Hooray for Healthy Work Habits!

How to reduce stress through positive communications, proactive time management, and a productive approach to problems

Megan Knapp /

[Images: iStock/Thinkstock Photos.]

Smiling woman holding lemon slice over one eyeWhat is your biggest stressor today?

If you replied, “Too much to do!” you are not alone. When presenters in the recent webinar Grace Under Pressure: Tips and Tricks to Cultivate a Positive Approach asked this same question of participants, many categories of stress filled the screen; but the sheer amount of work to manage, both in the office and in life, topped the list. Fortunately, several solutions to this problem followed, as Cheryl Heywood (Timberland Regional Library, WA), Georgia Lomax (Pierce County Library System, WA), and Anna Shelton (OCLC Program Consultant) shared a number of useful tools and good habits we can all develop to help manage time, projects and perspectives better. Though change is constant, and work performance and satisfaction is a continual journey, there are many steps we can take to pave a smoother path.

Present Yourself

Each of us has a unique style and approach to work and workplace interactions. In the webinar, Cheryl encourages us to be ourselves, but also to know ourselves. Understanding our own values, strengths, and preferences better prepares us to work well with others. For example, what do you project at work? Do you speak in headlines, or are you a storyteller? People frequently respond to our body language and tone even more than our words, so awareness of our personal style and approach can help us get our message out, or listen more effectively to others. Managing our schedule can also help us present ourselves well, as when our work is in balance, we tend to have a healthier perspective in general. Cheryl gives us tools we can use to address projects and tasks and “manage the moment” -- like the Four D’s for considering email or work items:

  • Do it now;
  • Do it later;
  • Discuss it; or
  • Delete it.

She also explains that each interaction and experience gives us a chance to ask ourselves: 1) what have I learned 2) how do I feel about it, and 3) what improvements can I make? By assessing and updating our work style and approach accordingly, we can manage our performance and our professional outlook successfully.

Find Balance

Diverse group of people jumping into the air

Stress throws us off balance. Good stress can motivate us, but bad stress makes us less productive and irritable. Georgia shares several ideas for working smarter (not harder) to reduce stress. One example to avoid emulating is that of the adrenaline junkie: someone who compulsively checks their phone or email for the next work item. Georgia discusses how underneath the stress of this constant connection to work, there is also excitement… some pleasure comes from the rush of reading each communication or update instantly. But like any addiction, a never-ending attachment to work is unhealthy and ultimately makes our work suffer. When we lose perspective, we lose our ability to focus properly on projects, or much of anything else. Following the themes of time management and work style, Georgia talks about her own lessons in reducing stress, like setting up one-on-one time between herself and her work, to better manage projects; learning that “done is better than perfect,” and that setting up a well-planned day can help you work efficiently, so that when the day ends, you can truly leave work at work.

Be curious. See the bigger picture.

Each of us is in control of how we engage in and respond to workplace communications, though it may not always feel this way. Anna introduces several tools to help take the emotion (and stress) out of exchanges with others. Looking at meetings from a reporter's perspective, for example, and capturing the facts, rather than getting drawn into arguments or drama, can reduce the emotional impact of meetings. Regarding each conversation as a learning opportunity (what new thing will I learn from this?) also expands our view. Getting curious and keeping our antennae up allows us to see the bigger picture. Anna also discusses the STATE model for approaching workplace communications, from the book Crucial Conversations:

  • Share your facts;
  • Tell your story;
  • Ask for others’ paths;
  • Talk tentatively; and
  • Encourage testing.

One example from this is using gentle cues in our language: I wonder…, I notice…, What if we tried?... these are all lighter, positive ways to solicit information or feedback. In giving us resources to shift our perspective and center on the good that can come from healthy communications, Anna poses a question we can all ask of ourselves as we go about work (and life): how can I be a force for positive change? In Grace Under Pressure, you will find many tips and tools to support your answer.