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Stuck in a tight spot: 9 tips for working under stress

Stuck in a tight spot: 9 tips for working under stress

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    Your work environment may not be ideal. In fact, as more and more people work from home, take their work on the road or otherwise explore some flexibility for their work situations, the more likely it is that a person will wind up working somewhere full of distractions, stress and more. On airplanes, doctor’s offices, surrounded by small children — we don’t often have the option of leaving our late until later. The best we can do is find solutions that less us work even under stress.

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    1. Headphones Are Your Friend
      It may be an obvious suggestion, but if you can at least block out distracting sounds, you’ll have a much easier time of getting your work done. For most people, noise cancellation is much more important than just masking noise with other noise (and yes, I do mean music). If you work well with music playing, great! Otherwise, white noise or nature sounds may provide you with a better work environment.
    2. Take Regular Breaks
      Working on a laptop or typing on a Blackberry is physically exhausting — there just aren’t a lot of ergonomic options. But if you can take a break at least once every hour and just move around a little bit, you’ll find that you can work more comfortably. Even just walking up and down the aisle of an airplane can be enough to let you stretch.
    3. Breathe Deep
      If you meditate, now might just be the time for some of that calm you’ve been cultivating. A little meditation — or even a few deep breaths — can cut through the stress and let you concentrate on your work. It may not be enough to continually block out the baby screaming three aisles back, but if you can relax enough to work for even a few minutes, you’ll be ahead of the game.
    4. Ask for Consideration
      If you have to get your work done, there’s nothing wrong with asking for a little consideration. Maybe you need a chatty companion in the waiting room to give you a little quiet or maybe you’d like them to move over a seat so that you can spread out some paperwork. No matter what you need, there’s nothing worng with asking for it. The worst that could happen with a “Would you mind..?” is that you’ll be turned down and the situation won’t change.
    5. Eliminate the Distractions You Do Control
      Is your cell phone going off every ten seconds? Even if you can’t eliminate most of the stress in your temporary work place, you do have at least some control. Taking even small steps to reduce distractions — like turning off your cell phone — can help you handle the big ones that you can’t control a little better.
    6. Break Your Work Down Into Small Tasks
      Especially if you’re trying to split your attention between your surroundings and your work — like when you’re waiting for a doctor to call your name — you don’t want to get into your work so deeply that you won’t hear that call. You may even find that you can’t focus that much on big tasks. If you can break your work down into smaller tasks, though, you won’t need to concentrate for long chunks of time, making distractions less of an issue.
    7. Stay Away From Televisions
      It seems like there are television screens everywhere these days: whether you’re at the mechanic’s or in an airplane seat, there are good odds that there is a screen pretty close by. Televisions can be a bigger distraction than many others you might encounter during your day. Your only option may be sitting with your back to a television but even eliminating those little visual cues can help significantly. The constant motion of a television show or ad can grab attention in a way that even people trying to talk to you can’t replicate.
    8. Try Not to Rely on Getting Everything Done
      I’ve known people to assume that they can put in a full work day, no matter where they’re sitting. But we’re creatures of habit: takes us out of our normal work space and our productivity usually suffers until we become accustomed to our new environment. Just because it always takes you a set amount of time to handle a particular project, don’t assume that your time requirements will be the same if you’re working somewhere new.
    9. Have a Plan B
      You run a higher risk of having something not go right when you’re trying to get your work done while other things are happening. Maybe you can’t get an internet connection when you need one, or perhaps your appointment runs over. All sorts of things can happen, bo have some sort of alternate plan in case something goes wrong. Maybe it isn’t the way you want to get your work done — but that’s why it’s a back up plan instead of the official approach.

    I’m writing this post on an airplane. I’m not exactly a fan of air travel, but I’ve gotten used to writing up a post or two while I’m in the air or even in the car. Despite all the distractions, I still manage to get my work done and in on time. That said, I’m always looking for ways to make the process of working in a stressful situation a little easier. If you have tips, please share them in the comments.

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    Last Updated on April 8, 2019

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

    Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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    1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
    2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
    3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
    4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
    5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
    6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
    7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
    8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
    9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
    10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
    11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
    12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
    13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
    14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
    15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
    16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
    17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
    18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
    19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
    20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
    21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
    22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

    Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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