Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Decrease the stress of more work with less support by focusing on your priorities
Stress for Success
August 28, 2007

Has your workload increased as your workforce decreases? Whether your organization is laying off employees or having problems hiring enough qualified ones, step back and evaluate what you're doing to assure that you’re doing the most important things.

If you’re in a near constant race against time it’s easy to become distracted by what’s urgent but unimportant. If you simply add more tasks to your previous workload hustling to get everything done you’ll easily lose sight of your main purpose. If everything becomes a priority that means that nothing is. "Work smarter, not harder," by always knowing and investing your limited energy into your top personal and professional priorities.

A former high-school vice-principal who became the principal of her school created a visible, colorful poster for her desk on the first day of her new job. It depicted the top three priorities she’d identified as vice-principal to lead toward the ultimate goal of improving student performance: classroom discipline, teacher expectations, and parent involvement. She committed to these three priorities guiding her time investments for at least the first year.

As she raced through her days, to avoid being sidetracked by an urgent task, she’d question if investing her energy into it would lead toward one of her top three objectives. If her answer was “no”, she’d delegate the task as often as possible.

Another technique to remain focused on the important comes from Stephen Covey, author of "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People." He suggests planning your time by making a weekly list of your professional and personal roles and what you want to accomplish in them. For instance, professionally your roles include coach, supervisor, team member, etc. Personally you’re a parent, spouse, friend, etc. Schedule your week’s activities ahead of time by including what you want to accomplish for your most important roles. For example, if you have a friend who needs support schedule a lunch to offer her some.

Take the advice of consultant Ivy Lee for one final idea on focusing on the important. Back in the 1930s he was asked by Charles Schwab, President of Bethlehem Steel, for advice on how he could achieve more. Lee told Schwab to write down the most important things he needed to complete the next day and rank-order them. In the morning start immediately on the number one priority and work only on it until completely finished. Then move on to the second most important, etc. Stick with each as long as it remains the most important. Do this every day.

Within five years Schwab created the largest independent steel company in the world. He was so impressed with the value of Lee’s advice he paid him $25,000! How much would that be worth in today’s dollars?

To make the most of your time identify and then live your life by your top priorities. Say “no” to that which leads you away from them. Say “yes” to that which leads you toward them. Stop doing more and more; instead do more of the important and much less of the unimportant.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Plan family vacations to make sure everyone has good time
Stress for Success
August 21, 2007

You love your spouse and kids but are you ready to spend 24 hours a day together?

Some families vacation exceedingly well together sharing common vacation goals; whether hiking every national park on your itinerary or shopping every mall. They also negotiate well when they don’t agree.

After my husband and I returned from our sabbatical a dear friend said we must have been glad we put so much planning into our trip given the incredible time we had. I laughed because all we planned was to be gone for a year in our motor home, ski Colorado for two months, and eventually travel to Alaska. Other than that we played everything by ear.

Other families don’t necessarily agree on what constitutes a good vacation. They’ll need to plan and negotiate more to keep everyone wanting to continue living together afterward.

They’ll need to discuss and agree upon their holiday goals; especially if they have very different interests. Rather than one person planning everything, leaving your enjoyment dependent upon how good a job she does:
· Get everyone’s input about what they’d like to do. (Be honest about what’s important to you. If you don’t and you end up not enjoying yourself you have only yourself to blame.)
· Accommodate as much as possible what each says they’d like more and less of on vacation (e.g., less time in the car, more exercise)
· Identify and then make your common interests your priority. If everyone wants to camp Minnesota’s Boundary Waters, make that the centerpiece of your trip. If possible, start there. Sharing the awe of this serene and natural wonderland together goes a long way in helping you negotiate the rest of your vacation.
· Encourage everyone to do Internet research on your destination to explore the possibilities ahead of time.
· Put each family member in charge of something; whoever is the best a scheduling keeps the calendar, the best navigator’s in charge of maps.
· Decide on a budget then allocate a daily average amount to spend and monitor how you’re doing. On days you under-spend, put the extra money into a general pot that you draw upon for extras. As you approach the end of your money you’ll either need to discipline yourself to cut back or decide how you’ll pay for any overage.
· Plan plenty of activities for your children. Keep them busy. Wear them out physically! It’s so fun to see them enjoying themselves to the point of physical exhaustion! Then when they crash for the night you can have private time. But don’t over-schedule them leaving them cranky and disagreeable.
· Include daily exercise to reduce everyone’s stress and to minimize weight gain if part of your fun is eating your way through a vacation.

Family vacations are a wonderful time to enjoy life together. Show your kids how to do it. Plan ahead of time if that’s your style or just wing it if that has historically worked for you. Most importantly, enjoy each other and this great land of ours.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Disconnect electronically to benefit from time off
Stress for Success

When your kids were babies wasn’t part of your brain awake all night focusing on sounds coming from their bedrooms? After a few years of this did you feel drained, exhausted and mentally fuzzy?

The impact of the developed world’s obsession with being electronically connected almost all waking hours is similar; after a few years you start feeling less rested, more fuzzy-headed and stressed out.

If you’re always plugged in and available for business communication during your off-work hours, not to mention your vacations, you’re never “off”, you’re never fully relaxed. How could you be if there’s the possibility that work may interrupt you at any moment?

Since the advent of fax machines, cell phones, instant messaging, etc., the boundary between work and personal time has been blurred for most people and virtually disappeared for some. On vacation you can physically be 3,000 miles away from work but as long as you remain “on call” you may as well be down the hallway from your office. Staying forever electronically connected to your job means you choose to participate in the instant expectations and response game you play every day at work.

There are definitely some people who handle this constant communication potential with little apparent stress. They focus like a laser beam on a work issue and when finished drop it like a hot potato and refocus on their off-work activity. Others are dogged by professional responsibilities carrying them as a backdrop in all they do.

Regardless of where you fall on this stress continuum, why waste your money on a perfectly good vacation risking the stress consequences of not fully relaxing? If you’ve always remained connected you can’t know if you’d be more relaxed disengaged until you try it.

Request honest feedback from your family regarding how it affects their vacations when you remain available to your professional responsibilities. Ask if it interferes with the family’s ability to have fun and to focus on each other.

If they ask you to detach from work during vacations:
· Communicate to those most affected, those who contact you the most often when you’re on vacation that you’ll be incommunicado during your upcoming break. Or, that you’ll only handle work communications at one specific time daily.
· Program your voice-mail and email’s out-of-office reply to inform others of when you’ll return.
· While on vacation breathe deeply each time you’re tempted to “check in” to help break your habit (addiction?)

Mounting research finds that regularly turning off completely is imperative in combating the physical consequences of stress. Your mind and body regularly need to recharge. A real vacation allows you to do this by letting go of work and settling into a different pace.

Do yourself a favor. Disconnect during your next vacation; even if only for part of it as an experiment. For some it may be painful. Others may be frightened of the consequences. Ultimately the health consequences of not reducing your stress are far greater than the consequences of disconnecting from work during a vacation.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.