On Managing Stress, Multitasking and Other New Year’s Resolutions

One of my resolutions for 2015 is to reduce the stress and manage my workload. I have an obsessive compulsive workaholic personality that often makes it difficult for me to work a day without stressing out or overloading myself with tasks I cannot accomplish on time.

Prioritizing

There is a lot of work that needs to be done but not all of it can be accomplished in a given day. Work needs to be prioritized by:

  1. What is important for my employer/customer/project for today ? Obviously, no sense in doing tasks that are not important for your project.
  2. Is the task going to make me more productive going forward ? Sometimes one may be asked to do something that may seem like make work. In our line of work, however, seemingly make-work tasks can have silver lining depending on the approach – find a way to fulfill this task such that if asked in the future you either don’t have to do it at all, or you can do it faster.
  3. Is the task going to move my project forward ? No sense in doing things that result in spinning wheels and treading water.
  4. Is working on this task going to improve your skill set, help you learn something new, and improve your marketability ?

Another thing to note is that every job has its “chores.” For example, one of the reasons I chose not to pursue Ph.D. program was because I realized that majority of each professor’s time was spent on mundane things like teaching freshman courses and grading home works. Likewise, in my line of work in the private sector there are “chores” that everyone has to do such as installing software updates, builds, etc. Many of these tasks can be automated.

Taking a deep breath

One thing to remember is that every job, every project, is going to have its ups and downs. As long as the project is moving in the right direction (i.e. it is not in Reactive Maintenance, and it follows the general best practices ), setbacks are not a good reason to damage your health.

As I progress in my career I find that I need to work with people less experienced than myself. I have to remind myself that earlier in my career someone had to patiently explain things to me. As a senior member of the team I have to remember to be patient with the junior members as well.

Stop multitasking

Reality is that multitasking does not work. Somehow we all decided that ability to multitask is a desirable quality in a knowledge worker. It is not! On the other hand, ability to manage and prioritize tasks is what is important.

Taking charge of my health

I work from my home office. I find myself sitting at my desk for hours on end. I solved this problem by purchasing a Varidesk Pro Plus. There is plenty of studies out there proving health benefits of working while standing up. I have never felt better – did you know that simply standing up for a few hours exercises your core muscles too ?

I work with computers. Many of my hobbies also involve working at the computer – photography for instance. I need to spend less time at my desk and more time outdoors. One thing I plan on doing in 2015 is buying myself a 128 Gig iPad Mini and using the iPad for all of my photography and other hobby work. I am working on an improved photography workflow that does not involve me sitting at my desk. I want to enjoy my hobbies, not be tied to a computer.

Finding a balance

I colleague said to me the other day: “Why are you so stressed out ? Take a deep breath, it is just work!”

Some of us, like myself, seek to find a greater purpose in work. Are we making the world a better place ? Are we advancing the state of the art in our field ? Are we investing in the future ? Are we improving our lives an those of our family members ?

Of course, work is a means to earn a living. But work is also a means of self-fulfillment. It is possible to earn a living and feel fulfilled, but not all jobs are fulfilling. Working for a living is all about finding balance between maintaining a lifestyle, saving for retirement, and building a fulfilling career.

Since it is highly unlikely that work will always be fulfilling the best way to find a balance is to develop hobbies and personal projects and dedicate some time to them. I have a list of things I want to accomplish and I hope to get to it.

Drawing a boundary between work and private life

I subscribe to the school of thought that believes in boundaries. On the other hand there are studies that show that working with friends improves productivity and happiness.

When I was single in my 20s I networked a lot with both coworkers and professionals outside, and to be totally fair I developed some life long friendships. Since then, however, I got married, I have family, two wonderful kids, and obligations outside of work.

I do not friend coworkers on Facebook. I keep my twitter account purely professional. I use linked-in to connect with colleagues. If I happen to work with someone I am already friends with on Facebook I put them on a restricted list where they don’t see every update from me.

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