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Productivity hacks and more

10 techniques to reduce stress at work

Sébastien Moreau
Feb 08, 2023 ∙ 6 mins
A member or our custom software company working at the office in Nantes

In a previous article, my colleague Arthur highlighted the advantages and disadvantages of working remotely. Among the downsides were isolation and a loss of reference in a new system that implies organizational restructuring for both the company and the employees.

A 2021 study shows that more than 20 % of the French workforce is remote. It is one of the reasons behind the increase in burnout cases and psychological disorders, which can be caused by a feeling of being overwhelmed and stressed.

It’s proven that a better organization of one's professional and personal life reduces daily stress levels. Do you think your organization is optimal? Have you ever tried to improve it to gain efficiency?

There are very quick fixes for that. The idea is not to show you how to do more things in your day (although in the end, it will be possible), but rather how to do them better while being more serene.

So here are my ten tips for organizing your tasks better and helping you reduce your stress levels on a daily basis.

1. Expedite tasks that take less than 2 minute

As soon as a task comes in, if it takes less than two minutes, you will benefit greatly by responding immediately:

  • The time it takes to write it down, to remember the context and purpose of the request will take almost as much time as doing it directly.
  • Your responsiveness will be highly appreciated!

2. Empty your mind

If a task is too long to be done immediately, it's essential to note it down before forgetting. You may have a good memory, but nobody is infallible. And what's more stressful than saying to yourself, "Oops, what was I supposed to do again? "🤔

So write it down and leave some space in your memory for other things that are probably more interesting than filling out an Excel file.

3. Centralize your tasks

Calendar, Todoist, Notion, etc. There are plenty of personal organization tools, each with its own format, pros and cons. Although it may be tempting to use multiple tools, I strongly advise against it (from personal experience).

Having a single source of truth will make your work easier and allow you to check off several of the following points.

4. Take advantage of your most energetic moments

Some people are more productive in the morning, while others are night owls... We all have our biological clock. The important thing is to be aware of it and adapt the tasks we work on throughout the day according to this rhythm, based on our energy level, to be as effective as possible.

If your company uses a calendar system, don't hesitate to reserve time slots for complex tasks. This informs your colleagues that you are not available. At Osedea, we’ve implemented a "secure cockpit" during a fixed time slot from 10h30 to 12h in France (13h to 15h in Montréal). That allows the team to focus on their tasks without being distracted and prevents them from unnecessarily interrupting their colleagues (except, obviously, for urgent matters).

5. Prioritize your day

If you've already noted everything in your Calendar, great! If you don't use Calendar, take some time before diving into work headfirst. 10 minutes are enough to prepare your day and highlight the priority tasks.

These tasks are the ones that will require the most time/effort from you. Once you've completed them, you'll feel a significant sense of accomplishment, and you can dedicate the rest of your time to shorter or less prioritized tasks.

I often use the metaphor of big rocks from the book The 25th Hour to illustrate the problem. Our workday is not expandable (unless you enjoy working overtime, but that's not our goal, let's be clear about it). If we start by doing the least prioritized tasks, it will be challenging to find time to do the more important ones.

prioritize your most important tasks
prioritize your most important tasks

6. Allocate the necessary TIME to complete your tasks

This rule may be the most challenging one to grasp, as it requires some experience to gauge the effort a task will demand. The idea here is to estimate the time a task will take before starting it, neither more nor less.

You may only have 30 minutes before your next meeting, how will you use that time? Knowing your priorities for the day and the time to allocate to each task will allow you to adapt quickly if a change occurs in your schedule.

Not being able to finish a task on time before the next meeting will require you to report it later, or even the next day. This generates stress that could have been avoided if you had initially allocated enough time.

It's better to plan for more time than not enough, even if it means anticipating the next tasks if one is completed earlier.

7. Take breaks

To be effective, you also need to know how to rest. Reading emails, having a coffee, stretching—there are plenty of good reasons to take a break. I had the opportunity to meet Jean-François Ménard when I worked at the Osedea office in Montreal. JF is a mental coach who works with many high-level athletes and performers, such as Cirque du Soleil. One thing I remember most is his example of smokers and how they do it best. They take short breaks at regular intervals. They go outside to smoke, change the "air", and then return to their desks.

Without promoting smoking, far from it, this example is still striking and very illustrative. You just have to replace tobacco with anything non (or less) harmful to your health. Taking a 5-minute break every hour is ideal because it allows us to replenish our energy level and prevent it from getting too low in the middle of the day.

 Taking regular breaks to increase your energy level
Taking regular breaks to increase your energy level

Note: If, like me, you organize all your tasks in Calendar, know that there is an option to shorten your appointments by 5 or 10 minutes (depending on the duration). This way, you don't need to set reminders or apologize for arriving slightly late to your next meeting.

To activate it (Calendar):

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Go to Event Settings
  3. Enable the Speedy meetings option
  4. Dedicate time for notifications

8. Allow time for notifications

There's nothing worse than checking your emails every 5 minutes or constantly having Slack notifications in front of your eyes therefore ruining your productivity. With the rise of remote work, communication tools have become even more important, and they are often the only means of contact with our colleagues.

9. Thank your colleagues

Sending positive vibes brings up the positive energy, so it's important to acknowledge those who are there for us. Besides helping us, it also motivates others to do the same, so they can also be part of a group that supports one another.

I can't say exactly when this practice was implemented at Osedea, as it was already in place when I joined in 2016.

  • Slack channel dedicated to #praise
  • "Praise" section at the end of our weekly meetings with all team members from France, Canada, and the United Kingdom
  • OfficeVibe bot integrated into Slack that regularly reminds us to send "Good vibes" to our colleagues

10. Move / Rest

Take advantage of your breaks to get some fresh air, engage in physical activity, especially if you spend the day in front of a computer screen. Personally, I've developed a habit of going for a run several times a week in the morning before starting my day, whether it's at home or in the office, or taking a 20-30 minute walk after lunch.

If you have a hectic schedule, a nap can also be a great way to recharge your batteries in a short amount of time. If you drink coffee, you can even have a cup right before. It may seem counterintuitive, but the stimulating effects of caffeine usually take at least 20 minutes to kick in and will help you regain alertness after waking up.

Final thoughts

These rules may seem obvious and common-sense (they are), but it takes some discipline to incorporate them into our daily lives and turn them into a routine.

They are based on my own experience and the various situations I have encountered. Feel free to adapt them to your work life as needed!