to put it out? 📝🔥

What happens to my well-crafted plan then, sister girlfriend?

In many cases, you can give your boss some options on how you put that fire out.

“Sorry this project is on fire, Susie. Take a deep breath. Here are a couple of things we could do. Which one do you like?”

  1. Use the fire extinguisher. This will put the fire out immediately but it will also trash everything around us. It will resolve the problem immediately but we’ll spend two days cleaning up. This will delay all our other projects.
  2. Use the sweater slung over the back of my office chair to put out the fire. This will suffocate the fire and ruin my sweater, but it will most likely resolve the problem and preserve the working environment. We’ll need a minute to regroup, and I’ll need a long lunch to go buy another sweater. But we can get back on track today.

(Fire people are going to kill me on this one. It’s an analogy. If there’s an actual fire in your office, please be safe and follow your company’s fire safety plan.)

Of course there are plenty of unexpected things that pop up in the work week. But they don’t have to completely derail your work.

Unless they truly have to.

The best part about having a plan is how you can adjust it to meet changing needs.

But you can also protect it by offering other options besides you always having to set everything else aside.

And you still have a shot at maintaining momentum with your plan while getting credit for helping put out a fire, too.

3. Capture feedback to build your next version

In building an MVP, capturing feedback is what drives the best new version of the product.

Thoughtful and engaging feedback makes your work better.

If you work in a team format, you absolutely should be open to feedback. Unless you’re freakin’ Leonardo da Vinci, you need other perspectives to do great work.

Here’s the dealio with feedback, though.

You’re not necessarily required to convert that feedback into action items. And certainly not this week.

If the feedback is a game changer for where your work is headed right now, then be for real and change your plan.

But don’t feel like it’s always required. Put the feedback on your “next version” list and see how it may fit in later.

Put a little fence around your work and be your own gatekeeper.

This serves to focus your best cognitive energy on the feedback you can use now to do your best work this week.

4. Make it your task to understand how your work ties in to a larger goal

Why do you do the work at your job? I don’t mean to start you on an existential quest here, but really … why are you doing this work?

Part of an MVP is knowing that your work is accomplishing a specific outcome. You can touch it, define it and explain it.

Apple’s slogan for the first iPhone was “Apple reinvents the phone.”

Apple reinvents the phone - 2007 Macworld Steve Jobs introduces the iPhone

“Apple reinvents the phone” by Nobuyuki Hayashi is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Did the developers working then understand that? I hope so because they did reinvent the phone. They absolutely did.

This is where Steve Jobs’ focus on simplicity comes to bear. He was obviously great at painting a vision, not just for customers but for the people doing the work.

And it made all the difference.

Many leadership teams lack the skills to communicate business goals in simple ways.

How does Allison in accounting understand how her weekly report contributes to the company’s quarterly success? To her, it may be just a thing she does on Monday before lunch.

Yes, the burden of that understanding should really fall on Allison’s company.

But remember, the power to reduce stress is in our hands, not waiting for someone else to figure it out for us.

So Allison may have to ask that question of her boss or someone else at her company who’s in the know.

This is an excellent way to make sure the work you’re doing is needed.

If not, you can apply your efforts toward something that will.

Now what?

Companies who use the MVP approach have seen enormous, even overwhelming success. It allows them to put great work out there and let others help them refine it.

You can do the same in your workweek if you resolve to keep your stuff simple and workable.

  • Be honest with yourself and others about what you can do.
  • Don’t be afraid to set boundaries around your work.
  • Let others use their perspective and knowledge to inform your work and make it better.
  • Seek out the larger picture for yourself, and bring it back to your desk every day.

 


Check out my new Alexa Skill – Mental Health Moment with Lori Miller

You’re busy at work and at home, and you take care of everyone else. You’re allowed to have a few minutes in each day to set your focus, regroup and feel a little more in control.

Join me every day as I bring you simple and practical tips you can use right now to gain a little more control over your life.

Visit my Amazon page for more information.

Amazon Alexa skill - Mental Health Moment with Lori Miller


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Give yourself a Mental Health Moment every day!

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Amazon Alexa skill - Mental Health Moment with Lori Miller

Sometimes you need some encouragement right at the top of the day so you can stay focused on what will keep you energized and productive. 🌝

I’m excited to debut my Alexa skill, Mental Health Moment with Lori Miller.

It’s a little shot in the arm to start your day.

Every day I’ll talk about small ways you can inject a bit of sanity in your day.

If you have an Amazon Echo you can enable Mental Health Moment in the Alexa store. You can also download the Alexa app on your phone or tablet and enable the skill there.

Check out all the details on my Amazon skill page.

Feel free to leave me a review. I’d love to know what you think! 🤔

Deep breathing isn’t just “take a deep breath”

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Deep breathing Man sighing in stress

Part of managing stress in our crazy, modern world is learning how to manage what stress does in our own bodies.

What I hear from many clients is just how out of control they feel when things start spinning. How do you make good decisions when you feel overwhelmed?

It’s hard to come up with solutions and ideas when things are going whack-a-do around you.

Maybe this sounds familiar.

  • Driving to work this morning felt very much like running a qualifying lap at Daytona
  • The kids just won’t stop…, you know, they just won’t stop
  • Your boss just completely changed how you do your work without asking how the changes might affect you, and
  • That creditor who calls every day has called you twice already today.

You know you have to keep moving through the day. How do you gain back enough control to just keep your head straight?

The best tool you can have in your stress toolkit is deep breathing

I think we all instinctively know that taking a minute to breathe can give a little time to refocus. And we have to breathe anyway, right? So that seems easy enough.

But deep breathing is more than just inhaling and exhaling with purpose. And it’s not just breathing deeper, as crazy as that sounds.

Deep breathing is a specific technique that allows you to use your breath to actually change how your body physically responds to stress.

This is a powerful skill used by soldiers, law enforcement and other high-risk/high pressure professionals.

With some practice, you can make deep breathing your “thing that always works.”

And here’s the best kicker: Deep breathing can buy you the control and time you need so you can respond to your stress in more helpful ways.

How does it work?

Deep breathing reverses the fight or flight stress response

The “fight or flight response” is supposed to be your body’s way of helping you survive something, like running from a hungry tiger or getting out of the way of a moving car.

Here are a few lovely things you can expect when you are in “fight or flight” mode:

  • Your heart starts beating faster
  • Your blood pressure goes up
  • Your pupils dilate
  • Your muscles get shaky
  • Your stomach starts to cramp
  • You suddenly start sweating.

If you’ve ever had a panic attack while sitting at your desk at work, these symptoms may also sound too familiar.

There’s no real predator at your back, but you feel completely overwhelmed, powerless and amped up all at the same time.

Thanks, Body, this is a very clever process to quickly remove me from danger. But I’m currently sitting at my desk not running from anything. I’m just trying to finish my weekly report before I go to lunch, if that’s okay.

Notice, too, that your breathing has gotten quicker and more shallow. Instead of slow, deep, calming breaths, you’re now taking quick-little-breaths from your chest.

Focus on breathing from your diaphragm

That’s a nifty little muscular organ that sits right at the base of your chest. It inflates to help you pull air into your lungs, then flattens when you exhale.

The diaphragm is the Rodney Dangerfield of bodily organs. It doesn’t get much respect but it does have a real part to play.

The trick to deep breathing is to focus on filling your “I don’t get no respect” diaphragm — your belly — with air, instead of your chest.

Why is this important?

Filling your belly with air stimulates your vagus nerve.

That’s a long nerve that runs from your brain stem down into your abdominal area.

It’s one of the most important nerves in your body because it regulates processes in just about all your major organs.

Never heard of it?

The vagus nerve is kind of the introvert of the human body. You don’t hear from it much until you need it, and when you do, you find yourself drinking from a firehose of practical solutions and actionable information (a shout out to awesome introverts everywhere).

Who knew that expertise was sitting there all this time?

Well, your vagus nerve has been sitting there all this time — cleverly, right behind your diaphragm.

The vagus nerve is responsible for … wait for it …
  • Slowing your heart rate,
  • Controlling sweating,
  • Regulating blood pressure, and
  • Keeping your digestive system relaxed and working well.

Soooo……taking intentional, deep breaths from your diaphragm presses on your vagus nerve, which sets about the task of slowing you the heck down.

Breathe2Relax

There are some great tools out there to help you learn how to breathe from your diaphragm. You can let the Google box do the work for you on that.

But my go-to app to do the work is called Breathe2Relax (for iPhone and Android). It’s a free stress management tool developed for combat veterans.

The app offers a tutorial to get you started with the technique. Then it takes you through a cycle of breathing that guides you through the inhale and exhale. You can repeat it as many times as you need to. If you’re using an Apple Watch, it captures your heart rate too.

I’ve used this app in my car, in a bathroom stall, in my bed, at my desk and one time in a McDonald’s drive through.

There are no breaths to count or memorize. Just focus on filling your belly with air and let the app do the counting.

Some days it’s the only thing that keeps me balanced.

Take 5 Breathing

If you don’t like apps or don’t have a device handy, you can use a technique called Take 5 Breathing. This one works great with the kiddos, too.

  1. Lay your right hand on a flat surface, fingers slightly fanned out.
  2. Then, starting with the bottom of your thumb, with the index finger on your other hand, trace up, inhaling deeply into your belly.
  3. As you trace back down the other side of your thumb, exhale slowly.
  4. Continue up the next finger (the index finger if you’re keeping score at home), inhaling, and so on, back down, until you reach the last finger on your hand.
  5. Rinse and repeat until you feel more relaxed and calm.

Deep breathing isn’t just a one-and-done approach

Learning how to breathe deeply gives you the power to instantly change how your body physically feels during a stressful moment.  But in order for it to work so powerfully for you, you have to make deep breathing a daily practice.

I would say it’s even a discipline.

Just like exercise or meditating, you have to train yourself to learn the technique and use it until it becomes second nature to you.

And the best time to do that is when you’re not feeling particularly stressed. Maybe start your day with it, or when you’re spending a few minutes in front of the TV.

Making deep breathing a regular part of your day will help your nervous system stay conditioned to help you relax more quickly when you need it.

With some disciplined practice, you can pull this one out on a dime and give yourself a better chance to respond to what’s happening around you.


Check out my new Alexa Skill – Mental Health Moment with Lori Miller

You’re busy at work and at home, and you take care of everyone else. You’re allowed to have a few minutes in each day to set your focus, regroup and feel a little more in control.

Join me every day as I bring you simple and practical tips you can use right now to gain a little more control over your life.

Visit my Amazon page for more information.

Amazon Alexa skill - Mental Health Moment with Lori Miller


Subscribe to the Be Well, Do Well newsletter

GET THE BE WELL DO WELL DIGEST!

Info and tips each week to help you improve and change your life!

Why being authentic at work matters

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authentic at work

Do you ever feel like you’re trying to be a different person at work? Career literature is abuzz with the call to “just be yourself” and be authentic at work.

It’s true that feeling like you can’t relax and be yourself at work creates a lot of stress.

Maybe because it takes a lot of work and energy to act like someone you’re not. I assume you have real tasks to accomplish today that require your good energy.

Why do you feel like you have to create a persona so that others take you more seriously?

Some of this is good old-fashioned conditioning from the school days

How did your teacher most likely treat the “class clown?” You remember this endearing classmate, the person who had no problem yelling out a hilarious punch line during a teacher’s lecture.

How was that rewarded? Most likely in a punitive way.

While the whole class may have laughed at the joke (maybe even the teacher), the message was clear.

We are doing serious work here. Keep your funny for:

  • recess,
  • lunch or
  • playing in the backyard with your friends (kids used to do that).

In my day, schools even gave awards at the end of the year for “Most Humorous.” It wasn’t as prestigious as “Most Likely to Succeed,” but hey, at least you got some recognition for the special way you brought your game to an otherwise dreary academic setting.

So fast forward to the work setting. You enjoy using humor at work, but how does that fit in a more serious work environment? “Most Humorous” doesn’t get promoted over the more well-politicked “Most Likely to Succeed.”

So you suppress your genuine gift of humor in favor of what you think is more “professional.”

Authenticity in the workplace has come to be known with being obnoxious in telling the truth

You have those people on your teams who are like this. They are always the one to spout off whatever’s on their mind, usually with no filter.

When their comments injure or stir up trouble, what’s their response?

  • “I can’t help it if I just tell it like it is. That’s just who I am.”
  • “I’m not afraid to speak the truth. If people can’t handle it, that’s on them.”
  • “Someone had to say it!”

In turn, what do we say about these people?

We bristle at their words, but we hail them as authentic. Their willingness to say uncomfortable things, in spite of the consequences, seems like they’re being real.

So if you use emotional intelligence and try to measure the words that come out of your mouth, you might feel like you’re not being real.

What does it mean to be authentic at work?

1. Authenticity means leveraging the best parts of your personality in the work you do.

Are you the coworker who lends an ear to others who need to offload some frustration?

That’s hugely authentic because it allows you to show others in a very real way that you care about them. And it might mean that you helped them purge some negative thoughts so they can refocus on their work.

This can be a huge boon to your own productivity simply because it feels good to help others. Because of you, two people at your job feel better today.

Nice job.

Are you the funny one in the office?

Think of how your favorite comedian exploits shared experiences just for a laugh. We consider people “funny” because they find a different perspective to something we’ve all experienced and can all relate to.

Humor is a highly creative act.

Your comedic outlook can help you create and produce work that really stands out. Why would you hide this?

Also, please know that funny people help diffuse the effects of a toxic work environment.

You are our Obi-Wan. Please bring your funny.

We need you.

Are you the one who gets emotional about your work?

If this is you, you know that feeling. You go to bat for a project that your team spent real time and energy on. You feel the shakiness in your voice as you say more than you wanted to about why this project matters and why it shouldn’t be shelved.

You feel your heart in your throat while you’re talking, and you’re embarrassed because you felt like you couldn’t keep your cool.

Congratulations, you’re not a robot yet!

Your passion sets you apart from those who are just trying to check the boxes.

While it may be uncomfortable for you, it’s inspiring others around you who want to be just as brave. You are willing to be uncomfortable because you believe in the work. Don’t apologize for this.

That’s an advanced move.

2. Authenticity means giving real thought to how you speak your own truth. 

Being authentic does mean speaking truth to power. But it doesn’t mean throwing your power in the face of others or calling others out.

Just because you’re louder than me doesn’t mean you’re being more authentic than me.

Somehow we have to lose the idea that activism is the only way to be authentic.

We’re leaving out a whole bunch of people who want to be thoughtful and measured in how they approach the more human side of their work.

So how do you go about being authentic in the emotionally intelligent way?

Always speak to difficult issues from your own experience.

Always.

Your experience is unique to you, and it’s the only thing you know to be 100% true. You will never guess others’ real motives or expectations because you are not in their heads.

Saying something because “Someone had to say it!” is a terrible diplomatic strategy. It doesn’t present a path forward that everyone can feel comfortable with.

Speaking from your own experience also has the advantage of keeping others off the defensive. They might actually try to understand your perspective because you’re not combative.

Even if they don’t, you’ve put an issue out there that honors what you know, who you are and how you like to work with people.

3. Authenticity can be a career strategy.

The very things that make you who you are can actually help you craft an interesting career that you love.

If you are among the 70% of Americans who are disengaged from their work, then listen up.

Your career is less about the technical work you do and way more about who you are.

I would say that again, but honestly, you can just go back and re-read it. That’s how reading works.

Probably anyone can make the same widgets that you make. But they won’t do it with the same vision or passion, if you allow yourself to fly that particular flag.

The technical part gets you in the door. You as the complex human has to do the rest.

Using the skills and traits that come so naturally to you is the best way to stand out because it’s not forced. And you’ll find it pours out of you like melted butter with no effort at all.

Focus on those skills and put them together to create something unique. You may have to do some real work to put the puzzle together but it’s a super hope-builder when you pull it off.

Let’s use me, for example. I was always the trusted sidekick in my corporate career. Honestly, that’s who I’ve always been.

I can’t help but listen to people, ask questions and help them find different perspectives.

While I have a whole litany of more measurable skills in other areas, this is the one thing that people always seemed to appreciate about me.

After a while, I was no longer content to be a marketing professional who happened to be a good listener. As it turns out, there’s a whole profession of people who actually get paid to listen, guide and teach.

I flipped a very big switch to become a mental health professional and start a new career based mostly on the way I interacted with my peers at work.

You don’t have to flip a big switch like I did. You can bring to work those parts of your personality that crack you up or make you feel good about yourself.

People notice this and appreciate you for it. And it may inspire them to do the same because you were brave enough to go first.

You can create a new path where you’re at right now based on who you are. Being your authentic self may create opportunities you don’t know about yet.

You can’t leverage those opportunities if you’re hiding who you are.

So what do you think?

What are three things you can think of right now that ooze out of you every day that you can start elevating to be more authentic at work?

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Master your Monday to reduce stress

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Master Monday to reduce stress at work

One of the best ways to change your outlook on stress at work is to change how you look at Monday.

For whatever reason in our Gregorian calendar setup, we define Monday as the official start of a new week.

If the new work week started on Saturdays, we’d all hate Saturdays. Can you imagine hating Saturdays and feeling that dread on Friday night?

#DGIF (Dear God, It’s Friday) 🤣

Of course not. That would be weird.

We’ve conditioned ourselves to dread Monday, pure and simple.

Where’s the love for #TGIM?

Monday is the starting gate, the tone setter for the week. How you frame your attitude for this one day is the best indicator of how well the rest of your week goes.

If you master your Monday, you stand a chance to master the rest of the week.

Don’t get me wrong, you can always push the reset button if you have a crappy Monday. You just have to work a lot harder to get that Monday mojo back.

Starting your Mondays well is the key to the whole week.

How do you change your perspective on Monday?

Ask different questions about Monday

As a recap for all things mental health: your thoughts affect your feelings, which then affect the behaviors and actions you take.

Whatever you tell yourself about Monday will show up directly in how you live out this day.

This doesn’t mean you should become the Pollyanna who shouts “I  love Mondays and I don’t care who knows it!” when you walk in the door. Be positive, sure, but don’t annoy people, if you can help it.

Think about your morning. What questions did you ask yourself about how this day might go?

  • What kind of mood will my boss be in?
  • How much longer until the end of the day?
  • How many impromptu meetings am I going to get roped into?
  • Why do we have staff meetings first thing on Monday? (my personal favorite)
  • How will I get through four more days of this?
  • When will Friday get here?

In order to change your perspective on Monday, you have to reframe your questions on Monday.

What can you ask yourself on this day that will focus your mind forward?

What will help you look for answers that will move you toward your goals instead of focusing on Mondays past? 🤔

  • How can I find my boss’ pain points this week and help take some pressure off?
  • What are the best things I can do today that will position me well for the rest of this week?
  • What opportunities do I have today to showcase my expertise to a captive audience?
  • Who on my team can I encourage today that may be struggling with their work?
  • When will Friday get here? (I’m not sure we can reframe this one. We just love Fridays! That’s okay!)

Try this flip flop exercise and see if it doesn’t empower you and give you a little hope for the rest of the week.

Look for things that will help you win today

🎩 Hat tip to a great group of ladies I was with last week who shared this strategy. While you’re enjoying your early morning coffee, list five things you can do today that will help you win.

For example:

  1. Making healthy eating choices
  2. Taking a walk at lunch
  3. Sharing an encouraging message with a coworker
  4. Checking in with your boss
  5. Getting that weekly report in before noon.

It’s so easy to let the urgent tasks drive your day before you barely get started. By lunchtime, you’re flailing your arms trying to figure out just how you got off track.

Knowing these five things ahead of time will help you pivot back to what’s important. Taking care of what’s important helps you feel some autonomy over your work and positions you to win.

If you can win today, you can win the rest of the week.

Give yourself a mental health moment

Most of the time we literally race from place to place. That’s how we live now.

If you’re a driving commuter, you most likely drove in the parking lot on two wheels, barely dodged fellow coworkers walking in, lurched into a parking space, piled all your bags on your shoulders (you really need a cart) and raced into the building.

Whoa, slow down turbo. 😫

You most likely just defied death at 80 mph on a busy highway and maybe even took some calls already.

Give yourself a few minutes in the car to reset your focus before you go in.

  • Take some deep breaths
  • Enjoy putting your favorite lipstick on
  • Watch a funny YouTube video
  • Listen to that one song that fires you up (my current one is “Never Give Up,” by Sia from the terrific movie, “Lion”), or
  • Review your “Five Things to Win Today” from this morning.

You get to have a few minutes to shift gears and focus on your best performance.

Athletes and performers do this all the time.

You will never see Tom Brady rush out of his expensive SUV right before the game starts and hit the field with Cinnabon bits still in his teeth.

No doubt he has a specific mental process that helps him stay focused, and I would imagine he has a ton of little refocus moments on game day.

Maybe he puts on his lipstick in the car, too. 💄

If you feel rushed and frazzled, people notice this the minute you walk in the door.

It’s all around you.

A well-placed mental health moment is an easy way to be that person who always brings the calm into Monday morning. Master this one skill and you can absolutely confound your coworkers.

Besides, feeling rushed and frazzled doesn’t help you feel resilient for the challenges that may come your way on this fine Monday morning.

You’ll spend at least 480 minutes at work today. Take a measly five of those minutes to set yourself up for success.

It’s all about you

Want a quick way to reduce your stress at work? Stop viewing Monday as the enemy. Look for ways to make Monday your ally in the workweek.

Monday can be your Winston Churchill, the wise, direct and purposeful elder statesman that helps you soldier through this week with wit and purpose. 💪 (Why are there no Churchill emojis??)

You’ll notice all of these tips have nothing to do with anyone else but you. Yes, you can have a good Monday in spite of your circumstances at work.

This particular ball is in your court.

How powerful is that?

Happy Monday!

Vacation is over, you’re back to work and stressed out

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Keep your stress free vacation feeling

Feeling stressed out at work is particularly noticeable right after the holidays.

You just came back from vacation and got used to getting good sleep. You finally feel a bit human again.

For a little while, anyway.

I heard someone say the other day that they felt so relaxed and back on top of things during their holiday vacation time.

Just one day back at work erased it all.

Yikes.

Has this already happened to you?

It doesn’t take long after coming back from vacation to feel the pressure again. It’s almost immediate.

How does that happen? There are several reasons, but here’s a big one.

We put too much pressure on ourselves to get it all done when we get back from vacation.

We way overestimate how much we can really do when we get back. We come back from vacation with plenty of vim and vigor and resolve that we’re going to get on top and stay there.

This is especially true after the New Year when we’re armed with resolutions.

In the back of our heads, we know quite well that we’ll have to play catch up on the very first day. But we feel amazing so we rise to the belief that we can get it all done. We ask ourselves why we were stressing all that before we left.

It’s great to be hopeful, I certainly don’t want to crush that. Setting that expectation to get it all done, however, is asking for failure.

And at the end of day one, we already feel defeated.

Most of our vacation mojo gets away from us like a red balloon in Paris. Here are a few things to consider.

Drop the idea of complete and getting it all done.

Except for projects that have a finite completion date, accept that you will never get to zero.

Never.

Sorry, but that’s just how work is now. The Industrial Revolution is over, and there’s no longer an end of the line.

Part of conquering stress in our modern workplace is losing the idea of finishing the last widget before you go home.

 

Your inbox will never get to zero.

You may have several HUNDRED emails when you get back from vacation.

Why would you waste your valuable time and newfound energy trying to handle every single email just so you can delete 80% of them? You’re going to get several hundred more by the end of the week!

Stop playing the professional version of “Stop Hitting Yourself.” Here’s a template for you to start your first day back from vacation.

  1. Filter your email inbox by name. Address the stuff from the people important to you. I would recommend starting with your boss’ name.
  2. Then, scan the subject lines of everything else for anything that looks intriguing or that describes a specific action they need from you.
  3. Leave your email app and start your actual work.
  4. If someone calls you because you didn’t answer their email, you can use step 1 to quickly find it.
  5. Wait for your email app to flag you (probably months from now) that your box is getting full and it’s time to delete some emails, according to your IT and compliance department’s schedules.
  6. If you miss something important from someone (like the person in step 4), you can coach them on how to use more directive subject lines to get your attention right away. Just sayin’…

No one ever died because they didn’t answer all their emails.

Please don’t die on this hill on your first day back.

Trying to answer or touch every single email is the quickest way to feeling super stressed because you are letting others drive your work day with their priorities.

Your to-do list will never be 100% complete.

I would assume you didn’t go to college just so you can spend your days completing a list of tasks. I think you want to do amazing work that will make you feel purposeful and create new opportunities for you, right?

You won’t do all that today, though.

You will not find that place where you can cross your arms over your chest and raise your glass to another satisfying episode of “My Completed Day at Work.”

That’s now how this works. That’s not how any of this works.

 

David Allen’s terrific book and methodology is called “Getting Things Done,” not “Getting All Things Done Today.”

Of course, you need a to-do list, but only to track and measure the work, not as a device to deliver stress and misery to yourself and others.

No matter what productivity system you use, your to-do list should include only the items that will move you and your team forward. (Side note: paying attention to your boss’ goals will move you and your team forward; that’s why you should check her emails first. 😉)

All else is a nice-to-have.

Be brutal about how much you can really accomplish today.

Include margin for things like:

  • interruptions,
  • daydream time,
  • lunch (yes, lunch) and
  • running to the bathroom from your New Year’s resolution to drink more water.

Set some boundaries for yourself.

Just because you are awesome at a hundred things doesn’t mean you should actually try to do a hundred awesome things. And certainly not today.

Pick just a few, squint your eyes and focus, and completely crush on your small list of priorities.

Staying an extra two hours on your first day back to get caught up on stuff that doesn’t matter is the easiest way back to how crappy you felt before your vacation.

Near the end of the day, check off the things you crushed, high five yourself, and move the rest to some other time.

Then grab your coat and hat and go the heck home.

Shock and awe your family with the return of the same happy, contented person they were with on your vacation.

You simply must develop a vacation sleep discipline.

How many times did you wake up on your vacation with that amazing rested feeling? You know what I’m talking about.

It’s that feeling where your chest doesn’t feel like a baby grand piano is sitting right on top of it and your gut feels calm and relaxed. (This is my experience, anyway. I may have said too much. 😂).

You’re less irritable, maybe even happy 😲, and it seems like you can focus on a dime. You may even feel like a completely different person.

That’s a problem.

You shouldn’t feel so stressed that vacation feels more like the real you.

That’s not going to help you feel purposeful and create new opportunities for yourself.

I know I harp on exercise as the closest thing to a magic pill for mental health and stress.

But sleep may have it trumped.

  • Sleep drives all your other actions, even how motivated you are to exercise.
  • Sleep powers your cognitive and critical thinking skills.
  • Sleep allows your brain to pressure wash all the toxins away.
  • Sleep affects your physical health.

You’re an educated professional. None of this is new to you.

We all know how important sleep is, and we all say we know we need to get more of it.

Hear ye, hear ye: Sleep is the best thing you can do to stop feeling stressed out and miserable at work.

It won’t change how many emails you get or how many fires your boss drops on you to put out at the last minute.

  • It may keep you from going off on a coworker who asks you an innocent question.
  • Or feeling completely overwhelmed and defeated by 10 a.m.

To keep that sleep mojo going from your vacation, you have to develop a specific discipline for sleep.

A discipline implies that you are in training. If you’re in training you have a plan so that you can accomplish a specific feat.

It’s not unreasonable to plan your whole day around training for sleep.

LeBron James reportedly gets 10-12 hours of sleep during the regular season.

You’re no different than LeBron James. He’s just more disciplined than you in a few key areas. That’s all.

Develop a plan for how you will get good rest every day and work that plan every day.

Now what?

These are pretty tactical steps you can take today to keep some of your vacation mojo going.

You spent the past year earning valuable PTO to give yourself a much-deserved break.

It’s up to you to change some things now to help you stay rested and feel a bit more in control.

 

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