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    Career: Controlling Stress in Trying Times

    Stress is an inevitable part of daily life, but by focusing on your vision, learning when and how to say “no,” and carving out time for yourself, you can emerge from the current economic crises energized and in a better position to achieve your definition of “success.”

    Lisa Haisha

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    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 82, No. 7, July 2009


    Read or listen to any news report these days and you’re sure to get negative information: workers being downsized, employees being forced to take pay cuts, big companies seeking bailout money, and businesses closing their doors. With so much negativity dominating the news, it’s no wonder so many people are so stressed at work.

    Unfortunately, stress does much more than weigh heavily on people’s minds. It also contributes to lower productivity, increased sickness, and a negative mindset that might threaten to spiral out of control. Every company and law office that wants to survive this economic downturn and see it through to the other side needs principals and employees who can effectively deal with stress and keep it from affecting their daily performance.

    If you’re one of the millions of Americans whose work life seems out of control (and consequently is hurting your personal life), rest assured that you can regain control of your life and minimize the stress you feel. The following strategies will help.

    Focus on Your Vision, Not Your To-do List

    A vision is something that takes you on a journey and keeps you pumped up. A to-do list is something that overwhelms you and causes friction in your life. Think about it: How many times have you created a to-do list, only to not complete your outlined tasks? Afterward, you probably felt like a failure and beat yourself up for being so lazy, dumb, irresponsible, ____ (you fill in the blank).

    The vision you create should be for yourself in terms of who you want to be in the firm or company or what you want to contribute. Once you’re clear on that, you can focus on the outcomes of your activities and not on the individual tasks themselves. In other words, your vision will keep you from focusing on the drudgery of to-do tasks and give you a constant reminder of what you ultimately want to achieve.

    Lisa Hiasha

    Lisa Hiasha is a consultant and speaker who coaches entrepreneurs and business owners to reach success in their careers. A confounder of the Los Angeles Chamber of Enlightened Enterprises, Haisha's coaching techniques can help boost motivation, communication, productivity, and creativity in the workplace and in life. For more information, please visit www.lisahaisha.com.

    For example, if your vision is to win the company’s top-salesperson award, you would focus on that image or ultimate pay-off rather than all the minutia of things you must do to attain that award, such as all the cold calls, prospect meetings, paperwork, and so on. Without that clear vision in mind, the daily grind will stress you out and cause you to lose focus.

    So, while you still have tasks to do and even to-do lists, don’t let the small steps dominate your thinking. By focusing on your ultimate objective, you’ll stay motivated to take the action required to reach your goal.

    Create a Weekly and Monthly Calendar

    While the idea of keeping a weekly and monthly calendar can at first seem overwhelming, it’s actually an ideal way to organize your time so you can keep your priorities straight and lower your stress level. Here’s how it works: Before a new month starts, decide what your focus will be for the coming month. Perhaps your focus will be to complete a big project at work or to brand your firm. This is your monthly vision.

    Then, each Sunday evening write down what you want to accomplish that week that will lead you to your monthly goal. Block time for those activities in your weekly calendar. These activities are your priority. In the timeslots with no activity scheduled, you can put all the other things you want to do for the week, such as other work tasks, meetings, and so on.

    Finally, during your nonwork hours, be sure to schedule things that bring joy to your life, such as exercise, spending time with your family, reading, and relaxing with friends. Now you’ve identified your main focus for the month, have broken down your main tasks into workable time chunks, and have allowed space for a personal life as well. Remember, personal time is vital, especially when you’re under stress. Even if you only have a few minutes for yourself, that time will restore your energy and keep you motivated. So don’t neglect it.

    Say “No” to the Things that Weigh You Down

    During tough economic times, many people are afraid to say “no” at work. They believe that if they refuse to stay late, take on more work, or do a special project then their boss will fire them. While you always have to decide what’s best for your personal situation, in most cases when you say “no” to the things that don’t feel right and that take away from your wellbeing, you make yourself more effective in the areas or core strengths that really matter.

    For example, if you say “yes” to every special request your boss or coworkers ask of you, eventually you’ll be so overworked that you won’t be able to do anything well. All your work will be mediocre at best, which will reflect negatively on your performance. However, if you say “no” in a way that illustrates why saying “no” is the best option, then you’ll have the inner strength to do key tasks well, which will positively affect your firm’s bottom line.

    When your boss asks you to add another project to your already full plate, you could say, “I don’t think that me taking this on would be in the firm’s best interest. My plate is full, and if I stretch myself too thin, all my work will suffer. Let’s see who else may have the resources to take this on.”

    This same concept also applies to the people in your personal life. When you’re stressed out, you need to be able to tell your loved ones and friends “no.” Realize that people will always try to pull your time away from you with requests such as “Can you babysit my kids for the evening?” “Will you drive me to the airport?” “Can I borrow $100?” If you say “yes” simply because you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, you’ll only end up adding to your stress level. So say “yes” when you really want to help someone, but say “no” when the request will put an extra burden on you.

    You Can Take Control of the Stressors in Your Life

    Stress is an inevitable part of daily life. And while no one will ever be able to completely eliminate stress, you can take steps to minimize it so that it doesn’t negatively affect your performance. Don’t let the realities of the country’s economy get you down. Instead, use this time to get clear on what you want and take the steps to make that vision a reality. Before you know it, you’ll love what you do, your stress level will decrease, and you’ll be a top performer who gets the respect and recognition you deserve.