We know stress is real, and the World Health Organization lists chronic workplace stress as the leading cause of burnout. But we now have to deal with workplace stress while at home. For many of us, that involves working around and with our families, specifically kids, while ensuring they remain healthy and busy. If nothing else, we should all have a greater appreciation for stay-at-home parents and everything teachers do. So, not only do you now have the stress of your customers, employees, and business owners, but your family is front and center all day.
Stress is a constant for those who take on a leadership role. We are not only required to deal with changes in our business but also how all the people for whom we are responsible adapt to change. Last week, our friends from www.groomandstyle.com, accurately defined stress as our body’s natural reaction to changes and how we respond to them. Well, guess what? There are a lot of changes going on right now, and there are even more considerations when leading a team remotely.
So, while stress is a constant, I wanted to provide five quick reminders of what to do throughout the day to help keep your stress manageable and those around you happy. I coach executives on these same five ideas while at work, and the common trait the most successful all have—meaning, those who lead a full life and are productive—is that they are a little selfish about their time and what they do with that time. I see many of them adhere to these same five rules to help them manage their responsibilities and have the energy to deal with stress or recover quickly. They ensure they incorporate these elements into their daily routines, and, as you will see, there is no reason they cannot be maintained while working at home. As indicated, it may even be more important for you to ensure you incorporate these activities into your routine. Here are my five rules for managing workplace stress at home:
1) Take Breaks: Taking breaks may seem like a simple thing to do, but, all too often, leaders forego breaks because they feel they have to address everything immediately. In our current situation, this is further compounded because a break for you can be seen as an opportunity for you to engage with a partner or child. Ideally, step away from your computer and phone, away from anyone else at home (social distancing is now a thing), and step into some sunlight or fresh air. Research shows how ultradian rhythms ensure athletes can perform at their best when needed. I encourage you to learn more about this cycle your body goes through every 60–120 minutes. The key to maintaining energy throughout the day is these five- to ten-minute breaks. Taking breaks throughout the day will make you more productive, more emotionally balanced, and less anxious, so stop feeling guilty that you can’t step away for a series of breaks throughout the day.
2) Exercise Your Body and Mind: Exercise plays a critical role in managing stress, and it helps boost your mood. A healthy body and mind can heal you from the negative effects of stress and help you stay positive and creative. More than likely, your normal exercise routine has been interrupted as your gym or exercise facility has closed down. However, do not let this excuse you from maintaining some activity, no matter how small, into your day. You can incorporate exercise and wellness into your home/work environment by stretching, adjusting your posture, walking around the neighborhood, doing planks/pushups, etc. I have incorporated two key elements into my new exercise routine: the dogs and kids. In the morning, I take the dogs for their run (or rather, they take me for one—I’m still working that out), which gives me some alone time and strenuous activity. In the afternoon, I have taken on the role of health and fitness teacher and run a 45-minute boot camp for the kids and me. In between such activities, remember to take those breaks and incorporate some deep breathing to circulate oxygen through your blood to give your body and mind a boost.
Exercising is not just about your body—exercising your mind is just as important. Being cooped up at home serves as a great opportunity to increase your knowledge or expand your understanding of topics by setting time aside to read books or articles and listen to audiobooks or podcasts. Remember, creativity requires time to let your mind wander. So, toward the end of your day, after reading or listening, take ten minutes to sit quietly, reflect on what you learned today, and make some notes about what you should remember moving forward. Keeping a journal or document that captures your latest and greatest ideas is an excellent to-do in the coming weeks. It will be powerful to have some ideas to incorporate into your leadership or implement for your business when things start returning to normal, and you are back at work.
3) Manage Your Time: When we consult with companies, we often hear leaders complain that there is just not enough time in the day. Since we can’t add more hours to a day, we have to look at where our time goes each day and how we manage our workload. You not only have limited time each day, but you also have limited mental and physical energy, so you have to streamline tasks and get support. The key is proper prioritization and scheduling—which doesn’t change while working at home. Prioritize your work by determining what has to get done and by when. In fact, you may be about to learn something incredibly important: You can get more done when not interrupted every couple of minutes by people or problems. On the flip side, you need to be disciplined to ensure you actually get things done. When working from home, it is easy to get into different routines, like sleeping in, watching television, or procrastinating that the important things do not need to be done today. Establish a schedule for your day and share this with your team and family. They will then know when you need to be on and not interrupted. We find the most successful leaders manage their schedules better, ensuring they have time for what is important, not what is just urgent. And we also recommend thinking about your peak time—your most valuable time of the day. Your peak time is usually about three to four hours after you are awake or during your third ultradian rhythm each day. For many of us, that is mid- to late morning. With your brain capacity, attention, and creativity at its best, ensure you spend this time on your most important work.
4) Build a Support System: Build a support system of people on whom you can unload, talk to, ask for help, or bounce ideas. These people should be peers both inside and outside of your company. Building a support system may be one of your most important activities during this time of isolation. Many great platforms allow us to video conference with others. We recommend the facetime aspect of communication over emails or calls because it keeps everything more human. Set up time each week to check in with your support system to talk about the usual business challenges but also have random conversations. We are social beings, and we might not realize how important these inconsequential conversations about family, interests, sports, goals, or just life are in our lives. Ensure you schedule time with those most important personally and professionally to you to check in and remain social. With a strong support system, you will not feel alone in dealing with the burdens of leadership.
5) Focus on Bettering Yourself and Your Strengths: Stop comparing yourself to and competing with others. Too often, leaders are focused on competing with someone who is just naturally better than them at a certain task. Comparing yourself to others wastes valuable time and energy that is better spent focusing on improving yourself. Focus on bettering yourself by reflecting on situations and analyzing what went well and what needs to change in the future. This time we now have serves as an excellent opportunity to focus on building a better you. Take some time to consider what you want to achieve in the next 12–18 months, what you need to do to achieve those goals, whom you need to engage with to help you get there, and what you are committing to change to make this goal a reality. As I have already indicated, focusing on improving your physical and mental fitness is necessary for managing stress, but becoming even more focused on who you are is equally crucial. I work with a lot of executives and talk to them about their personal or professional brand. As a brand, consider what makes you unique and your potential to stand out in a crowded marketplace. What are you an expert at, or interested in being an expert in? Focus on the values that define how your brand acts and interacts with others, your purpose in this world or industry in which you work, and what value you offer. Write these ideas out and consider what needs to happen to position the brand better in the eyes of others. Maybe consider improving your social media profiles or review how to elevate your current role. Take some time to write about what you do really well and share it with others in the industry. I truly believe that for you to be considered an expert, you need to be willing to write or share your thoughts from the internet or stage and open yourself up to critique and feedback. If you are going to be your very best self, then this is a great time to really dial in on what your brand stands for and can be in the future.
Workplace stress is not going away, especially while at home. Try implementing these tips and see what a difference managing stress makes for you, shifting it from something that may be debilitating to something that takes you to the next level of success, even when doing it from home.