We’ve all been there. A huge project is due at work. Perhaps it’s a presentation for your boss or investors — or a pitch to a potential client. Each day the deadline looms closer, you build more stress in your mind and in your body too. Soon it feels like you are under so much pressure, it’s tough to focus or be creative.
This is not how any of us do our best work!
Thousands of years ago, stress helped us to survive in the jungle, but today it is almost always unhealthy. It increases inflammation in the body and reduces our immunity, which is more critical than ever now. The good news is that we can reduce stress by taking concrete steps. Here are some ways you (yes, even stressed-out you) can use mindfulness to perform better at work, even and especially under deadline.
Try one or all of these tactics the next time you face time pressure at work:
1. The Timer Trick
While you're working, set a timer to go off every sixty minutes (or every two hours if better for you). When the bell chimes, simply look up and away from your task. Find something beautiful in your environment — anything that makes you smile. It could be a leaf on a tree outside, a piece of art in the room, or a photo of someone you care about. Take a moment to appreciate the beauty in your life, whether it’s nature, art, or a person you adore.
Focus your attention on this object for a moment, smile, and truly appreciate its presence. This simple act of being grateful for the beauty around you will shed stress and help you to stay calm and focused.
2. 20-Minute Restoration
Research shows that taking breaks at work actually improves your output. No matter how much pressure you feel, you will work more creatively and effectively if you enjoy even a bit of time off. I love getting up every few hours to walk around the block, and researchers from Stanford found that walking outside “opens up the free flow of ideas” and produces “novel and [high] quality” results in people’s work!
If walking outside isn’t an option for you, do something nurturing for yourself. You could take a bath, make tea, enjoy a coffee, or read a book (Yes, you are allowed to read in the middle of the day!). Another idea is to meditate. My company, The Path, runs a meditation teacher training program, and we encourage students to meditate for 25 minutes a day. Studies actually show that meditation produces benefits after only nine minutes — it helps you feel calm and focused and literally reduces the production of cortisol, the stress hormone, in the body.
However you decide to spend it, I would suggest taking a real break, without checking anything digital for ten or even twenty minutes. You will return to work feeling more creative and energized.
3. Reframe to Refocus
A “reframe” is when you purposefully shift your perspective on something to see it from a different viewpoint. If you’re dreading working on a project, you might be thinking to yourself, “Why am I working so hard?” or “I hate this project” or “I want to do anything but this.”
If you feel this way, try reframing your task and even your work overall. Be honest with yourself, but choose to move away from negative feelings and towards positive aspects of your work and even this project. Here are some ways to reframe:
I’m so glad to be a part of a team.
I’m grateful to be working at a time when so many people are looking for a job.
I love learning new things (or demonstrating how I have grown as a professional).
I’m grateful to do this work, which will help me/my clients/my team do something good for the world.
I’m so happy to have impact beyond myself.
4. Schedule Distraction-Free Time
Projects often take as long as you give yourself to work on them (like packing or unpacking)! When you schedule yourself, you’ll almost always get much more done in a shorter amount of time.
When you are under a deadline, especially if you are working on a multi-day, complicated project, you can use your calendar as an almost magical time-management system. Here’s how it works:
Mark off 1-3 hours a day that will be dedicated only to this work.
Make these blocks public, so your team knows you are not reachable.
During this time, work 100% on your project.
Do not check emails, text messages, respond to Slack, or check Instagram.
When that time is up, get up, move around, have some water or a tea or whatever you enjoy, and celebrate that you just got a huge chunk of work done. Bravo! Now you can turn to whatever is next on your agenda or enjoy social time.
Go Offline to Recharge
After a long day of working hard, turn off your computer, and even your phone, as soon as you finish. Now, do something fun and creative.
Your mind needs time away from pressure, deadlines, and work (this is why people get great ideas in the shower!). Here are some ideas for enjoying time offline:
Write in a journal.
Play music (on a guitar or keyboard or any instrument you have or can improvise).
Dance to a song you love, even if you're on your own.
Take a walk with no destination, following only your intuition.
Cook a simple, healthy meal.
Do something you don't usually do if it feels fun or adventurous (as long as it's safe!).
I hope these ideas help you to finish your project on time while staying balanced and happy. It may take practice to remember them when you’re under pressure, but choose one or two that feels right for you and enjoy this new freedom you can bring to your work!
Do you have other tips or tactics you use to manage stress when a deadline looms? Please send me a note or find other ideas for enjoying off-work-time on my Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dinakaplan