When we compare the way we work today with the way we used to work one or two decades ago, one thing is made abundantly clear: as processes in daily office life have become faster, the expectations of our customers have changed. Today, we are expected to reply to emails with 24 hours, or ideally immediately, our calendars fill up with one meeting after another and we are always contactable, even while on holiday or on a night off. No surprise, then, that we often feel overwhelmed by work, or like we cannot cope with the stress any longer.
The way to keep your head above water is to clearly structure your working day. Here are some things you can do:
Eliminate distraction traps
Having a quick chat with your neighbouring colleagues, refreshing Facebook or Instagram for new posts, checking your messages on WhatsApp… there are distracting temptations everywhere in the office. This is why you should set yourself fixed periods in which you want to work completely without distraction. When we have a tidy desk, we find it much easier to concentrate. Some people find that headphones are the best way to get into the zone. Or perhaps there is a room in your office that you can retreat to if the noise level gets too high at your desk?
The final deadline is not the only one that matters when it comes to reaching your goals. Setting self-defined deadlines for your interim goals goes a long way to ensuring that the overall goal is met on time, giving you an overview and alerting you quickly if something is lagging behind.
Some of us react to every email immediately and tick small tasks off the list quickly. For those who find it easy to keep an eye on the bigger picture, doing this is not a problem. But many of us, when torn away from our work over and over again, end up virtually starting from scratch on the task that has been interrupted. Flag important emails in your inbox. Those are to be dealt with first, before you go through the rest. Also make sure that your inbox is not overflowing: emails that have been dealt with should be immediately sorted into sub-folders.
Despite how it may seem to us, our parents and grandparents did not actually work less than us – quite the opposite in fact! They did, however, have less free-time stress, as life used to be more distinctly divided into work and leisure time. A break was a break. As for us, thanks to smartphones, we are always on call. We don’t even relax when we are on holiday any more, instead “battling” with our colleagues over who has experienced the most and travelled to the furthest flung destinations. And it is not unusual for this to be transferred to our children. Children are finding it increasingly difficult to keep themselves busy. In the evenings they are taxied around from A to B: horse riding, swimming, music lessons, ballet – even the most minor interest now has to be pursued to the fullest!
It’s true: our daily lives have become faster. New technologies present new challenges in the world of work. Today, an important skill that we must learn to master is how to structure processes more clearly. We have to learn to prioritise better. It is important to schedule times when we can truly relax and fully switch off. After an adventure holiday in Australia, it can help to unwind with a couple of quiet days. In the long run, people who look after themselves are able to stay efficient longer!