Trouble focusing at work ? Find yourself losing concentration as the day progresses ? Well, you’re not alone. According to a recent survey, nearly 50% of all workers suffer from moderate to severe stress. And 2 out of 3 employees report having difficulty focusing on tasks at work because of stress. So this week, I wanted to share five habits I developed throughout the years that I found to be incredibly powerful and help me reduce stress at work.

1. Work your to-do list.

Don’t keep one. Keep five. My personal to-do list is made up out of five categories: today, tomorrow, this week, catch-all (bucket for loose ends/things that pop up into my head) and reminder.

This reduces my personal stress at work by allowing me to record every single task that pops into my head in the appropriate category, and tackle it when I choose to (note the word “choose”). The result ? I stopped stressing about “I need to do …” and every single week/day I know exactly what I need to get done.

2. Take regular breaks.

If we have a lot on our plate (who doesn’t ?) or as the day progresses and we see how much there is left to do, the temptation is huge to just plough ahead and get stuff done. Don’t.

Research has proven that our capability to concentrate and focus dramatically diminishes if we work for too long without taking (mini) breaks or try to tackle too many things simultaneously. The productivity system I use (Pomodoro) is to work uninterrupted for 25 minutes, followed by a 2-minute mini break.

After four of those sessions, I take a longer, 10-minute break. This allows me to stay fresh and focused throughout the day, get more done faster – and keep stress levels in check when I feel my adrenaline levels rise.

3. Monitor your emotional state.

Monitoring your mindset is a crucial component of managing and reducing stress, and allows you to recognize the warning signals before it’s too late. Once you learn how to (automatically) recognize when you’re starting to feel stressed, you can take proactive action to make sure your stress levels don’t get out of hand.

Personally, taking regular breaks not only helps me stay focused for longer, but also allows me to do a quick check and monitor for signs of (excessive) stress in my body and mind. And deal with them before they become a problem.

4. Declutter.

Decluttering has been a surprisingly essential component of staying focused and productive for me. I found that simply taking away potential sources of distraction makes it easier to focus on the work at hand, and focus on a single thing.

So I declutter several aspects of my work environment. Like a clean desk surface, without any visually distracting elements. A single application open on full-screen mode when I am doing important work like writing (I use Byword). Offline mode for my iPad when I am mindmapping or thinking through a business issue. And my phone on silent when I don’t want to be interrupted.

5. Create powerful habits.

Individually, each of the techniques above will help you to reduce stress at work – whilst at the same time getting more done and feeling more productive.

But together, they form a powerful set of habits that is vastly more than the sum of its parts.

And the secret to creating habits ? Pick one, and stick with it for at least 20 days. The first five will be hard. After that, things will get easier, but you’ll still have to remind yourself occasionally.

After ten days, you’ll think you’ve got it but you’ll still be tempted to relapse. But after twenty days, it’ll be as automatic as breathing. You simply couldn’t imagine doing things any other way.

Which is when you’ll know you’ve cracked it.

PS. If you know of a friend or colleague who could be struggling with managing and controlling stress, why not send them a link to this post, or share it on social media ?

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