If You're Under Stress, Changing This One Habit Can Make a World of Difference
By reducing how much pressure you put on yourself, you open the door to some relief.
Stress, even when not a killer (and it can be), can leave you tired, in pain, and less able to deal with life and work. You could listen to a song that reduces anxiety, but welcoming an earworm can become its own problem.
Instead, try focusing some energy on getting control over one habit you probably have in this modern world: cell-phone addiction. OK, so you're not an addict? Then lock the phone up for a week--even a day--and notice the results. If even the thought leaves you queasy and wondering how you will manage, then you have an unhealthy relationship with it.
Phones are supposed to be tools that serve you. The problem is that they become task masters. Whether you're looking for emails from work colleagues or checking the latest social network post, the phone is driving what you have to do rather than enabling your schedule and needs.
The effect is like having a landline phone ring constantly at your desk. People constantly want something that will interrupt what you do. You try to accommodate, constantly juggling your schedule and deadlines, and then feel the stress of being out of control. Except, in this case, it's not just phone calls. Email, texts, IMs, and social media all bear down, clamoring for your attention and usually setting off notifications.
It's fine to say cut back on use, but how do you do that? The first thing is to know that you needn't toss your phone or lock it in a safe whose combination you don't know. You reduce stress by reducing its instances. Even cutting back on part of it, and part of your phone use, is a start. Here are some suggestions.
Open your day without the phone
Some of the common advice you hear when looking into cutting back on phone use is to avoid immediately jumping in. You really don't need to see the emails, social media posts, and texts right away. Instead, try starting with the great time management tip of planning your day. (Reading and responding to messages will become one of your tasks.) Continue with breakfast, coffee, meditation, exercise, or anything else you would like to do. This way you gain control over your day.
Consider how urgent something really is
Much of our response to urgent requests is perceived. We have to answer the message, start the task, check the social posts now. But we're generally the ones who assume the urgency. Sometimes we're right. Often we're wrong. Realize that if something is truly urgent and needs to be dealt with in the next hour or two, an email probably isn't someone's first choice to reach you. A text might be. Set aside several times during the day in which you'll open your phone and check on things.
This step may take some negotiation. Talk to superiors, people who report to you, family members, and close friends. Set up a way for them to reach you promptly when necessary, explaining that you're trying to bring your communications under control. Most people will understand. If you're working in a team situation, things can get more complicated. In that case, look at the book Sleeping With Your Smartphone: How to Break the 24/7 Habit and Change the Way You Work by Harvard Business School professor Leslie Perlow. Despite the title, it's about the bigger effort to put work under control. If people at the Boston Consulting Group can manage to get their phone habits under control, gain more personal time, reduce travel, and work shorter weeks, you can as well.
Turn off most notifications
You can adjust push notices, alerts, and all the other beeps, blurps, and buzzes that come from your phone. Some of this may need to happen on a per-app basis. Some can be handled globally through the phone's overall settings. The less the phone calls to you, the less demanding it becomes. You can more easily put the device in a pocket and leave it there, because it doesn't remind you of its presence as much. At the same time, you can probably set up special ringtones for people whose calls you need to take right away. Let the phone serve your needs.
Multitasking doesn't really work. People don't effectively do multiple things at the same time, even if they think they do. Every new task pulls away from the others. Even computers don't multitask the way people assume they do. Everything gets a little slice of time, being swapped in and out at a ridiculously fast rate. People don't work that way, so don't try it. When you're driving, just drive (unless you use the phone to listen to music or an audio book). When having a meal with someone, don't take the phone out. Let yourself enjoy the actual process of your life.
End your day without the phone
You'll see it soon enough in the morning. Cultivate the habit of shutting off the phone--and tablet and computer--at a certain point and give yourself time to decompress. Maybe you'll listen to music, read, watch television, draw, study a new subject, talk with your significant other, or a mix of all of the above. Once it's off, don't turn it back on again that night.
Over time, you'll adjust to the new way of working. Stress will have shrunk a perceptible amount, because you're not constantly using the phone as a method of self-agitation. You'll get more done and be happier about it all.
By Erik Sherman