Work Stress

Be Productive – Reduce Stress By Taking Control

Reduce Stress By Taking Control

Increasingly people in the business world are feeling more stressed and less in control. Mobile technology requires instant response. Projects are constantly changing. Response time expected from managers and customers is getting shorter and shorter. As a result a large part of the day can be spent on unplanned work. And the priority work for our role within our organisations doesn’t always get done no matter how many plans or To-Do lists we create.  Here are some tips on how to Reduce Stress By Taking Control.

Stress and Frustration

The working world can be both frustrating and stressful. And once that stress kicks in it can be hard to think straight. Hard to make the right decisions and hard to be strategic.

Too often we try to reduce the stress by working longer hours. But of course, in the long run that’s bad for us and bad for our business too.

So what is actually going on? Why are so many business professionals feeling this stress? And why is the problem getting bigger as our technology gets smarter?

The Business World has Changed

The way we do work has changed radically in recent years. But the problem is that few of us have adjusted the way we approach work to reflect this. Here is a list of some of these changes:

  • Constant stream of requests on multiple devices
  • Instant communication has created an expectation of instant response
  • Our contactable hours are longer
  • We have decreased downtime to refresh and reset
  • All notifications disrupt us to the same extent
  • Our mobile devices are used in both work and personal lives

We need additional skills to deal with our changed world. And we need to strategically adjust the way we approach the working week.

Different Approach to Work

Most people in business apply good Time Management skills such as planning, scheduling and creating task lists. But these skills were designed for a simpler 9 to 5 working day. A time when we left our work behind us and refreshed when we went home. We read books or newspapers on our commute and the only technology in our bedroom was an alarm clock!

Nowadays because of the constant flow of new work and requests throughout the day, we need to be able to: 1) constantly reassess priorities, 2) stay focussed on planned work and 3) say no to less important work.

  1. Decision Management

To reassess priorities quickly use a simple question: “If I say yes to this new request what tasks am I saying no to”?

In a split second you clarify what work is not going to get done if you take on an unplanned task.

But to make the correct decisions you firstly need to do a bit of background thinking and planning about the overall goals for your business. Then set weekly goals so you have ongoing clarity about your priorities. Then your daily and hourly decisions about what to prioritises will be well informed.

  1. Attention Management

It can be hard to stay tuned in throughout the day to constantly realise what is happening and where your time is going. This is because we often react to new requests without thinking of the time implications or we can spend too long on a planned task.

Who hasn’t done a quick Email check and spent an hour or two longer than planned? The work you do might be important but it may not be the most important thing at that moment in time.

To counteract this use frequent checkpoints. Assess your progress as you move from one task to another. Ask yourself:

  • Am I still on track?
  • If not why not?
  • What (or who) distracted me?
  • How can I stop this happening again?

If you are spending too long on tasks, try using a timer to limit yourself and give yourself a chance to move on.

Be Proactive, Take Control

In summary – the world we do business in has changed so we need to change the way we do business. Reduce stress by taking control:

  • Be clear about your priorities
  • Re-evaluate throughout the day
  • Use your most productive time for your most important jobs
  • Say no sometimes (see Tips on Saying No)
  • Manage your attention using checkpoints and timers
  • Manage your energy by taking breaks and refuelling

By making some simple changes you can take back control of your time. Be proactive and your work life will be less stressful and more productive.

Productivity Tips Business Owners

Productivity Tips Business Owners

As a business owner you are used to working hard. But is your hard work focused on the correct goals for your business? Are you clear about what your goals should be? And even with clear goals, how can you stick to those goals while responding to your customer’s needs? Read on to learn about our productivity tips business owners.

Productivity Tips for Business owners

The challenge is to work smart and be productive. There are simple but effective changes you can make to achieve this. So here are some ideas to get you started.

1)Decide You Want to Take Control

The first step in any change process is the commitment to do things differently. Aim to protect your time for productive work. Be prepared to challenge yourself and your team. This can mean saying no to enjoyable distractions like social media alerts. It can mean pushing yourself to spend more time on the tougher tasks you sometimes avoid.

2)Know Your Environment

And to optimise how you work you need to know how you work. Understand your environment, your challenges and your distractions. What work gets priority, which customers get the most attention, what response time is expected? What percentage of work can be anticipated and therefore planned? When do you work most productively? Is it the same time every day?

You can do this by simply reflecting at the end of each day. But by using a more structured approach, like keeping a TimeLog every day for a week, you can gain further insights. The data you gather will help you decide what needs to change to improve your productivity. Here is a link to our Be Productive TimeLog template.

3)Set Priorities for Your Business

To be truly productive, you need to be clear about what is important for your business. What are you trying to achieve; what are the priorities? Does everything link back to the overall vision and strategy?

By using the SMART approach to objective setting you can ensure that all planned work is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed. This can provide a purpose for every task list or project plan and clarity for everyone on your team. Read more about prioritising here.

4)Get Organised and Plan Your Week

Once you are clear about what needs to be done, develop a plan to achieve it. Have a yearly plan which feeds into the monthly, weekly and daily plans. Make your weekly plan on a Friday afternoon or first thing Monday morning. Use a “To Do” list if you find it useful but make sure it connects to your schedule so that tasks on the list are actioned and most importantly, completed.

Schedule the week using a structured approach that best suits your business and your customers. Different techniques such as batch working or timed working can help to maximise efficiency and productivity. Here is a link to our Be Productive Weekly Planner template.

5)Manage Email, Meetings and Distractions

Your TimeLog data will identify the activities that consume most time in your week.  Emails and meetings tend to be top of most lists while interruptions from colleagues can also eat into your time.

So here are some e-mail productivity tips to consider:

  • Working with email notification constantly switched on can result in the day being controlled by other people’s priorities. There will be days when you need to be constantly in touch. But ask yourself are there other days or time blocks when you can check your emails at planned intervals only.
  • Actively manage your meetings to increase the chance of productive outcomes by using a meeting process. This can include: 1) preparation beforehand, 2) use of a timed agenda during the meeting and 3) post meeting follow-up of actions agreed
  • Eliminate or reduce as many distractions as possible, even if sometimes those distractions are a welcome change from tougher tasks. But remember to be diplomatic when colleagues or clients are involved!

For more detailed advice on this check out our Email, Meetings & Managing Distractions productivity articles here:

Take Control of Your Inbox

Productive Meeting Skills

Tips to Maintain Your Focus

6)Develop New Skills and Techniques

Keep improving to make sure you stay productive in this ever changing world. Nowadays there are lots of free apps available that promote efficiency and collaboration such as Microsoft OneNote. Do some research or talk to colleagues and peers to get recommendations. Make sure you are using your desktop applications as efficiently as possible by learning relevant time-saving functionality and features.

7)Review, Analyse and Repeat

To maintain control of your time and sustain any improvement in productivity, it is important to review and analyse what you have achieved. Return to the Timelog to track what worked and what didn’t. Compare back to the baseline data you collected at the start. Improvements gained from protected blocks of time and fewer distractions can include: reduced email processing, shorter meeting times, higher task completion, increased output and productivity.

Be Productive

In conclusion, these business owner productivity tips won’t work every day or in every business. But I encourage you to take the ideas and develop improvements that will work for you. Send us some feedback in the Comments and keep checking this blog for more detailed articles over the coming months on many of the topics discussed above.

There is lots of research telling us that happy employees are productive but let’s flip that around – lets talk about how being productive helps you be happy.  

Being Productive Helps you Be Happy

There is lots of research telling us that happy employees are productive but let’s flip that around – lets talk about how being productive helps you be happy.  You know that feeling when you have a really productive day in work, when you make a plan and you actually achieve most of the tasks in the plan? It’s a great feeling.

In work a lot of our frustration and stress comes from the fact that other things stop us being productive. So let’s explore how we can minimise those factors and increase our output and productivity.

Take control

We can’t control time but we can control how we use our time so that we are not just busy but productive too. And we can do it every single day. We can control:

  • What we work on
  • What we prioritise
  • How often we check email
  • What goals we set
  • How often we plan
  • Our energy levels
  • Our focus
  • Our output
  • Our mobile phone notifications (seriously, we can!)

So how can we do this?

There are lots of articles online and great tips and techniques available. But it can be hard to apply these ideas when we are dealing with such busy work lives.

We try out a new idea for a week or so and then our clients need something urgently or we have a product deadline or a busy year end.

Our new habits can go out the window. We get frustrated because although we are trying to improve and be more productive we fail.

Here are some practical tips to help employees become more productive.

  1. Know the priorities for you and your job
  2. Understand how you work
  3. Control your distractions
  4. Manage your focus
  5. Identify routine tasks for low energy times

Tip 1 – Know Your Priorities

Think about it, you can’t become more productive without knowing what’s important for your job, your team, your targets or your career. What are you trying to achieve, what are your goals? Do some thinking and planning. Set weekly and/or daily goals and identify the tasks that will achieve these goals. Now you have your priorities. Focus on achieving these tasks. Protect your time when you are working on them by minimising your distractions (see later).

Remember, if you don’t set your own priorities, someone else probably will.

 Tip 2 – Understand How You Work

The first step in CHANGING how you work is KNOWING how you work. Do this simply by reflecting on what went well and what didn’t at the end of each day. Did you stick to your plan? Did you end up working on unplanned things? Was this the correct decision at the time? Were those unplanned things important to your role? How many distractions did you allow?  Did you let other people’s priorities take your time? Consider also what time of day you are most productive and when you concentrate best.

You can also do this in a structured way. Keep a simple Time Log for a few days or preferably a week (template available at This can seem like a painful exercise but people are generally amazed how much they learn about how their time is spent when they actually track it. Once you know this you can take steps to control it.

Tip 3 – Control Your Distractions

Your Time Log analysis will tell you what distracts you. It could be phone calls, social media notifications, message alerts (the unimportant ones) or other people’s requests which are usually their priorities! Take steps to eliminate or at least minimise your distractions now that you are aware of them.

We let ourselves be distracted because sometimes it’s a welcome change from the tough or dull (priority) task we are working on. And that’s okay if you chose to do this for a set time to refresh and regain your focus.

But the trick is to do it deliberately and control the time you spend. We’ve all been there: “I’ll just check this Twitter notification” and 30 minutes later we’re still on our phone!

So for electronic notifications:

  • Analyse all the notifications you receive. Are you giving them all the same priority?

Are you letting a Twitter interaction distract you as much as the alert for an email from an important client?

  • Turn off the low priority notifications
  • Check Twitter or other social media interactions at a set frequency that makes sense for your business.
  • Consider if you can have periods in the day or week when your email alerts can be on silent. Take control.

Tip 4 – Manage Your Focus

Being productive is not just about being organised and sticking to your plan. It’s about producing the best work you can. It’s about the outcomes you achieve. We sometimes feel unproductive even when we have created the uninterrupted time to work on an important piece of work. This is because we can lose our focus which can really affect our output.

Our focus is affected by our energy levels and this in turn is affected by what we eat, whether we take breaks, how much we sleep. When we’re in busy roles we often compromise these factors.  But simply being aware of their impact helps us make some small adjustments.

Even a 15 minute walk around the block at lunch time can work or maybe sometimes eat a banana instead of that chocolate bar! Here are some more tips on maintaining focus.

Tip 5 – Identify Routine Tasks for Low Energy Times

Most jobs include plenty of routine, so-called “lower priority” tasks such as, updating a database, sending follow-up emails, arranging meetings, ordering supplies or maybe subscribing to a newsletter to stay informed.

Some of these tasks may actually become high priority and urgent if not addressed. Some of these don’t require peak concentration or energy so a good approach is to do them in batch at a time when you know you are not at your peak productivity.

For example between 3pm and 5pm on a Friday can be a great time to do new contact follow-up emails when your energy may be low after a busy week.

You are still being productive because you are getting things done.

Being Productive Helps you Be Happy

Try these changes and you have every chance of making 2017 your most productive and happy year ever. Also keep checking and @beproductive_ie as we constantly post tips and articles.