Is Iraq Crisis Distracting You at Work?
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|Thu, 03-27-2003 - 1:26pm|
Here's a borrowed question....
How do you fight stress and stay focused?
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Your company may be laying (more) people off, your 401(k) has tanked, and now, as if you weren't distracted enough, there's a war on. Are recent events affecting your ability to concentrate on work? Many people have been glued to news reports during the workday lately (the so-called "CNN effect"), and while it's tempting to do that, it's also risky.
"Before the war in Iraq, there was terrorism and the economy, and after the war is over, there will always be something else," muses Earl Taylor, Ph.D., a senior trainer and coach at Dale Carnegie Training (www.dalecarnegie.com). "Yet, so many people's jobs are vulnerable now, it's the worst possible moment to allow distractions to get in your way."
What to do? There are ways to keep informed, cut stress, and remain productive at work during tough times like these. Taylor and another veteran coach I talked to, Jane Weizman, explain how.
"If trying to stay informed about events overseas is distracting you, try setting aside a block of time each day to focus exclusively on that," suggests Weizman, an HR consultant specializing in performance management at Watson Wyatt (www.watsonwyatt.com) in Washington, D.C. "I see people watching CNN for an hour at lunch and maybe another 20 minutes in late afternoon--and then getting right back to work."
Weizman learned a lot about staying focused during a tough period in her personal life a couple of years ago, when two close family members died and her husband underwent heart surgery. "At times of great stress, having a daily 'to do' list and sticking to it can be a relief from the situation," she says. "Getting crucial work done in an orderly way also keeps you from feeling you are letting down the people around you, which just adds another layer of stress."
Another boon: Physical exercise. "A friend of mine, during a time of crisis in his life, found a stretch of deserted woods where he went running every morning and just let himself scream, cry, let it all out," Weizman says. "He says it worked wonders." Exercise, even for just 10 minutes a day (and even if you don't scream), relieves nervous tension and helps you sleep better at night--another aid to concentration.
"And find someone you can talk to," urges Weizman. "It doesn't have to be a professional, just someone who will hear you out--a friend, a colleague, a spouse, your dog..."
Keeping everything bottled up inside can actually make you less productive, not more--and this is hardly the moment for that.
Meanwhile, Earl Taylor, who teaches workshops on how to focus even when the sky seems to be falling, offers seven specific suggestions to help you cope at work during difficult times.
1. Never lose sight of why your job exists. "Why were you hired? What outcomes does your employer expect from you?," asks Taylor. "If you're just working for a paycheck, you're vulnerable. Instead, keep your eye on your role in achieving the company's overall goals."
2. Focus on outcomes, not on tasks. Once your attention is on which goals you need to achieve, you'll be less likely to have what Taylor calls "that 'what-was-I-thinking' moment" if you do get momentarily distracted by late-breaking news.
3. Keep things in perspective. "You can't control what happens to the economy or how the war goes," says Taylor. "So make an effort to work harder at the things you can control"--such as meeting your next deadline. Succeeding at the things in your life where you can achieve a real difference, including family and friendships, not only makes you more productive, it keeps feelings of helplessness at bay.
4. Prioritize. "Identify the things you must do today. Do those first," Taylor says. "Then, whatever can wait until tomorrow becomes first on tomorrow's list." Anything that's not important enough to do today or tomorrow can go on a list of back-burner items. You'll be far less stressed if you don't try to do everything at once, so...
5. Do one thing at a time. "And do it the very best you can," says Taylor. "The gratification you get from completing a job well done will help motivate you to stay focused."
6. Don't overanalyze. "We live in a society where the President gives a 15-minute speech and then we get an hour and a half of analysis of it," Taylor notes. "Avoid the temptation to overthink every decision." As a certain athletic-shoe company puts it: Just do it.
7. Don't worry about what might happen. Instead, keep your eye on what is happening right now. "Getting caught up in water-cooler discussions of, say, who'll be laid off next, or whether the Iraqis will use chemical weapons, is not going to do anything to help you ship that next order or finish that important memo that's sitting on your desk," Taylor says. "If you worry endlessly about what may happen, and your job doesn't get done, then you really will have big problems. You'll have created a self-fulfilling prophecy." Ouch.
Readers, what say you? How do you fight stress and stay focused? Do tell. You may have a tip or an insight that could be a real help to fellow readers in these terrible times. Please add your thoughts in the boards below.