How to Avoid Unnecessary Stress at Work

I might not be old just yet, but I’m not the newbie anymore, either. Over the years, I have noticed that work is taking a big part of our life, sometimes too much. Many people seem to be overly stressed by their work. It even has an impact on their personal life, which can lead to mental illness. Consider  that 1 Canadian out of 5 will suffer from mental illness in their lifetime. The number is very similar in the United States, as well.

I consider work as being important, and I like to be motivated and results oriented. However, unnecessary stress shouldn’t be part of the equation. Here is how I stay focused without letting things get overwhelming.

There are only 24 Hours in a Day!

No big surprise here. We all know that fact. Yet, we tend to spend too many of these precious hours at work. Most people work 8 hours per day. Many people also sleep from 6 to 8 hours per day. Total of these two already sum up to 14-16 hours. Leaving only 8-10 hours for you, your couple, your family, your friends, your at-home tasks and your passions (hobbies, sports, etc.).

I try to avoid working more than  8 hours a day;  most of them don’t go over 6. I am lucky in that I can set my own schedule as a freelancer and I am well aware it is not the case for others. However, you should set a maximum amount of hours made per day because you also need to rest and do something else. There is no point in working 10-12 hours a day unless it means you have more days off (some people work 4 days of 10 hours, for example). Focus on being more efficient rather than working more hours.

Organization is the Key

You have probably read that sentence here a couple times on different topics. I might look obsessed with organization, but it truly makes a difference. Try to determine the time of the day you are the most efficient and awake and dedicate it to your more creative tasks. Keep the other part of the day for the more repetitive chores. As for emails and phone calls, have 2-3 short period of times for them. For example, have a 10 minutes in the morning, another 10 right after lunch and another 10 minutes near the end of your day. The rest of the time, only answer to emergencies.

Don’t worry, your colleagues and boss will get used to it and will even refer to you as an example.

Setting Clear Goals

I was very bad at this when I started working. I was trying to please my superiors by doing it all. I was naive because they concluded I could do more, so I  got lost in priorities. After two years, I was very stressed and overwhelmed and couldn’t go back. I decided to quit and become a freelancer. I didn’t want to repeat my mistakes.

However, you don’t have to be on your own to set clear goals. Sit down with your boss at least 2-3 times a year to set your long-term, mid-term and short-term goals together. You might be surprised by their enthusiasm toward your request. I’ve noticed most managers appreciate an employee who wants to be challenged with goals, even when goals are not reached as planned.

On a day-to-day basis, when in doubt in regards to priorities, I simply double check with the concerned person. Sometimes I was right, sometimes I’m not. At least I can adjust so nobodt is deceived.

Life Outside Work

Have a life of your own outside of work. That might seem obvious but think about it. What do you do outside work? Do you have hobbies, family activities, time to rest? Over the years, I realised I am a lot more motivated by work when I have personal goals and activities to hold on to. For me, sports is a necessity. I work in front of my computer all day. I need to move when I’m done! It is now a big part of my personal balance and it has a very positive effect on my work as well.

It can also be music, painting, walking, a night out with friends, a weekly activity with one of your kid, etc. What you do does not have much importance as long as it keeps you alive, and it puts some sparkles in your eyes. You’ll feel nourished and full, and then work will be just another part of yourself, not your entire self. Guess what? You’ll be a lot less stressed by it as well because you have something else that drives you.

A quick note too on friends from work. My experience showed me that true friends from work exist but are quite rare. Always remember to keep people out of your work around you, as well. They’ve known you before so they can truly help putting a red flag up if work changes you too much. Friends are part of your balance, even when you don’t see them often.

Avoid Unhealthy Work Environment

Ah! Surely something not to neglect! Professional harassment unfortunately exists but shouldn’t be tolerated. It can be a colleague who always diminishes your work and tries to isolate you or your boss who keeps adding tasks and stress with threats. For sure it can cause unnecessary stress and even lead to more serious conditions. In both situations, the best solution is often to change jobs and avoid such unhealthy persons. No job is paid enough to justify such attitude.


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