One of the challenges many businesses face today is keeping up with the heightened speed of the world, as technological advancements and information overload are changing the way we work. People are expected to work faster and more effectively than ever before, resulting in an enormous amount of stress and pressure people are exposed to. These conditions, however, rather than facilitating work, make it harder, sometimes impossible when the demands are, realistically, unachievable. In fact, when we are stressed, parts of the brain shut down and we lose access to the corresponding functions, therefore reducing our performance potential.
The question then is about how can we work efficiently under pressure and how can we ensure that our team does the same? These are our 5 top tips on how to get the most out of others and yourself.
- When things are overwhelming, stop and remind yourself what the bigger picture is and what is your purpose in it. How do others contribute to the common goal?
When you have a lot of things to do, you can get lost in trying to finish the small tasks, which can seem never ending. If you want to slow down the pace, take a moment to reflect on the bigger goal you and your team want to achieve and prioritise your work. Ask your team what their priorities are too and make sure they are aligned , so that everyone is working in the same direction. Start with the strategically most important projects at the top of the list and celebrate the small successes as a team, then you can move on to less important and urgent tasks, knowing that you have already achieved something.
Breathing exercises and meditation can significantly facilitate this process, as they create space in the mind and raise self-awareness. Lack of self-awareness and clarity of thought are the first signs of overwhelm and stress. In that frame of mind, it seems like you are working fast, moving from one thing to another, but actually, your brain is processing information more slowly. You may find it hard to concentrate on one task at a time and instead think about multiple things to do simultaneously, resulting in many started but incomplete projects. This is the time to stop, breathe deeply and meditate to regain balance and remind yourself what is your role in the bigger picture.
- Stay brain fit and body fit
When you feel under pressure at work all day, the only thing you want to do when you get home is relax. It is important to find moments for downtime, however this can sometimes lead to sluggishness and, instead of replenishing your energies, it makes you feel even more tired.
Try to get some exercise, even when it seems like you don’t have time for it. Movement, in fact, induces the production of endorphins (feel good hormones), increases concentration and learning, whilst also excreting cortisol (stress hormone). This is why, after you exercise, you might be physically tired, but it will make you feel energised.
Keep your brain, as well as your body, active. Cross lateral movements, such as boxing, swimming, dancing and aerobics, improve the integration between the two brain hemispheres, which helps keeping the brain focused even during stress. Another way to keep you brain fit is to solve puzzles, do eye-tracking exercises and laugh.
Get your team involved as well, encourage and keep others on track by holding each other accountable. With the right support around you, it will be easier to be consistent and introducing it into your routine.
- Think positively
Your thinking is your inner voice that you hear most of the time. What you hear repeatedly, you tend to believe, so all the thoughts you keep having you will start to believe, whether they are true or not. This is why thinking positively is so important: the more positive thoughts you have, the more you will start to believe in positivity and the brighter side of things. This is also true for what you hear being said around you: the more positivity you hear from friends and colleagues, then more your own will be reinforced. The more negativity surrounds you, the more your good energy will be hindered.
Because your beliefs shape your actions and behaviours, if you believe that you are able to succeed, that you are good enough, that you fit in, that you are surrounded by supportive people and so on, your attitude and you behaviour will change to reflect these beliefs. You will act more confidently, you will strive to achieve your goals, you will feel that you belong and that you are supported.
When you are under pressure, instead of repeating to yourself that you are busy and stressed, causing you to be those things even more, change your self-talk into something more empowering and positive. Remind yourself how productive and effective you’re being! You may be busy, but if you focus on how you will feel when all the things on your to do list are ticked off, your energy will be more positive and you will be more likely to actually get those things done.
- Be healthy and sleep
When you are stressed and under pressure, you can forget to take care of yourself, taking shortcuts like fast food, ready-made meals and fewer hours of sleep. It may seem like this method will give you more time to work, but it will have the opposite effect in the long term, because without the proper nutrition and rest, your brain will not function effectively.
Eating a healthy, varied and balanced diet is crucial for the brain to have sufficient nutrients and energy to work well. Make sure you avoid processed foods and eat a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, meats and drink plenty of water.
To avoid fatigue, sleep is essential as it allows the brain to recharge and to restore depleted resources. The quantity and the quality of sleep are both important, don’t bring your worries to bed and write down anything that is on your mind before you go to sleep, so you know you will deal with them in the morning. If you find it hard to fall asleep, create a relaxing routine in order for your body to adjust and prepare for the night.
- Keep connected
When you are stressed and under pressure, it can be very isolating, as you may feel you can’t afford to chitchat and socialise. Others around you, however, can be a great support network and can bring a different perspective to your worries.
Psychologists Yerkes and Dodson developed the Human Performance Curve, which shows the relationship between pressure and performance. Small amounts of pressure increase performance, but when the pressure goes past the stretch point, people move into strain and panic. Since the comfort and stretch zones differ between people, it is good management practice to make sure that everyone in the team has the right amount for pressure for optimum performance.
Keeping connected with your team and having regular conversations about how everyone is managing pressure levels and how their performance is affected by these can be hugely beneficial. Furthermore, you can help people to cope better with stress depending on their preferred mode of working. For example, you can support someone who prefers to direct others and have control by letting them lead the process; or someone who is very caring of others and has strong values by giving them positive feedback. You can help someone who prefers to be sociable by allowing and encouraging them to talk and share their feelings, or someone who tends to appreciate details and structure by giving them time to analyse and study the situation.
Different personality types deal with pressure and stress in different ways. You can stay connected with your colleagues by helping them work well under pressure:
Stay tuned for next week’s blog on how to improve soft skills in leaders, where we will discuss the skills to thrive in the future and how to have conversations that will change the way you lead and manage your people.