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15 Minutes to Workplace Sanity

15 Minutes to Workplace Sanity


    Ever have one of those days when you’re just completely overwhelmed? Too much to do, not enough time. Deadlines looming (or whizzing past), phone ringing, emails pinging.

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    Just everyday life for a lot of us.

    And most days we manage to roll with it, deal with things as they come up, and get along just fine.

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    Some days, though, the clamor of multiple competing demands on our time, energy, and attention can be just too much to bear. We feel overwhelmed and out of control. It can paralyze us — dozens of things to do, and we do none of them, because we don’t know where to start. We fight the urge to just quit — crawl under our desk and hide, hoping it will all go away.

    Quitting isn’t an option, though, and fortunately, it’s not necessary. In fifteen minutes or less you can take a few simple steps to retake control, overcome the panic, move forward, and regain workplace sanity. So when it’s all too much but you must get it done, try this:

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    1. Close your eyes for one minute and just breathe. Grab hold of your mind, block out the screaming voices of panic, and purposely focus on just breathing in and out. Notice where you’re feeling tense, and intentionally relax those muscles. Slow your breathing, calm your mind. Just take those sixty seconds to reclaim quiet and peace.
    2. Clear your workspace. When we get too busy, our workspace usually reflects the clutter of our minds. Our carefully prepared organizational systems go by the wayside; we leave papers on our desk or on the kitchen counter as reminders to do something, and pretty soon the desk or counter is a mass of piles and sticky notes and reminders. Whether or not you consciously recognize it, the chaos of those piles distracts you and makes it nearly impossible to focus on anything. So take five minutes to clear off your workspace. Don’t sort or file anything unless you can do it in seconds. Toss the trash, drop the dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, and stash the piles of papers in a nearby drawer or shelf for later attention. If you’re afraid you’ll forget something important, take a second to schedule an appointment to tend to those stashed piles. Your immediate objective is to create a clear, clean, distraction-free space for focused working.
    3. Take five minutes to write down everything that needs to get done. Use whatever method works best for you to capture everything. I rely heavily on technology, but when I’m in this situation, I prefer old-fashioned pen and legal pad. Don’t try to organize or prioritize the tasks; just do a brain dump. Part of the anxiety you feel is a fear that you’re forgetting something, so get it all there on paper in front of you.
    4. Scan the list. Is there anything there that somebody else could do? Your secretary or assistant? A colleague? Your spouse or child? This is no time to be too proud to ask for help — remember, we’re in crisis mode here. Take five minutes to offload anything that reasonably can be delegated.
    5. Is there anything on the list that can be put off until tomorrow (or the next day) without knocking the earth off its axis? Take one minute to check off those tasks that don’t truly have to be done right this minute. Circle the ones that do need immediate attention.
    6. Choose one of the circled tasks. Don’t spend a lot of time agonizing over priority. Just pick one. If there’s something that can be done in a couple of minutes — responding to an email or returning a phone call, maybe? — do that and enjoy the catharsis of seeing your list begin to dwindle immediately. But the main thing is to just pick one.
    7. Clear everything else away, and do it. Gather the materials you need for that task, then sit down and get it done. If it will take more than half an hour or so, considering using the Pomodoro technique: set a timer for 25 minutes and work steadily until the timer goes off. Then take a five-minute break — stretch, walk, get a drink of water — and then get back to work, with the timer set for another 25-minute segment. Keep up that approach until you’ve finished the task.
    8. When you finish that task, cross it off the list and choose another. One item at a time, work through the list until you’re caught up.

    I know this approach works, because it’s saved my workplace sanity numerous times in my own professional life. I’d love it if you’d give it a try and then let me know how it works for you.

    Related Lifehack articles:

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    (Photo credit: Meditating in Office via Shutterstock)

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    Laura McClellan

    Passionate about encouraging women in their roles as wives, mothers, friends, and workers.

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    Last Updated on March 13, 2019

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

    You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

    Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

    1. Work on the small tasks.

    When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

    Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

    2. Take a break from your work desk.

    Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

    Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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    3. Upgrade yourself

    Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

    The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

    4. Talk to a friend.

    Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

    Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

    5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

    If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

    Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

    Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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    6. Paint a vision to work towards.

    If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

    Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

    Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

    7. Read a book (or blog).

    The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

    Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

    Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

    8. Have a quick nap.

    If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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    9. Remember why you are doing this.

    Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

    What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

    10. Find some competition.

    Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

    Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

    11. Go exercise.

    Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

    Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

    As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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    Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

    12. Take a good break.

    Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

    Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

    Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

    Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

    More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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