No matter what you do, chances are that you’ll be working hard at some point in your job. Most occupations vacillate between heavy workloads and slow periods. Tax accountants come to mind as extreme cases of this crunch-lull dynamic.
Crunch times require focus. They also induce stress and worry. A little stress may provoke creativity, but in high enough doses, stress and worry have the opposite effect, consuming your mind just when you need it to function most.
Some people manage this paradox through happy hours and excessive complaining. Fortunately, you can keep your money in your pocket with these five easy tricks for aligning a stressed-out mind. Do one or more of these tricks often enough, and you’ll find focus at even the crunchiest of times:
As in, get your butt out of your chair and walk around. Or stretch, bike, run, dance, or cartwheel. Physical activity helps calm and center your body, disintegrating stress and making it easier to concentrate. If you’re feeling creatively log-jammed, your first line of defense is to get up and move. If that doesn’t work, try one of the tips below.
2) Rotate Tasks
If you feel brain-dead at a certain time of day, there’s no point in trying to be creative. Instead, use those “dead zones” to accomplish tasks that require less creative juice, but need to be done anyway. Catching up with your expense sheet or budget is an example. Sending documents in the mail, confirming appointments, and sending follow-up emails is an example.
3) Plan Inch-By-Inch Steps
Know the saying “inch by inch, it’s a cinch?” Follow that cute piece of advice by laying out a plan. Start with a list of things you must accomplish in a given period of time (a week, month, year, or even a single day). Subdivide each item on the list into a list of the smaller steps involved in completing it. For example, I might have an item like “Produce list of Top 25 Business Books Ever.” The steps involved in that would be:
a. Determine underlying list criteria (1-2 hours)
b. Research existing lists on the topic (6 hours)
c. Research book ratings and reviews (4-5 hours)
d. Create first draft list of 25 books (8-16 hours)
e. Order them according to list criteria (2-3 hours)
f. Find images and links to each book (2 hours)
g. Size and format blog post (1-2 hours)
Now that I have a list of steps in place, I plan my days around accomplishing each step. The project looks intimidating at the outset, but with each step in achieving success itemized, it becomes much more digestible.
4) Make a Circle of Influence
In the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey uncovers a slick trick to diminish your sense of worry and increase your sense of direction. Referred to as the Circle of Influence/Circle of Concern exercise, this trick only takes about five minutes to ease your jitters.
Get out a piece of paper and a pen. Draw a circle (the Circle of Concern). Next to it, list all of your concerns. Now draw a smaller circle inside of your Circle of Concern. This is your Circle of Influence. Inside of this circle, list all of the steps you can take to address your concerns. Focus on those steps as action items. You can find some illustrated instructions here.
Talking to someone else about your concerns absolves you of the shame, guilt, and self-doubt that fester inside of undiscussed problems. Discussing your issue with another person puts it in perspective—and gets you ready to work again with a fresh mind. Consulting trusted friends works well for general problems; talking to experts may help you gain wisdom on more specific, biting issues.
Have any 5-minute tips that work for you? Let us know!