Habits and Tools to Reduce Work Stress
I spend 8-10 hours in front of a computer daily. I bet you too. Technology simplifies access to information, but tons of emails and tasks lead to information fatigue. Work becomes stressful. I'm far from being the “calmest employee of the year”, yet here are habits and tools that help me stay sane.
Before work: limit notifications
During work: balance focused work and meetings
After work: wind down
Mindfulness meets technology
1. Before work: limit notifications
I reach for my phone as the alarm goes off every morning. Following notifications feed, I jump straight into work. I feel bad afterward because my brain gets bombarded with random information before it even wakes up. Instead, I try spending 45 min in the morning without reminders about work - stretching, watering plants and reading. It makes me a happier and more pleasant person to work with.
Start by setting your work hours. Once your colleagues know your "business hours," they can respect them. Then, permit yourself to start a day with a hobby or morning learning routine. Depending on how early your work begins, give yourself at least 30 min of "me" time.
🌅 Start your morning with Headspace Wake Up. They say you should stop using your phone in the morning. But if it helps you wake up, watch Wake Up which is like an Instagram story designed for your morning.
🗓 Set your work hours. If your team has shared calendars, this will let others see what time they can expect you to work.
⏸ Pause work notifications in the morning. Paused notifications prevent you from seeing a message while you're in bed. It also signals to your co-workers that you muted notifications; thus they shouldn't expect a reply from you.
🔕 Turn ON Do Not Disturb until work begins. Some apps allow to mute notifications, but others may not. So set Do not Disturb across all apps.
Email, chats, and other work apps on our phones create a habit of 24/7 connectivity. Always-ON mode hurts your productivity because remove borders between your personal and work life. Unless you're required to stay online 24/7 (which most people aren't), keep all work apps on a laptop so that your workday begins once you get to your desk.
2. During work: balance focused work and meetings
Once the workday starts, you get swamped with urgent requests. My favorite work habit is bulk information processing. My brain works better when I collect available information, organize it, and prioritize it.
📥 Review and take action on each message. "All unreads" in Slack helps you see all messages in one inbox. A rule of thumb is to take action on each email or message you open. Reply, delete/archive, or at least snooze for later.
📝 Keep a list of tasks. Written and organized. I write down each task in Trello, which helps change execution order as my priorities change. Writing all tasks in one place reduces the stress of “Did I miss anything?” thoughts.
🎧 Get into and stay in focused mode. Forest app or Pomodoro technique help you focus. I play music with a 45 min timer. Uninterrupted focus is essential since it takes 23 min to regain focus after interruption. You can use Clockwise to block time for focused work, but I leave my calendar empty, knowing that those times I can focus.
🧍🏻 Take short physical activity breaks. Your Smart Watch will likely remind you to stand up and stretch. Otherwise, one of these apps can remind you.
3. After work: wind down
Wind down helps your brain stop thinking about work and prepares to rest. Cal Newport, an author of "Deep Work," writes about his “end of day” ritual:
Finally — and I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit this — I close down my computer and say the magic phrase: "schedule shutdown, complete."
Ideally, you limit any mental triggers or reminders about work. Make sure you mute notifications during evening hours too.
🏃🏻♂️ Find your preferred activity. A run, yoga, or walking away from computer will switch your mindset from “work” to “rest”. There are apps to remind you and keep track of your activity.
😴 Limit distractions during sleep. Wind down routine helps you clear your head from tasks, worries and commitments. But more importantly, a consistent sleep schedule keeps you healthy and happy. It's impossible if you use your phone at night.
4. Mindfulness meets technology
A routine is repetitive by definition - that's where the balance of mindfulness and automation meet to remind you about it at right the time. Pandemic forced companies to re-think digital wellbeing for employees. Many companies reconsidered perks for remote work. New partnerships like the one between Microsoft and Headspace start to emerge.
I’m excited about the potential to create healthy habits personalized for each employee, e.g., send a reminder to calm down 15 min before the presentation, turn off notifications after work based on your calendar. What habits and tools help you reduce work stress? 🙂