It had been building for a while, but this week it all came to a head. I was so stressed out that I was becoming useless. I was behind on everything, worried about letting something slip through the cracks, and on top of it all new crises were coming up multiple times a day.
Does this ever happen to you?
So, let me tell you how I got back on track. I’ve got 5 tips for getting through a stressful week.
Ask for Help
First, I asked for help. I identified the things that would be easy for someone else to do and I asked someone else to do them. Sometimes, we don’t think to ask for help because we think that if someone wanted to help us, they would offer.
Can’t they see that I’m underwater here?
Well – no, no they can’t.
The thing is – people are focused on their work. They have a job to do and they are doing it. They don’t spend part of their limited time focusing on whether or not others are in need of help. Although you are the center of your universe, you are not the center of theirs. I was the only person who knew how stressed I was because I was getting farther and farther behind. The only way for anyone else to know would be for me to tell them. Surprisingly my coworkers are not mind readers, and I’m guessing yours aren’t either.
So, when you are stressed, a simple step you can take is to ask for help. Shift some of the work to someone else. This works at home too, by the way. If the thought of shifting work to someone else has your inner voice telling you that other’s will think you are slacking – I would say that people know the difference between a slacker and someone who needs help but would also give help if the tables were turned.
What I did this week was ask for help by asking someone else to take over responsibility for completing a defined set of tasks on my behalf. This is also known as delegating.
But, there are other ways you can ask for help. You can ask for permission to just not do something on your list. If your list is too long, see if there is something on it that you can just no do and get permission from your manager to not do it.
This would take the form of saying something like “I’m really behind right now and need to prioritize in order to be able to get back on track. I’m thinking that X is something that would have the least impact if I can’t get to it, so I’m thinking about taking it off my list. Do you agree?”
Another way you can ask for help is by collaborating. If you are stressed or behind because a certain task is taking more time than you planned, you can speed it up by getting someone who is good at the task to work with you. For example, maybe you are having trouble putting together a presentation because you aren’t a powerpoint wiz. Get someone who is to help you organize the powerpoint. Something that is their strength will be easy for them but at the same time save you a ton of time. I am not very good at creating graphs in Excel. But, I have a coworker who is great at it. I will almost always send her my spreadsheet and ask her to help me make my graph look better. For her, it is a 2 minute thing because she can just look at it and know what to do.
Make a List
Another thing I did this week – and that I do anytime I get too stressed – is to sit down and write out a list of everything I can think of that I need to do. Now, although there is a benefit to having a nice tidy to-do list, that isn’t the main reason for the exercise.
What I’m really doing here is quieting my mind. When we get stressed, our brain starts to go into overdrive. It wants to keep track of everything that isn’t done and in order to do this, it starts repeating the list. Its like when you repeat a phone number so you won’t forget it while you try to find a pen to write it down. As your brain works on keeping track of everything, it is using a lot of energy, which u can’t afford to use because you’ve got so much to do. It is a vicious cycle, and sitting down to writ out a list of everything you need to do will break that cycle.
The added benefit is that you now have a nice tidy list that you can use.
Go Into Hyper-Prioritization Mode
The other thing I do when I’m stressed is that I prioritize. Or, more accurately, I go into hyper prioritization mode. If you’ve ever had a death in the family, or had a baby, or had a child fall and break an arm – you have experienced hyper-prioritization. Whatever else you had on your agenda for the day became absolutely unimportant the minute the event happened. The day my dad died, I had a full day of meetings scheduled – including a meeting that I was the host of that included around 20 people – all directors and vice presidents. When it comes to priorities, that meeting was at the top of my list. Until my dad died, and which point, it became completely not important.
The point is, priorities are contextual. What is important when you are working under normal conditions can easily become not important when you are stressed.
So, when you are feeling underwater with too much to do, you have to go into hyper-prioritization mode. This means that you are triaging tasks into categories such as: absolutely critical, important, and can wait. Th important and can wait tasks may be things that would normally gt done but because of your current situation, if they don’t the consequences will be small. You have to shift your context from what is typically a high priority to one where only the absolute necessities become critical. Think of yourself as the head of an emergency room during a natural disaster. This patient may need stitches – but stiches can wait because this other patient has internal injuries and could die without your immediate attention.
At the start of the week, I was literally operating in that mode. If it wasn’t something that had to be done within the next 60 minutes, I had to ignore it. Hyper-prioritization allowed me to get through the natural disaster.
Then, once I sat down and wrote up my list of everything that had to be done, I was also able to go through that list and prioritize. By putting things into categories, I was able to easily decide what next thing to work on as I went through the week.
Another tool to use when you are having a ultra stressful week is the power of ‘no.’ You need to be willing to tell someone no when they ask for your help.
We live in a culture where it is normal for people to not only interrupt you, but to expect a quick response. There is no consideration of your priorities – if I send you an email, I assume it automatically becomes a priority for you to answer it. If I send you a chat, I expect you to drop what you are doing and respond to me. When you are underwater and feeling stressed, it is easy to let other people’s priorities add to your stress. But, it isn’t effective. It just makes you that much more stressed which puts you deeper underwater.
You have to be willing to say no. How you say no will depend on the situation. I suggest that you come up with your ‘no’ responses when you aren’t in a stressed out state so that you have them ready to use when you need them. For example, when someone sends me a chat and says ‘do you have a minute?’ my response is ‘actually, I don’t right now. Can you send me an email so I can get to it later, or feel free to put time on my calendar.’
Believe me that is not what I feel like saying in the moment – when I’m stressed, but because I have the canned response, I can pull it out and us it when I need it.
Finally, the other thing I did this week as I was at a level 10 stress was have fun. I forced myself to take a few minutes here and there to enjoy a moment with my coworkers. Having those moments took me away from getting dug out of the hole I was in – but the benefit out weighed that impact. Recharging my batteries every once in a while kept me from burning out more quickly. It also reminds me that my relationships with my coworkers are going to matter long beyond this stressful week.
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