Practical advice and tips to keep your focus this month.
January can be a busy time for us as we balance the new demands from clients due to the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit with the usual regulatory deadlines.
It is important to recognise stress as it occurs and take action. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development, when under pressure eight out of 10 of us will have trouble concentrating, six out of 10 will take longer to do our work and three out of 10 will fall out with people. At this time of year it is more important than ever to have a plan to deal with your stress.
Here are five ways to keep your focus
1. You are more important than the job Your best decisions will be made when you have a creative and relaxed mind. Whilst making time for yourself may seem impossible, bear in mind that not every hour of the day is equally productive. You may work until midnight, but was it your best work? Give yourself regular breaks to get away from your screen and do something physical. This increases blood flow and helps your mind to reset. If you really don’t have an hour for a run, try regular stretching and a ten minute walk. This will also help to relieve neck tension, and gives your eyes a break from the screen, both of which can lead to headaches.
Prioritise one good thing you can do today which your future self will thank you for.
2. Sleep A bad night’s sleep can impact your functionality the next day. It is estimated that 90 minutes less sleep will reduce your thinking capability by 30%. Use the REST method for getting better sleep:
Routine – go to bed at the same time each night and set your alarm for the same time every morning
Environment – make sure your room is dark, cool and free from noise. Ear plugs and eye masks can help. If your brain is still racing, try some white noise such as the Rain Rain app to give you naturally soothing sounds
Stimulation – avoid alcohol and limit caffeine in the afternoon. It takes six hours for caffeine to leave your system. Limit screen time in the evening and if you do want to watch a bit of TV make it funny or light-hearted where you can
Thinking – get your mind in to the best place by writing down 10 good things that have happened that day or things you are grateful for, just before bed. Maybe it was a chat with mum or a smile from your son: all of these thoughts help towards a good night’s sleep.
3. Rocks, gravel and sand Keep focused by planning your day in advance. At the end of each day create a list of tasks for the following day. This will help you to let go of the day and leave work behind. Create a list of the three most important things to do the next day, these are your ‘rocks’. Then think about what is important but can wait till the day after – do them if you can, don’t worry about it if you can’t, this is your ‘gravel’. The ‘sand’ is the small items you can fit in if you have time. This could be your social media posting or the newsletter. This exercise is about focusing on the important things first. Make sure your team do the same and agree what the team ‘rocks’ are.
4. Delegate and communicate When we are under pressure other people often want to help us but don’t know how. Think of positive ways those around you can help. Teenagers can cook dinner, even if it is basic! Be clear with communication around timescales and expectations with clients, family and yourself. Rome wasn’t built in a day, be aware that things often take longer than you had hoped. If you are being constantly distracted by emails where you feel clients expect an immediate response, set up an autoresponder setting an expectation of a reply within 48 hours.
You can also add calendar links if people want a quick 15 minute talk about something so that you can set aside fixed times of the day for these conversations. Importantly, let people know that this is the new regime. Part of your new regime may involve splitting the day in a different way so you can be with the children when they need you, but also have the quiet time you need for your work. Uncertainty breeds confusion. If you find that you need to be with your children at certain times of the day, let people know.
Communication includes self-talk. Some of you may now be home schooling alongside work. Be honest with yourself about the time and energy this takes.
Remove the word ‘should’ from your vocabulary – that word is so 2019 and belongs in an era of certainty and predictability. Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can and celebrate the small wins. I left school struggling to read and learned to read properly in my late teens - I still qualified as ACCA at 23.
Remember that all of life is coaching, and you, your children and your team learn from everyone and everything around you every day whether you realise it or not. Learning what makes you happy is key to your success and theirs. If your home schooling is more about life skills such as compromise or kindness it is still valuable.
Take a lesson from emotional intelligence with your communication. When someone or something has pushed your buttons, do not feel you have to provide an immediate reply. Pause and consider your outcome. Will your reply provide that outcome?
Under pressure we often feel that we have to react, but choosing how we respond is one of the true gifts which is always under our control. Put both feet on the ground, shake your shoulders and turn our head from side to side to release any tension. Now breathe slowly. Breathe in for the count of five, hold for the count of five, breathe out for the count of five and hold empty for the count of five. Within 20 seconds you have paused, calmed your body and provided your brain with more oxygen. Now reply.
Another tip from emotional intelligence is to be more descriptive with how you communicate. I don’t mean flowery, just more accurate. Stressed means different things to each of us. If you want support, be clear on the issue. Being overwhelmed with the volume of work is different to getting frustrated with interruptions but both can lead to that blanket word of ‘stressed’. Consider the details of what is really underlying the ‘stressed’ aspects of your life. What can you let go of? What can you delegate? You may believe that no-one can help you, but even just communicating the situation to someone else may give rise to a solution you hadn’t considered. Remember, under pressure we don’t always recognise all of the opportunities around us.
5. Boundaries If you are one of the many people who are now working from home you may find your work and worrying about your work spills over into your home life. Set some boundaries and enlist others to enforce them. For example, you could agree to go on a dog walk with a friend at a set time each day to ensure you get out and finish work at 6pm. It’s harder to let someone else down than it is to let go of our commitment to ourselves.
One of the most important things to remember is that you are doing the best you can and dismiss your mind monkeys which would have you believe you need to be more or to do more. You are going to totally rock this January. Go for it!
Sharon Critchlow – member of Global Council at ACCA and a Director at Discover Your Bounce Group specialising in corporate wellbeing strategies and personal development through emotional intelligence.