zen habits : breathe

6 Amazing Techniques to Staying Happy During a Stressful Project

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Karl Staib of Work Happy Now!

Most of our work happiness comes from our relationship with ourselves. For example, I’m working on a program to help people work happier. As I’m putting all the research together, writing each section and making it all coherent, I hit walls that stall my progress.

A few months ago I actually flopped on the floor, let out a loud groan and died from exhaustion. Luckily, my wife was home, sprinkled some magic kisses upon me and I came back to life. :) My creativity was stalled by my own thoughts of inadequacy, fear, and anger. The person from whom I needed the most encouragement was myself, and I was being my own worst enemy.

I analyzed the internal problems I was having and their effect on my work. Each one represents a weakness of mine. I will show you how I deal with each one and how I’ve learned to use my weaknesses to my advantage.

1. Stay Focused on One Project at a Time
Most of the time, I have several things that I am trying to do at once. I could be writing an email and at the same time I am thinking about an upcoming meeting. This split distraction puts strain on my focus and affects the quality of my work.

I’ve noticed that my attention darts from thought to thought because there is no looming deadline. I’m not forced to produce. So when I need to focus, I set a timer to create a little stress. Stress can be good when it brings focus to a person’s life.

Depending on the task, I may set the timer for 30 minutes and try to knock the work out in that time frame. If I need more time, I let the timer beep at me and then I reset it for the appropriate amount of time. This allows me to focus on this one task without letting my ADD distract me.

2. Break The Project Down Into Tiny Chunks
The length of my list on any given day would scare even Warren Buffett. I expect too much and never feel satisfied.

Instead of getting a whole bunch of stuff done, my brain often shuts down in response to my overwhelming list. I need to figure out a way to reduce those negative thoughts by listening to them and reasoning with them. I have tried being a big bully and forcing myself to do work, but this technique always lacked results.

I’ve created a routine that allows me to handle my work load. When I realize that I have overextended my “to do” wish list, I stand up, breathe deep, and let out the air as I take a moment to refill my glass with water.

I then break down my first big task into twenty minute chunks. When the project seems more manageable, I pick an easier 20 minute chunk and accomplish it. By doing this I boost my confidence and get my emotions back into a positive state.

Once I’m feeling good again I don’t feel so overwhelmed by a mountain of work.

3. Split Your “To Do” List
I often feel overwhelmed as a result of my expectations. I expect to get too much work done. I’ve never been able to accomplish one of my massive “to do” lists in one day. So when my list gets too big I will sometimes split it into two lists.

I create a list that’s easy to complete. If I have four hours for work, I make the list equal to about two hours. The second list I call my bonus list.

Whenever I get to my bonus list I feel good about my accomplishments. A sense of accomplishment is the main reason for a list, so make your list achievable.

4. Take a “Weird” Break
I often get mentally locked up because I can’t focus on what is right before me. There are too many options. If I have to write an email, generate a report, and work on a marketing plan then I feel hot and cloudy. My overwhelmed mind just wants to shut down. I usually get up and take a “weird” break to clear my head.

During my break I do something a little weird like take a short walk and hang from a tree branch. I find that it’s tough to worry while hanging from a beautiful tree. Plus, my creativity almost always starts flowing again.

There are so many ways we can pull ourselves out of a stressful state if we just take a moment to be creative.

5. Connect Your Goals with Your Needs
“Each individual should work for himself. No one wants to sacrifice himself for the company. People come to work in the company to enjoy themselves.” – Soichiro Honda

There are times when I’m working on a big project and I get halfway through when I run out of steam. I’ve lost the motivation.

This is the point when I take a break and try to realign my needs and goals. If I find myself wondering why I’m working my butt off, then I’m the one creating this doubt. Maybe I want to find a new job or start my own business because I’m not receiving the gratitude that I feel I deserve. Whatever the reason for my doubt, I have to internally talk through these feelings. Of course I can talk through these problems with someone else, but it’s best to rely on myself first.

Once you figure out what your underlying needs are that aren’t being met, you can either let go of them and try to remotivate yourself or take action to make a change.

For example, maybe I want to become a better writer, get more organized, and lose 10 pounds.

I try to attach these needs to my work. Trying to become a better writer is easy to attach to my needs since I have to write for the program I am building. I’ll read a writing blog like Write to Done to get myself pumped up to write an awesome chapter.

Trying to become more organized is a little more difficult. I usually choose the obvious path and take fifteen minutes to straighten my desk. This helps me clear my head, feel positive about my surroundings and get back to the task at hand.

Trying to lose 10 pounds is the most difficult to connect with my work. A little creativity is a must. I created a quick reward system. Every time I finished writing one page, I would do 15 push-ups. This keeps me feeling positive about my writing accomplishments and my body.

If you are going to kick start your motivation, you need to find a way that your current work is helping out the future you.

6. Review the Positive
I often get too caught up in how the present moment makes me feel. I create a torturous thought process by magnifying the bad things that are happening to me at my job instead of focusing on all the good things that are there if I just take the time to notice them.

When I’m feeling particularly blue at the end of the day, I turn off my radio and make a mental list of all the things that I’m learning from the stressful project.

My job always pushes me outside of my comfort zone, causing me unrest. Managing stress, implementing big projects, writing clear emails, developing my social skills and all the other interactions that I have force me to become a better person.

I am getting paid to learn these lessons. That’s a gift.

By shifting my perspective to the positive, I’m able to let go of my negative thinking cycle and realign myself with the good things in my life.

What do you do to stay happy during a stressful project?

Karl Staib writes about unlocking and kicking open the door to working happy at his own blog: Work Happy Now! If you enjoyed this article, you may like to subscribe to his feed, follow him on Twitter or read one of his most popular articles, 30 Days of No Complaining – Wisdom Multiplied.



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