Working with attorneys, accountants, appraisers and business owners I see a lot stress and issues associated with balancing work and life. Recently I received a nice article from the AICPA on ways CPAs can manage their stress. Between that article, chapter 8 from The Servant Manager on “How to Find Work-life Balance” and some additional research I wanted to share some current thinking on the topic to help you. These may not all be right for you, but you may appreciate and be able to implement those that would work for you and potentially with you and your team.
Keep in mind not all stress is bad. Too much stress can be bad. We all need a certain amount of stress in order to simply live.
From the AICPA their four major points that all make sense to me are: get regular exercise, develop good sleep habits, embrace a healthy diet, and practice mindfulness. Reading several additional sources, I elaborated on their ideas and added a fifth and that is practice empathy. Read on to learn more.
1. Get Regular Exercise
We all know that some form of regular exercise is good for us physically, but do we stop to think that is also true for our brain?
This means we can be more alert and think more clearly if we take time out to exercise.
Unfortunately according to the article only about 23% of us make a point to exercise enough. How much is enough? Check out what the Mayo Clinic has to say about the topic. Consider what little things you can do to enhance moderate activity. How about going for a walk when meeting with someone, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking further away in the parking lot to walk a little further. All of these things add up.
With more vigorous exercise:
· the “exercise high” primes you to connect with others better,
· it makes your brain more sensitive to joy,
· it makes you willing to take on more measured risks,
· with others builds trust and belonging, and
· trying something new can transform your self-image
according to this article from these neuroscientists at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley.
2. Develop Good Sleep Habits
“The shorter we sleep the shorter your life” according to Matthew Walker, PhD in his best selling book, Why We Sleep.
We need 8 hours of quality sleep. That means actually sleeping, not just laying in bed. Having a regular schedule within an hour or so of going to bed and waking up is best.
With that it is important to have a regular routine to prepare for sleep too. Mediation, reflection and prayer can help. Want to learn more? Here are 13 healthy sleep habits from WebMD and healthy sleep habits from sleepeductaion.org.
When we have a late night and don’t have enough sleep, it is suggested rather than sleep in late the next day or on the weekend, sleep in a little later and supplement the sleep lost with a nap the next day or over the next few days. This is much healthier on our bodies. Sleeping in on the weekend doesn’t make up for lost sleep during the week.
3. Embrace a Healthy Diet
Food impacts our mood, body and brain. It is critical. We need to be careful how much caffeine and sugar we drink and eat. Quick pick me ups are not healthy. Rather
drinking plenty of water and eating fruits and vegetables throughout the day are really the key.
· Make half your plate fruits and vegetable’s
· Make half the grains you eat whole grains
· Switch to fat free low fat (1% milk)
· Choose a variety of lean proteins such as “meat, poultry, seafood, dry beans or peas, eggs, nuts, and seeds are considered part of the protein foods group. Select leaner cuts of ground beef (where the label says 90% lean or higher), turkey breast, or chicken breast.”
· Compare sodium and select “low sodium, reduced sodium or no salt added.”
· Drink water instead of sugary drinks
· Eat at least 8 ounces of sea food every week
· Cut back on solid fats such as ”cakes, cookies, and other desserts (often made with butter, margarine, or shortening); pizza; processed and fatty meats (e.g., sausages, hot dogs, bacon, ribs); and ice cream.”
So why don’t we do this? We are inundated with advertising promoting fast, easy and convenient. Take a look at the list above. How much more difficult is it to bring carrots, celery, low fat yogurt, bananas, apples, grapes or other similar foods with us to work to snack on or eat? We simply have to make a conscious effort. Small changes can make a big difference.
4. Practice Mindfulness Techniques
According to the authors “Simply taking 10 minutes a day to step away from the grind and practice some guided meditation can make a world of difference. Apps like Calm and Headspace allow you to practice mindfulness no matter where you are or how much (or little) time you have.
At some workplaces, I have seen mindfulness breaks built into the morning and afternoon. During these times, employees can go to a designated area to meditate, read, or listen to music so that they can reset, reduce stress, and be present.”
Consider 10 minutes at the start of your day, at some point during the day and/or at the end of your day. Prayer, meditation, and reflection can all have a very positive impact on helping calm you and you being more patient with others.
This is an interesting intersection of historical religious practices intersecting with neuroscience and converging with similar recommendations and outcomes. That is the mind and brain science are confirming what individuals have found with traditional religions such as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and other religious practices. Prayer, reflection, and mediation can really help reduce stress and awaken our brains.
5. Be More Empathetic
When you think of stress and productivity generally you don’t jump right to being empathetic, but
Why is that?
By having an attitude of being there to help rather than judging or criticizing others, this sets the stage for building trust and understanding.
It can decrease misunderstandings and reduce conflict. Negative conflict increased mental and physical toil, wastes time, takes energy away and costs money. This wastes resources and increases stress. Being empathetic can be extremely beneficial when questions arise.
Being empathetic can cause you to change directions. Instead on an autocratic commentary a joint approach to a situation can lead to better approaches.
In the article one person was not meeting expectations and this was frustrating team members. When team members became aware of the personal situation, they worked together to help the under performing team member. There is a lesson to be learned there.
When the situation can be diagnosed properly with empathy, it is possible to provide feedforward.
“Feedback focuses on the past. Feedforward focuses on the future, and isn’t that where we really want to see improvement? Feedforward is expansive and dynamic. Feedforward means giving others suggestions for the future. This demonstrates that you are there to help.
In Feedforward pick a behavior you would like to see changed. Change in this behavior should make a significant, positive, difference. For example, “I want to be a better listener.”
State the topic.
Ask for two suggestions for the future that might help you achieve a positive change in your selected behavior from your group
Only positive comments for the future are allowed
Listen attentively and take notes
No one can provide a critique or offer suggestions even to make positive statements such as “That’s a good idea”
The entire process only takes about two minutes per person
Debrief the process:
Ask participants for their reaction to this process. Generally, the comments are positive and thought of as fun.”[Shortened from the text]
Here are ten reasons to try Feedforward:
1. We can change the future
2. It can be more productive to help people be “right” than prove they were “wrong”
3. Feedforward is especially suited to successful people
4. Feedforward can come from anyone who knows about the task
5. People do not take Feedforward as personally as feedback
6.Feedback can reinforce personal stereotyping and negatively self-fulfilling prophecies. Feedforward can reinforce the possibility of change.
7. Face it! Most of us hate receiving negative feedback, and we don’t like to give it
8. Feedforward can cover almost all of the same “material” as feedback.
9. Feedforward tends to be much faster and more effective than feedback.
1o. Feedforward can be a useful tool to apply with managers, peers and team members.
There are times for feedback and performance appraisals. Feedforward is an effective and efficient tool that can be enjoyable and bring home the same points to the team. Quality communication between and among people at all levels is the glue that holds organizations together. By encouraging one another leaders can dramatically improve quality of communication in their organizations, ensuring the right message is being conveyed, and that those who receive it are receptive to its content. The result is a much more dynamic, open organization – one whose employees are focused on the promise of the future, rather than the mistakes of the past.
There it is:
1. Get regular exercise
2. Develop good sleep habits
3. Embrace a healthy diet
4. Practice mindfulness techniques
5. Be more empathetic with others
Be there to help not judge
Be open to changing directions given additional understanding of circumstances
Provide feed forward on how we will work to overcome any obstacle together
Hopefully here are some ideas you can use to help reduce stress and increase productivity going forward and especially during your busy season.