10 Ways to Make Life at Work Substantially Easier
We spend more time working and thinking about work than anything else. So if we can make life at work easier, life in general will get better, too.
Sometimes difficult tasks and situations do help us grow, so easier doesn't always mean better. But today we're talking about removing unnecessary stressors that will make things both easier and better.
So here are 10 ways to make life at work substantially easier, along with steps you can take to start seeing improvements today!
1. Cut down on caffeine.
To some, this is heresy. How could you survive without your morning coffee?
I hear you. And I’m not asking you to give up something you love, especially when there are so many benefits to drinking black coffee and teas.
But too much of this good thing makes life more difficult.
Studies also show that drinking too much coffee unnecessarily increases stress on the body without improving cognitive performance.
In other words, too much caffeine makes you feel bad and perform worse, which leads to increased stress and less restful sleep.
This is a huge problem! So let’s fix it.
- If you’re a big coffee drinker, limit yourself to 3 cups a day or fewer.
- If you’re a big tea drinker, keep it to 4 cups of black tea or fewer.
Instead, focus on drinking water. Even a 2% decrease in hydration can affect performance by 10% or more!
By drinking more water and less caffeine, you’ll take advantage of your body’s natural rhythms to reduce stress, sleep better, and perform better at work. Who doesn’t want that?
2. Ask for help.
Most of us don’t want to ask for help. We want people to think we’ve got it all together! Unfortunately, this mindset does more harm than good.
The worst thing you can do is pretend to know what you’re doing, and allow some event to make it painfully obvious that you don’t.
Besides, telling yourself you need to be able to do everything alone puts unnecessary stress and pressure on your shoulders. How is that good?
Studies show asking for help when you’re in need reduces work related stress, and can even help you add more value.
So how can you tell when you actually need help? Use your own discretion, but here are some tips. Ask for help when:
- You’ve spent a significant amount of time unsuccessfully trying to figure it out
- You’ve done the work, but want a 2nd opinion before finalizing it
- You’re in charge of something outside your expertise, and don't know what to do
In other words, it’s good to ask for help, but you need to give it your best effort first. Otherwise, you’ll create unnecessary stress and distractions for whomever you ask to help!
The purpose of asking for help is to make sure you do the right thing and make the best decisions. When it's easier to make the best decisions, life at work becomes substantially easier, too.
3. Schedule times to talk.
Open doors and casual conversations are good things, but they can make life at work needlessly difficult.
Studies show it takes more than 20 minutes on average to regain focus after being distracted. So when Stacy pops in to ask you about last month’s numbers, you lose an average of 23 minutes of valuable focus.
It only takes 3 of these distractions a day to lose 260 hours of focus a year! That’s 6 ½ 40-hour weeks.
What do you think you could do with an extra 6 ½ weeks a year?
More importantly, how much less stressed would you be if you had an extra 6 ½ weeks?
“Water cooler” conversations and collaborations are great things, because they foster ideas and growth. But interruptive conversations need to be discouraged.
How can you discourage interruptions without discouraging people? One strategy that works is a “closed door, open calendar” approach.
The concept: People can always schedule time with each other, but they can’t just barge in and disrupt workflow.
You don’t have to stick to it religiously, but this strategy creates a valuable structure that helps everyone.
Even a 15- or 30-minute heads up will usually give you enough time to reach a stopping point. This way, everyone can stay focused while remaining approachable, and life at work can become substantially easier.
4. Invest in tech.
Out of date or inefficient technology is a prominent source of work related stress. Tech is supposed to help us do our jobs better! What should we do when it holds us back?
Your initial reaction is probably to speak up.
Don’t do that.
First, get some numbers and do your own research. Here’s why.
Talking about a problem without giving any potential solution is complaining, and complaining puts undue stress on your bosses and managers.
Instead, work through a few alternatives before bringing up the issue at all. Here’s a Text Request example.
An employee will be calling to reach customers constantly throughout the day, playing phone tag and leaving tons of voicemails, because most people don’t answer the phone.
They think, “I’m wasting so much time on this. There’s got to be a better way.”
They do some research, and find Text Request. Then they go to their boss and say:
“I’m spending [X] hours trying to reach people every week. Text Request will save me all those hours, help me reach more people, and let me work on other important things, too. It’s only a few bucks a month, and the ROI could be huge. Can we give this a shot?”
Technology is supposed to help you do your job better. When it doesn’t, take matters into your own hands.
These conversations won’t always be seamless, but they show initiative, and could make life at work substantially easier.
5. Read fiction or personal stories in the evening.
Making life at work easier starts with how you spend the rest of your life.
There’s plenty of evidence that shows we need intentional periods of rest, when we can let our minds wander, in order to do better at work.
Not everyone has the resources or willpower for hobbies like woodworking, music, or hiking, but everyone can read a book. (If you’re low on funds, you can check out books from your local library for free.)
Fiction and memoirs are great choices for this restful reading, because they often focus on topics and people different than what we work with day-to-day.
They're engaging, but different, which exercises a different part of the brain. And that goes a long way towards making us feel refreshed.
Reading recharges your brain, blocks out anxieties, and even helps you sleep better!
When you're well rested and less anxious, life at work will get better, too.
6.Text or IM for most work communications.
Two things slow employees down and create unnecessary stress:
- And long response times
We covered interruptions in point #3. When you’re interrupted, you lose focus and productivity. But when people take too long to respond, you’re still held back, because you need an answer to move forward.
It seems like a catch 22, but it doesn’t have to be.
If you need to hear from someone, just send them a text, or even an instant message. About 95% of texts are read within a few minutes of being sent. So you can get quick answers reliably without interrupting anyone.
If needed, the text can be used to set up a face-to-face meeting or phone call. People will see a text quickly, and respond to it whenever they reach a momentary stopping point, whether they're a customer or a co-worker.
The alternative is waiting hours in hopes of getting an email response or returned call.
Texting and instant messaging can make life at work substantially easier, because everyone’s able to get what they need with convenient timing.
7. Keep a handwritten to do list.
We’ve all experienced this situation. You have 101 things to do, and you can’t stop thinking about them. It stresses you out, and wears on your mind. You might not even be able to sleep!
The problem is called the Zeigarnik Effect. Essentially, it’s where your brain replays details over and over in an effort to remember them.
But sometimes we want to forget about all the things we have to do! That’s where keeping a physical, handwritten to do list helps.
Your brain repeats things to remember them. However, as soon as you write them down, your brain recognizes there’s a record, and stops repeating them. The effects might not be instant, but they’re pretty close.
I refresh my handwritten to do list every day before leaving the office, and it’s made life substantially easier, because my brain isn’t constantly cluttered.
The Zeigarnik Effect and writing down your thoughts are also factors in managing anxiety. So if you’re stressed or anxious, you can write out what’s going through your mind, and get some of that stress out.
Anytime you minimize stress, life will become easier. Start by handwriting your to do list every day, and if you need, write whenever you feel anxious. You’ll be happier for it!
8. Address conflict early.
In most work environments, you spend your days interacting with other people. When you interact with other people, there’s inevitably going to be conflict.
Not all conflict is bad, though.
Some of it can push you to be better, and help your team create better solutions. But what makes life at work difficult is when a behavior or approach creates unnecessary conflict.
If someone (yourself included) is lethargic in meetings or continually makes passive aggressive comments, for instance, you need to bite that in the butt ASAP.
Otherwise, as studies show, even the slightest frustration will start to fester, and make your life more stressful. That's not good!
There are too many personality traits, management styles, and company cultures to give 1 conflict strategy to rule them all, but here’s a starting point.
Have a serious conversation with the person. It doesn’t have to be long, but you need to sit down 1-on-1 and say:
“You’re doing [this thing]. It’s creating a lot of stress for me personally, and I believe it’s harming our whole team. What can we do to make this better, so that we can work together and reach our goals?”
The rest of the conversation could be a revelation!
The person might not realize what they’ve been doing, they could be going through something you don’t know about, or they could be responding to how you or co-workers act.
But you won’t know - and things won’t get better - until you address the situation.
9. Actually do your best work.
It is very easy, when we’re stressed or over burdened, to cut back at work.
We say things like “I just need a moment,” and put less effort into our jobs, thinking less effort will reduce our stress.
It’s a natural reaction, but putting in your best effort consistently pays off big, and in many ways.
If you put in more effort and do better work, you’ll have more leverage for promotions, raises, and influence. More importantly, studies show that giving your best effort consistently leads to self-actualization and fulfillment.
I.e. you’ll feel happier, and probably make more money, too. This impacts every inch of your life in and out of the office.
It might seem counter intuitive, but if you want to make life at work substantially easier, give your best effort, especially when you’re stressed.
10. Make sure any meeting is worth having.
Half of all work meetings are considered wasted time, and when you regularly waste time at work, no one wins.
It just means you have less time to do all the important things on your to do list! So what can you do about it?
First, make sure the meeting is worth it. Could the same message be given in an email or text? Do you need everyone together to discuss the topic?
If the meeting isn’t necessary, cut it. If a meeting is necessary, make sure the right people are there.
Too often, 1 person or several are required to participate, even though they aren’t needed. If you don’t need to be there, and have other things to tackle, you should be working on those things!
To implement changes, you’ll need to have a heart-to-heart with whomever schedules the meetings. I can’t promise it will be easy at first, but presenting your case for how much more value you (and others) could provide by skipping a meeting is a great start.
Once you’re able to spend that time better, stress will decrease, job satisfaction will increase, and life at work will become substantially easier.