Most of our work happiness comes from our relationship with ourselves. For example, I recently started working on a proposal for a non-profit human services organization. As I’m reading and putting all the research together, roughing out each section and making it all coherent, I hit walls that stalled my progress.
Last week I actually flopped down, let out a loud groan and sputtered out in exasperation. Why did I do this? I hadn’t written a proposal like this in several months. It was no good. I didn’t have the handle on it I wanted. It wasn’t flowing. Fortunately, my boyfriend was home and he listened to my self-deprecating rant and cajoled me back into life with a few hugs, a popsicle, and a couple of well-timed jokes. My creativity was zapped by my own thoughts of inadequacy, fear, and anger. The person from whom I needed the most encouragement was myself, and I was being ugly.
I took a look at the internal problems I was having and how they were affecting my work. By addressing a few weaknesses, I discovered how I can use them to work for me instead of against me.
1. One Project at a Time
Almost always, I have several things that I am trying to do at once. I could be writing an email, in discussion with someone in an instant message client while I am thinking about an upcoming task or project. The distraction puts a strain on my attention and ultimately affects the quality of my work no matter how good I think I might be at multitasking.
From a long line of procrastinators, if I’m not forced to produce I don’t. Often my attention darts from thought to thought and thing to thing because there’s no deadline looming over my head like a black cloud of angst. So when I need to focus, I’ve started setting a timer. A little tension can be good when it brings focus to a person’s life.
Depending on the task, I may set the timer for 30 minutes and try to finish the task within that time frame. If the timer dings and I need more time, I reset it for the appropriate amount of time and go back to work. This allows me to focus on this one task without letting all the other “musts” distract me.
2. Break the Project Down
The length of my list on any given day would give even a superwoman pause. I expect too much and never feel like I’ve gotten anything done.
Instead of getting lots done, there are times when my brain just shuts down in response to my overwhelming list. I needed to figure out a way to reduce those negative thoughts. I have tried bullying and forcing myself but it never works. I only feel worse and do even less.
I’ve created a routine that allows me to handle my work load. When I realize that I have overextended my task list, I stand up, breathe deep, and let the air out with a slow breath. Then, I get comfortable at my desk and whittle my first big task into 20 minute spurts. As the project becomes less unwieldy, I find I’ve let go of the negative thoughts and boosted my confidence. I’m in the moment and enjoying the process. I’m not feeling overwhelmed by a mountain of work and I’m feeling good about my progress and the quality of work I am putting out.
3. Split Your Tasks List
I usually feel overwhelmed as a result of my own expectations. I expect to get too much work done. I’ve never been able to accomplish a massive task in one day. So when my task list gets too big I often split it into two lists.
I create a main list that’s simple to complete. If I have four hours for work, I make the list equal to about two hours. Typically these are the tasks and projects that need my attention first during the day. The second list is the extras list. This list contains the less time sensitive issues and tasks that require my attention that day.
Whenever I get to my extras list, I feel really good about what I’ve been able to complete. Anything on the extras list that doesn’t get done today, is prioritized and put on tomorrow’s main list. Guidance and sense of accomplishment is the main reason for a list, so make your list achievable. And don’t forget to roll those unfinished extras items over to your main tasks list for the following day!
4. Take a Break
I can get stalled because I get tired and can’t focus on what is right before me. There are too many options. If I have to write an email, create a blog post, and work on a newsletter then I start to feel over-anxious and foggy. My overwhelmed brain simply wants to shut down. So I usually get up and take a break to clear my head and let things simmer.
Since I work from home, there always some mindless household task that needs to be done. If negative thoughts are mucking up my progress, I take out the trash. If worry is hounding me, I do the dishes and think about those worries running down the drain with the soapy water. Maybe I’ll pop over to some favorite blogs that have nothing to do with work for some laughter and gratitude. If the weather is okay, I might sit out on the backs steps and listen to the birds and watch my dog snore in the grass for awhile. Almost always after one of these breaks, I come back renewed and refreshed; my creativity is moving again.
There are so many ways we can pull ourselves out of a stressful state if we just take a break and let go of what’s bugging us.
5. Check Out the Positive
Like many of us, I get preoccupied in how the present moment makes me feel. I create mountains out of molehills. I can create a torturous thought process by magnifying the bad things that are happening to me instead of focusing on all the good things that are there if I just take the time to see them.
If I’m feeling particularly ugly about a project, I write down of all the things that I’m learning from the project in my Good Things journal. I keep this by my desk and whenever I am gloomy about work, I haul it out and take a peek.
Big projects and unexpected demands on my time almost always push me outside of my comfort zone. By meeting these challenges as they come, with as positive an attitude as I can muster, I can manage stress properly, compose clearer, better emails, and continue to develop more meaningful working relationships with my clients and bosses.
The bonus is I am getting paid to learn these lessons. That’s s a gift.
By working at shifting my perspective to the positive, I’m better able to let go of my negative thinking more quickly and realign myself with the good things in and around me.
What do you do to stay happy during a stressful project or day?