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15 Insanely Actionable Ways to Eliminate Stress and Increase Productivity at Work

Manage Stress at Work

You clock into work and open your email. Holy cow!

Where do you start? So many projects to finish, so many tasks to do, so many people and things vying for your attention. How do you get everything done on time and not feel as if your head is going to explode by the end of the day?

First things first. Start with a deep breath. Go ahead… take one.

Now, here are some proven, highly productive action steps that you can take right now to alleviate that stress and eliminate chaos in the workplace. (You can thank us later!)

1. Skip the inbox in the morning.

According to workplace studies, employees say email is a major source of workplace frustration. And if you've ever been caught unwillingly in a reply-all email thread, then you probably can relate.

McKinsey Global Institute found that most workers will spend up to 28 percent of their work week reading, sending and trying to organize email. That's 13 hours of a 40-hour workweek on one task.

In addition to being frustrating, email is also distracting, especially with phone and desktop notifications. And what's worse, many companies are discovering that email may not be the best tool for collaborative communication. It makes sense, then, why choosing not to sort through your inbox first thing in the morning can help to keep stress down as you start your day.

Action Step: Schedule specific times during the day to check and respond to email. For example: 10am, 3pm and before you leave work for the day. Or if you're using the Pomodoro technique (see below) check, and respond to emails during the five minute breaks.  

2. Manage your energy, not just your time.

Some people are morning people. They start their day full of energy and are ready to commit to the tasks at hand. Others, well... they're morning people as long as there's an endless supply of coffee. And there's nothing inherently wrong with being one way or the other. The key to productivity is knowing yourself, that is, your cycles of energy.

Here's why:

In the same way you have a limited amount of time during the day, you also have a limited amount of energy. Becoming familiar with the times of day when you feel the most energized is important to understanding how best to get the most of your day.

Action Step: Be mindful of how you feel. Leverage your inspiration and energy to tackle those tough task. Focus on the boring repetitive task when you're not feeling like a top performer. 

3. Focus on the most important task.

Whatever time of day is best for you-morning, midday or evenings- manage your to-do list according to your energy cycle. Devote your most focused part of the day to the most important tasks. Use the remainder for tasks with less importance. And remember just because something is important, that doesn't mean it's urgent.

Action Step: Prioritize your task like a President. Download Dwight Eisenhower's time management matrix, and immediately start experiencing a greater sense of accomplishment.  

4. Batch your tasks into 25-minute increments.

As you work toward completing your to-do list, try the Pomodoro Technique invented by entrepreneur Frencesco Cirillo. With this technique, you'll work toward getting things done in small 25-minute increments, taking short breaks to recharge in between each "Pomodoro." Batching your tasks helps keep you focused, organized and efficient.

Action Step: Use this addon for Google Chrome to build a habit of training your mind to work in uninterrupted sprints. You'll be surprised in how much work you can get done in 25 minutes of uninterrupted time.  

5. Act don't react.

Any task that is disrupted has to end and start over. According to one study, around 82 percent of all interrupted work will be finished on the same day. But here's the bad news - it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on task after a disruption.

That's a lot of wasted time.

In order to get the most from your day, it's important to avoid distractions all together. That means turning off your phone (yes, your beloved phone), email and unnecessary chatter with your coworkers.

Action Step: The next time you hear or see an email notification on your computer or phone ask yourself, "Am I about to act or react?" Reacting is typically unplanned and impulsive. Acting is planned, and planning is productive.  

Stacks of mail, trash and knick-knacks can be stress-inducing and distracting. A chaotic, messy work-space can actually cripple your job performance. Organization, on the other hand, inspires productivity.

Action Step: Take 10 minutes at the end of each day to put your work-space back in order. It's much easier to organize as you go than to wait until it piles up and feels overwhelming. 

7. Listen to calming music.

Now that you're in your zone (a clean, organized zone, that is), turn on some music. You've probably heard that listening to Mozart makes you smarter. Actually, several studies done over the past decade have suggested that music makes us more productive, more creative and less stressed. So grab your favorite calming tunes, stick in those earbuds and listen your stress away.

Action Step: Get a free trial with focus@will. Their music has been scientifically proven to calm your mind. With this online app, you can select a style of music that suits your mood.  

8. Streamline corporate communication.

We've already established that email may not be the best tool for corporate communication. Instead of using email for projects that involve more than a few people, consolidate file sharing, group chats (no more reply-all battles), video chats, conference calls, notifications, etc. through software like HipChat.

Action Step: Start a complimentary trial with HipChat, and discover how easy and efficient it is to communicate with team members whether you're in the office or traveling the world.  Tweet this.

9. Eliminate repetitive tasks.

Don't do things over and over again if you don't have to. For example, you can create email templates to streamline all of your emails. Many email providers allow you to create "canned responses" in your email settings.

Action Step: If you find yourself writing the same email over and over again, go ahead and save them as email templates so you don't waste time writing the same email... over and over again.  

10. Schedule your emails.

A customer, partner or co-worker says, "send me an email as a reminder on Tuesday." And it's currently Friday afternoon. Wouldn't it be great to schedule that task while it's on your mind? Well you can with apps like Streak or YesMail to schedule and send emails for you. Whenever possible, plan emails ahead of time, so you can focus on the real work.

Action Step: If you're in sales try Streak or YesMail. If you're not in sales and use Gmail, give Boomerang a try. And the next time you think about an email you need to send, simply schedule it and then forget about it.  

11. Use action and idea lists.

As you work, you're probably coming up with fresh ideas. That's great! But don't let them distract you. Have a place to list them out and save for later.

Action Step: Sign-up for a free account with Simpleology or Trello and start putting those great ideas on the backburner until you're ready to take action. Or if you prefer paper, checkout these great planners from Behance.  

12. Create meeting agendas.

If you want to waste some time, schedule a meeting. People generally come unprepared, and discussions frequently veer off track. If this sounds like your last visit to the conference room, then it's time to make some changes.

To make the most of your meetings, be sure you have an agenda prepared ahead of time. This includes: topics to be discussed, time allotments for discussions, clear direction on presentation versus discussion times and assigned topics. Distribute your agenda plan before the meeting to help your co-workers prepare.

Action Step: Use this simple meeting agenda template, and experience your team staying focused and more productive during your next meeting. 

13. Plan your to-do list the day before.

The preplanning doesn't stop there. Save your fresh and focused hours for the real work by creating tomorrow's to-do list for at the end of today. If you spend tomorrow morning planning and only planning, you will feel rushed trying to finish all of your other work at the end of the day.

Action Step: At the end of each day, perform a brain dump by writing down everything that needs to get done for tomorrow.  

14. Focus on one task at a time.

Don't multitask! You may think you're really great at it, but many studies have shown that multi-tasking is disruptive, stressful to the brain and significantly decreases your productivity. Using the Pomodoro Technique mentioned above, do as much work as you can on a task, and then stop completely before starting something else.

Action Step: Train your mind to stay in the moment by allowing your thoughts to come and go freely but resist the urge to act on them. Meditation and the Pomodoro technique will help strengthen and support this idea and overtime it will feel natural.  

15. Meditate.

Finally, during those times when you have a breather (one of your set Pomodoro breaks or even first thing in the morning), try meditating. Meditating relaxes the body, releases the brain into an uninhibited state (good for times when you need to be creative) and reduces overall stress.

Action Step: Visit Headspace.com and download their guided meditation app for your Android or iPhone. Start small (10 minutes or less), and increase the time as your schedule allows and you become more comfortable with the process.  

Remember, you don't have to tackle every item on this list. Pick whichever ones stand out, and try it for 30 days. After 30 days, the hack may become a habit you just can't live without. With these tricks and a little determination, you could see a big difference in the quality and efficiency of your daily work and life.

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