4 Steps to Reduce Stress and Refocus at Work in 10 Minutes

One day, years ago when I was working in the health and wellness industry, one of my intelligent and high performing colleagues appeared quite deflated.  This caught my attention because she was always on her ‘A’ game, never asked for help, and was considered one of our most reliable team members.

When I asked her if she was okay, she responded with a sigh, “Yeah, but I just have so much on my plate, and I don’t know how I’m going to get it done.”

I had experienced that feeling earlier in my career, and I replied, “I don’t know exactly how you feel in this moment, but I’ve started a routine that has helped me tremendously when I’ve been in a similar situation”. She was excited to hear my routine, and once I shared it with her she put it into action. Not only did it make an immediate impact but it exponentially increased over time.

Want to know what I shared? Below are the 4 steps to reduce stress and refocus at work that you can apply in less than 10 minutes that my colleague claimed: “changed her life.”

Step 1. Disconnect from all electronics and take a few deep breaths

There is truth behind out of sight, out of mind. Stimulation and stress can shorten your respiratory cycle. Once your devices are out of reach, breathe deeply, as sufficient oxygen flow is what you require most to live!

Step 2Drink a glass of water

Stress can dehydrate you by weakening your adrenal glands, and your brain needs water perhaps more than the rest of your body.  Your brain is 70%+ water.

Step 3. Go for a 5-minute walk (no phone or devices)

Go for a walk and put all of your focus on clearing your head and reflecting on the things you’re looking forward to doing or achieving.

Step 4Find a vacant meeting room or quiet space to sit with only a pen and notepad

Think deeply about your priority projects and tasks that are weighing on you, and jot them down in no particular order.  You need to create space in your mind so you can start to think more clearly. Then, simply number them in order of what you need to begin working on first.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe famously said, “One always has time enough, if one will apply it well”. I’ve found this to be so true. There is no point in letting doubt or negativity build.  Prioritize, and tackle one thing at a time.

After completing these 4 steps, there will be times when you will still feel overwhelmed. Here’s a tip for when you’re still feeling overwhelmed after these 4 steps: Ask for help from a manager or peer. Explain your situation, share the way you are feeling.  It shows how much you care and how much pride you have in your work. It’s important to be confident in your abilities, but showing a sense of vulnerability is also a characteristic of great leaders.

My former colleague tells me that these steps have become a habit when she feels overwhelmed, and they help her refocus and get back on her ‘A’ game.  But be patient, numerous studies have shown that it takes 3 full weeks for a habit to form.

Also, be cognizant that many individuals don’t handle stress well, so don’t hesitate to ask them if they’re okay and share this routine with them. It can change their life.

About the Author Gordon Shuford is the Director of Leadership Development at LearnLoft, a full-service organizational health company which exists to turn managers into leaders and create healthier places to work. Gordon has a background in corporate wellness and coaching.

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1 Surprising Health Statistic Managers Need to Know

Have you ever considered whether or not a team member has called out sick because of you?

According to the WorkPlace Research Foundation that’s exactly what might be happening. Companies that foster highly engaged workforces report an average of 2.69 sick days taken annually per employee, compared to companies with weak engagement efforts, reporting an average of 6.19 sick days.

2.69 vs 6.19

Employees who are overly stressed by their managers are more likely to call out of work whether they are sick or not and are more likely to get sick as well. The latest statistics show 75% of major medical costs in the U.S. are due to stress-induced health issues and 75%-90% of primary care visits are due to stress-induced health issues. Managers must start thinking more about stress and how they can help alleviate it.

What Managers Can Do

The best way to open up the conversation about stress related issues is to have open lines of communication. If you are a manager, the way to open up communication is to strengthen relationships with individual team members. This will allow them to open up when they are feeling extra stress or pressure they don’t feel they can handle. Without a strong relationship, the chances of a team member admitting they are stressed is extremely low because no one wants to be thought of as weak.

Build better relationships by making sure you carve out dedicated time with each individual member of your team. It could be as small as a 3 minute phone call or as committed as lunch once a month. The point is, you are showing them that regardless of how busy you are, you will always make time for them.

If you don’t take time to build strong relationships with your team members, they won’t just call in ‘sick’, there is a good chance they will leave forever.

About the Author Gordon Shuford is the Director of Leadership Development at LearnLoft, a leadership development company which exists to turn managers into leaders and create healthier places to work. Gordon has a background in corporate wellness and coaching.

Get Enough Of These 2 Things To Avoid Making Bad Decisions

Arianna Huffington, co-founder of The Huffington Post and host of the Thrive Global podcast, claimed that every bad hire she made was due to being too tired. All of us know what sleep deprivation feels like, whether we’ve been stressed, had to work to reach a deadline, or have children who keep us up.

But sleep isn’t the only factor contributing to poor decisions at work. Hydration is critical for many reasons, and it’s arguably more easily controlled than sleep.

Dr. Don Colbert, best-selling author of The Seven Pillars of Health, begins his first chapter describing several examples of how chronic pain, migraines, and anxiety were significantly alleviated with hydration.

Consistently keeping our health a top priority, unfortunately, is something many of us fail at due to poor decisions. But, what specifically, can you do to ensure you get enough sleep and stay hydrated? Here are some ideas you can put into practice:

1. Use the ‘Do Not Disturb’ Feature on Your Phone

Getting enough sleep has become more challenging with electronic devices always within an arm’s reach. Apple Vice President Greg Joswiak reminded Huffington to double-check her Do-Not-Disturb option on her phone to ensure uninterrupted sleep.

2. Don’t Look at Your Phone When You First Wake Up

A recent study shows allowing at least one full minute to elapse when waking up before looking at your device, proves to minimize stress throughout the course of the entire day. When you do pick up your device, try reading a motivational quote or a devotion on your device before delving into work-mode.

3. Disconnect from Work and Social Media at Least 30 Minutes Before Bedtime

Numerous studies have shown that screen light from electronics can actually delay the release of melatonin, our sleep-inducing hormone. And drop the habit of double-checking your email and social media as your last task before you go to bed. Do this earlier. You need time to unwind from a potential email or post that could either causes stress or excitement.

4. Calculate Caffeine into Your Water Intake

Caffeine can significantly dehydrate you. Drink a full glass of water prior to your caffeine consumption in the morning. To maintain proper hydration, drink 2 glasses of water for every 1 caffeinated beverage. If you drink a lot of caffeine, this means reducing your caffeine consumption to avoid non-stop restroom visits.

5. Drink Small Amounts of Water Throughout the Day

It’s best to drink small amounts of water throughout the day, similar to the suggestion that numerous small meals throughout the day can speed up your metabolism. And drinking a glass of water 30 minutes prior to a meal can help with digestion.

Poor hydration can lead to health issues, leading to poor sleep, increasing chances of poor decisions. You know as well as Arianna Huffington, there is nothing more crippling in the workplace for you and your team than a bad hire.

No one likes making bad decisions, especially at work. Start using these 5 practices to make your health (and healthy decisions) a top priority and encourage your team to do the same. Share these tips with your team.

About the Author Gordon Shuford is the Director of Leadership Development at LearnLoft, a full-service organizational health company which exists to turn managers into leaders and create healthier places to work. Gordon has a background in corporate wellness and coaching.

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5 Songs That Dramatically Improve Your Work (and Writing)

As I walked down the hall, cruising through pods, the only acknowledgment of my existence were simple hand gestures. A few people people gave me a wave, others threw up an air fist pump, and a few ignored me. What was interesting was each and every person I passed was doing the exact same thing. They were all wearing headphones and listening to music.

If your office is anything like mine, you are used to this environment. Now there’s a time and place for listening to music at work, and it’s when you are doing what author Cal Newport calls, “Deep Work.” Deep work is the ability to focus, without distraction, on a cognitively demanding task.

Lately, for me, writing my book, F.M.L. Standing Out and Being a Leader has required a substantial amount of “deep work.” So naturally, I used music as a way to help me stay in the zone and be more focused for longer periods of time. A recent Cornell study found, “happy, upbeat music can lead employees to be more productive, cooperative, and work harder for the good of the company or team.”

Here is a list of the best songs to listen to while doing “deep work”:

Divenire by Ludovico Einaudi – You can listen to the greatest work song of all time here. I like it so much I leave it on repeat. At one point, I am sure I listened to it 20 times in a row. Songs without words keep you in the mode of deep work better than those with words.

#41 by Dave Matthews – Contrary to what I just said, this is one of the few songs on the list that has words. This particular Dave Matthews song has long instrumentals, but maintains a calm and peaceful rhythm.

Ibiza Classics – Ibiza is a island in the Mediterranean off of the coast of Spain that has become famous for house music. This Ibiza Classics Mix on youtube will keep you upbeat, focused and happy about the work you are doing. When I am listening to it, an hour passes by in what feels like 10 minutes. That’s when you know you have the right song going.

Fur Elise by Beethoven – It would be a crime not to have Beethoven on this list because he is arguably the most influential figure in classical music. Most consider him the greatest composer of all time. Fur Elise is just a start with Beethoven.

Find My Way Back by Cody Fry – I am going a little off the reservation with this recommendation but Cody’s music is overflowing with positivity. When I first got up the courage to begin writing a few years ago, I am 100% sure it wouldn’t have happened without this guy’s music. He is far from a big name, but his music will lift you up and keep positive thoughts flowing.

This list just touches the surface of all the great songs and music that will help keep you in the mode of “deep work.” What are some new ones to put on my radar?

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John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft start your organizational free trial here. He is also the host of the Follow My Lead Podcast and is passionate about the development of modern professionals. You can also find him on instagram @johngeades.

Why You Should Start Your Day at 9PM

We’ve all done it. You set the alarm for 6:00 AM with grand aspirations to get up and workout like a Navy Seal before eating a healthy breakfast and cracking on with your day.

Then the alarm goes off, it’s dark and cold outside, you’re tired – and those good intentions simply evaporate.

Recognize the pattern?

How could you improve the situation?

What if you woke up feeling better because you’ve had enough sleep?

This is why I think that the morning routine doesn’t start at 6:00AM; it actually starts the night before with the steps you take before you go to bed.

The single biggest productivity improvement I have made this year is moving my phone charger downstairs. This means that when I head upstairs to bed at around 9.30pm, I leave my phone downstairs. I deliberately cut myself off from the distractions of late night emails and the noise of social media.

There’s a saying they use at alcoholics anonymous:

‘If you don’t want to slip up, don’t go where it’s slippery’.

Although the phrase is meant to refer to bars and pubs, it could also be used to help you make any form of behavioral change. Think about AA in a different context. Think about them as ‘enablers of behavioral change’ – what can you learn from the principles they apply?

Think about the changes that you have tried to make but have failed.

What were the times and places that you found yourself in?

Chances are there will be a pattern – these are your ‘slippery places’.

If you were an alcoholic, these would be your bars and pubs. You might be able to go there again in the future but when you are trying to break the habit or change the behavior, you can increase the chances of success by avoiding these places in the short-term.

Leaving my phone downstairs has created the space for me to read. This is an extremely valuable activity that improves the quality of my thinking and writing.

If I ‘learn’ based solely on my daily experiences, I am a victim to whatever happens during my day. Reading allows me to be proactive and self-direct my learning.

I am currently reading ‘The Business of Excellence’ by Justin Hughes because I want to understand how a former Red Arrows pilot thinks and is applying his military experience to the world of business.

It’s valuable to understand how another veteran from a high performing team applies the lessons they’ve learnt in a different environment because it helps to shape my thinking and clarify the value of my experience in the Royal Marines.

Behavior change is hard.

It requires real ‘presence’ to understand what you’re good at, what you’re not good at and then guts to change it.

Understanding your ‘slippery places’ is just one more way in which you may be able to stack the deck in your favor and deliver a true sustainable change… and isn’t that the key to high performance?

Roderic Yapp is the CEO of Leadership Forces, a partner of LearnLoft in England and brain child of High Performance Leadership.  The program can be deployed online or in-person.

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Why There’s Nothing Worse Than Perfection

“If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all.”

This single phrase, that we’ve all heard a million times, became a crutch and impaired my actions. I wasn’t able to get things done because of the fear of not doing it “right”. Projects accumulated on a to-do list. I always found a way to justify to myself why the situation wasn’t right, why I didn’t have the things needed to complete the project, etc. I lived in apartments for years without decorating because “it wasn’t permanent”. When I finally moved into my own house, I didn’t paint because it was “too much of a commitment” without having the room completely decorated.

If Pinterest existed back then, I would have had a million pinned items and nothing to show for it.

Eventually, I stopped dreaming up new ideas. I was crippled by a sense of fear that led to inaction.

Work was a different story. The fear of losing my job was greater than my fear of failure. But the phrase found its way to burrow into my thoughts at work too. “Stay in your safety zone and do what you know works,” it whispered. “You don’t know how to do it perfectly, don’t bother trying.” And when I would almost have the guts to do something, it begged to my senses, “That’s a nice idea, but nothing ever turns out as well as you think.”

Now, I should have preface with letting you know that I’m not an underachiever by any means. From an outsider’s perspective, I looked like a normal, productive person. I made good grades in school and graduated magna cum laude from East Carolina University. So, obviously, I got some things done.

But what mattered were the things I was missing out on. The innovation my organization was missing out on because I was too paralyzed by the perfection.

Then one day, our team decided to adopt the 80% rule. The 80% rule states that you get a project 80% there and then you just stop without tinkering or perfecting.

The key to my buy-in of this idea was that everyone agreed and it was made clear to our clients and colleagues, our goal was not perfection, but completion. Perfection became the enemy.

No longer did we waiver over words or punctuation. We focused instead on the execution of ideas and the big picture.

The crippling phrase was removed and I started living every day with a new motto: “Be a CLOSER.” I marked each day as success by what I was able to “close” or complete.

By doing so, amazing things started happening. We started to develop more content. We figured out the direction of our organization, and we kept our clients happy.

If you’re like me and you struggle with perfection over completion, here are 3 things you can do to be a closer:

  1. Set the Expectation of Imperfection. Get buy-in from yourself, your colleagues and customers. Here’s the great thing about getting to 80% that could sell them on the idea: people love to add their two cents a lot more than like to actually do the work. If you can get a project/idea/template to them faster, without the expectation of perfection, then everyone will have a chance to chime in with ample time to meet deadlines.
  2. Rely Less On Tools and More on Yourself. Whenever you blame the tools you have for lack of action, you are just making excuses. If there’s an idea you believe in and your team needs to make it happen, you can find ways to make it happen. I make a lot of videos for work. I am, by no means, an expert animator, but I’ve found ways to use tools that come on every Apple computer to make my videos dynamic and get them done quickly. People don’t care what tools you use, they care about the end result. Find a way!
  1. Create a Constant Reminder of Your Goal. I have this post-it on my computer. Cheesy? Most definitely. But it works as a totem for my team and me. When we get caught up in the “what ifs” or the “it would be cooler if it did…” we ask ourselves if we’re going beyond 80%.

As someone who likes to dream of possibilities, plan, and perfect, it’s been extremely challenging to implement this mind shift, and sometimes I do falter, but the results are worth it. This article is a perfect example of a “close”. It took me one hour to write and run this article by a colleague. It’s now complete (with minor typos to be expected), but I got an article posted today. What about you?

I challenge you to become a closer today. In the comments section, let me know what you closed today.