Overwork and the acute and persistent stress that comes with it are never easy to deal with. To make matters worse, paradoxically, the lower your mental and emotional well-being at work and in life, the higher the chances that your productivity will take a hit.
In other words, at some point, you won’t just be increasingly bogged down by stress—it’ll start dragging down your productivity and performance in the long run, too. The more you minimise this fact, the more space you’ll give it to cross over from the realm of possibility into reality, and the harder you’ll crash later on.
Of course, there are always ways to deal with things appropriately. As it turns out, having proper systems in place to keep track of all your commitments is integral to good work-life balance.
Part of this is implementing the right practices and habits that ensure you stay on top of things. In that regard, though, there’s one habit that is both simple and yet highly impactful in so many aspects: focusing on the next actionable step. Here’s why.
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According to David Allen, bestselling author of “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity”, it isn’t actually possible to “do” a project; “you can only do action steps related to it.”
So much of the time, though, we fail to break down our projects, tasks, goals, at work; our most gargantuan tasks remain the most daunting and dreadful because they seem like insurmountable. Consequently, we’re either confused about wht to do next to get closer to what we want to achieve, or get easily distracted by yet another vaguely defined project or responsibility.
Distilling each of these tasks down to concrete, actionable “next steps”, though, takes the edge off—now you can clearly see a ladder of actions to be taken in sequence from now all the way until you reach the point where you achieve what you set out to do.
Ultimately, this doesn’t only make us much more productive; it also greatly reduces stress levels. Since you now have a system in place to track every single task and responsibility, you’re able to manage yourself much more effectively. Subsequently, you feel less easily overwhelmed, and thus far less stressed out about work.
The amount of resilience we display at work and in life depends heavily on the lens through which we choose to see the world around us. Perspective, after all, makes a huge difference. Knowing how to let go of what’s beyond our control while taking full ownership of what is in our control is critical; research shows that the stronger our internal locus of control, the happier we are and the better off our self-esteem is.
To that end, Shawn Achor, Harvard researcher and author of the bestseller “The Happiness Advantage”, advocates using “the Zorro Circle.” In pop-culture folklore, Zorro started out his training to become a master swordsman under the tutelage of his master, who initially made him practice his sword techniques in a small circle which he was to stay within until he mastered his form.
Similarly, according to Achor, focusing on what’s immediately ahead of you (as Zorro did with his circle) helps you to stop looking at the things you can’t control, and instead devote your time and energy to moving forward proactively by zeroing in on one thing at a time.
When you do this, there’s hardly any room to feel as though the challenge you’re facing is insurmountable, since you’re taking it one step at a time. In the long-term, this eventually builds both your internal locus of control and your long-term resilience and happiness.
If you want to find your biggest enemy, look in the mirror; whether we realise it or not, we’re often standing in our own way towards success. Procrastination, in particular, is a huge personal obstacle that so many of us face.
As it turns out, though, we don’t resort to constantly putting things off because we’re just that lazy or irresponsible. Studies have found that procrastination isn’t about time management at all—it’s about emotional management.
Often, the tasks we need to work on create negative emotions and sentiments within us, like self-doubt. We procrastinate because we don’t want to face the possibility that we might not be good enough to get something done.
Research has also shown, however, that the best strategy to combat procrastination through emotional management is simply to focus on the next actionable step. Again, the more daunting the task ahead seems, the worse we’ll feel about getting to work on it. In contrast, breaking it down to the next actionable step does a lot to assuage the negativity we feel.