We’ve all been there, haven’t we?
The campaign report is due today. The email HAS TO go out before EOD. The phone rings incessantly (even as we are on a Zoom call). We can’t find that project spreadsheet our colleague shared with us just 2 days (and 200 emails) ago. And the list of work woes just does not end.
It’s easy to end up stressed and overwhelmed when you are expected to put out a dozen fires at work without a break. Things spiral out of control. More so in the post-pandemic world with employees dealing with a host of problems like isolation-loneliness, working-from-home, school closures, and mass layoffs. No wonder that this research by LinkedIn found a 33% jump in burnout risk post pandemic!
So we find ourselves trying hard to put ourselves back in the driving seat. We sign up for productivity tools, we take lessons in mindfulness, we switch off our work phones after office hours, and we take up Dalgona Coffees and sourdough breads and Wordles and scroll through TikTok to keep our sanity.
But, if you are looking for more effective strategies to regain control of your work-life before it completely controls you, we’ve got some that might do the trick.
Here are our 9 strategies to minimize workplace chaos, avoid burnout, and make the most of your work.
- Set realistic goals and ask for help where needed
While setting goals for yourself, have realistic expectations. And always, always ask for help if needed. We understand that aiming low can stop you from growing at work, but aiming too high and falling short can be equally disastrous.
So, how do you set realistic goals?
One way is to follow the SMART Goals framework. It advocates for goals to be Specific, Measurable Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
Example - Let’s suppose a tech product manager is tasked with increasing the number of signups on their company’s new app. In this case, the SMART goal statement can look something like: Our goal is to [increase the number of monthly app signups by 20%] by [April 2022]. [The marketing] team will accomplish this goal by [running targeted social media campaigns and collaborating with tech influencers]. Accomplishing this goal will [increase our monthly revenue by 15%].
The goal has specific and measurable targets. The responsibilities and deadlines are clearly defined. The goal is relevant as it has a direct impact on revenue. And it should be achievable given company capacities.
Pro tip: Replace the words in square brackets to draft your own SMART goal statement.
- Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize
No matter how much we want, a day isn’t going to give us 48 hours. There will always be too many tasks and too little time.
Here’s an analogy from my personal life to illustrate the point: I struggle with wanting to read too many books. And end up reading too few. To not miss out, I make a list of the titles I most (desperately) want to read. It saves me a lot of time and energy.
Prioritizing tasks at work can do the same for you. Use a simple to-do list and pen down actionable items in the order of importance. You can start by tackling the most essential things first and capitalize on the momentum of accomplishment to get more done.
If you have a hard time figuring out what to prioritize, decision-making tools such as the Eisenhower Matrix may be helpful.
- Learn to say no
All the greats from Warren Buffet and Paulo Coelho to Richie Norton and Steve Jobs have advised saying no to unnecessary things in order to cut distractions, maintain focus, and to say yes to what matters.
Say yes only when you are sure you want to. Saying maybe instead of no is a fastrack to breaking agreements, to feelings of anger and resentment toward the self and others, and ultimately to exhaustion. Because all of us have limited physical and mental capacities.
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”
- Steve Jobs
- Pay attention to one thing at a time
We’ve harped on about the harms of supposed ‘multitasking’.
Research shows that multi-taskers are awfully less productive than single-taskers. The human brain is hardwired to process only one stimulus at a time and goes wonky when confronted with multiple tasks at once. Your mood, focus, productivity, and efficiency all suffer in tandem.
As far as possible, focus your undivided attention on the task you are tackling in the present moment and give it your one hundred percent. Don’t overload the CPU that is your mind lest the system should come crashing down!
- Find your ideal work schedule
You can optimize your work-life (where possible) by aligning your calendar with your circadian rhythm.
In his book, Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker, PhD, talks about two kinds of people. Morning larks, whose “peak of wakefulness arrives early in the day, and their sleepiness trough arrives early at night” and night owls who “prefer going to bed late and subsequently wake up late the following morning, or even in the afternoon.”
For morning larks like me, the early hours of the day are our most productive. So, I like to get more deep work done in the first half of my work-day and prefer to have meetings and calls in the second half. My night owl friend however, begins his day post noon and produces his best creative output well after midnight.
Finding and sticking to the optimal work schedule for yourself will help you feel more in control and enable you to produce higher quality work.
- Create meaningful spaces for your body and mind
Imagine if this article had zero formatting - no headline, no subtitles, no bullet points, and no paragraphs? Would you read it? I doubt it.
White spaces are essential to make text readable.
Making the most out of your work requires white spaces too — pauses in the workday to decompress. And to rejuvenate the body and the mind.
Don’t skip your lunch and coffee breaks and remember to breathe before you start a fresh task. A comma meditation can be a good way to introduce this pause.
Some companies invest in on-site yoga and meditation programmes and general mindfulness training to encourage employees to switch off from time to time. While some others, such as Google, are lauded for having built workspaces that honour their employees’ wellness and provide much-needed breaks from work.
- Establish time-blocks and boundaries for your digital well-being
Do you feel frustrated when your day goes by switching between answering emails and jumping into meetings without getting a lot done? You aren’t alone.
The global shift to working from home has ironically caused work-life (im)balance to tip heavily towards the former. According to a survey conducted by Wakefield Research for the email platform Superhuman, 51% of the office workers, 40 or under, listed the volume of emails and text messages received on Teams or Slack the top reason for why they’d consider leaving their jobs. Email fatigue and burnout is worse than ever.
Hence it is more important than ever to set firm boundaries that preserve your digital well-being.
A lot of us like to time-block our calendars, decline meeting invites during hours of deep-work, and even turn message and email notifications off while working on intellectually demanding tasks.
For some people, bunching meetings, calls, and answering emails together in one go minimizes distractions and improves overall productivity. Lastly, it helps to communicate your availability clearly to the team and establish healthy boundaries to unplug from work and technology after office hours.
- Nurture hobbies, interests, and relationships outside work
If all you do is work, you soon won’t be able to.
The Great Resignation of 2021 brought this fact home in a big way. According to a study by MIT Sloan, more than 24 million people in the US quit their jobs between April and September 2021.
Some of the main causes reported were
- collective burnout or exhaustion
- prolonged emotional and mental stress
- toxic corporate culture
The pandemic and hybrid work models have led to the disappearance of work-life balance. It is up to us to reclaim that balance if we wish to safeguard our physical and mental health and continue doing our best work without burning out and wishing for an early retirement.
Take some time for yourself every day to nurture your hobbies and interests. It could be anything from slow cooking (or dancing) to your favorite artist, to relaxing with a book and warm mug of hot cocoa on your sofa. Maintain and invest in friendships outside work and make quality time for your family too.
- Use OSlash to take back control of your productive time
Do you know how much (otherwise productive) time you spend looking for information at work every day?
A study by McKinsey found that the average interaction worker spends nearly 20 percent of the work week looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks. That’s about 1.8 hours every day searching for information.
To help you take back control over your time and make the most of it, consider using a knowledge management tool that lets you find, access, share, and organize workplace information (that lives in links) instantly. A tool like OSlash.
As an enterprise URL manager, OSlash lets you create an intuitive, human-readable, and easy-to-remember shortcut to replace long links. For example, the product roadmap can be o/roadmap instead of and the daily Zoom standup can be o/standup. You can use it to establish documents as single sources of truth; sort, structure, and share your links the way you like; and navigate to any company resource in less than a second. Understandably, it saves you and your team hours of valuable time.
We hope you found these tips helpful to take back control of your work before it controls you.
If at any time, you feel like you’re losing control of your work-life, allow yourself some time to self-reflect and figure out what you’d like to change or do differently. Then go ahead and do it!