When you're starting a business, there's constant pressure. When everything is a priority, how do you remain calm and complete all your tasks on time?
The key is "being able to keep up the intensity even though there's no external accountability," says Sharon Melnick, a business psychologist and author of Success Under Stress. This means you need to be able to "manage your stress levels and stay motivated even when you're not," she says, because once you allow yourself to get stressed, you end up losing your ability to think critically.
Melnick reveals five tools and techniques for staying resilient even under chaotic and ever-changing circumstances in your professional life.
1. Learn to properly prioritize. This is not as easy as it sounds. Most of us have multiple competing priorities, and they all seem urgent. Melnick suggests the best strategy is to figure out what your real priorities are through a process of clarification and communication.
"Clarity is your best time management tool. When you feel overwhelmed, you can invariably trace it back to a lack of clarity somewhere in the chain of how priorities were decided," Melnick says.
Make sure you make time regularly to think about your daily tasks and responsibilities and decide on what’s the most important thing for you to do to keep up with the changing industry and evolve in your expertise. Then prioritize your list based on this understanding.
2. Practice “serial monofocus” instead of multitasking. According to Melnick, most of us think that we’re getting more done when we multitask, but the truth is, we actually aren’t able to truly focus on our tasks, and we "lose efficiency and focus each time we have to switch between topics and projects."
It’s so distracting that over the course of the day, it can actually take you 30 percent longer to complete a task and you end up making more than twice the number of mistakes.
3. Don’t always be available. Throughout the day, we encounter frequent interruptions that waste our time. In fact, Melnick says that on average, office workers are usually interrupted seven times per hour, which amounts to approximately 56 times every day, wasting an astonishing 2.1 hours per day.
When it comes to daily interruptions, you have three options: allow, cut it off or triage. If you decide to allow (or accept), then give the issue your full attention and resolve it immediately so it doesn't interrupt you again at a later time. If you decide to cut if off, turn off your email notifications or keep your phone on silent during this time. This way, you’ll have more control over others contacting you. Last, if you opt for triage, you should “allow a brief interaction between you and the interrupter solely to determine how to deal with the interruption," Melnick says.
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4. Communicate your plans when you’re not available. When you’ve decided that you need some time to be “off the grid,” you should inform others of your plan.
"Our addiction to digital devices has more to do with an underlying need to feel wanted and important. [We believe that] being a successful member of the middle class society is showing our dedication to professional work and being available at all hours of the day," Melnick says. However, this dedication doesn't mean that you’re actually productive—just that you’re available.
5. Identify time wasters. Pinpoint exactly what it is that makes you waste time throughout your day and ask yourself why you do them. For example, if you’re surfing the Web, ask yourself why you’re doing it. Is it because you’re bored? Or trying to brainstorm new ideas? Once you figure out why you’re doing these unproductive habits, you can begin to curb those habits and become a more productive person.
In a continuous work environment, you will always have too much to do and not enough time to do it. From emails to instant messages, there’s so much technology at our fingertips that it’s easy to get distracted. As this technology makes us more available and our stress levels increase, we need to be able to focus on the most important things and eliminate what makes us least productive.
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