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Ten Tips to Ward Off Stress at the Office

CHICAGO - According to a recent article in the September 27 issue of Newsweek magazine, 60?90 percent of all doctor visits are for stress-related illnesses. Stress affects us all and it is especially rampant at the office, where it is not only costly to employees but also to the companies they work for in terms of absenteeism and poor performance. Under stress, you cannot perform at your optimum level.

Following is a list of ten ways to deal with office stress that can help you not fall prey to its ill effects:

1. ORGANIZE!

The most important element in overcoming stress is organization. You must learn to organize your time, your records, and even your interruptions (more about each below).

2. PLAN!

End each work day by evaluating what you've accomplished that day and, more importantly, by reviewing your schedule for the following day. Schedule telephone calls for times when you are most likely to reach the other party and plan the topics you want to cover prior to the conversation. Review your "to do" list, see what appointments are coming up, what projects you need to work on. List them in order of importance. It needn't take more than 10 minutes. Then close the book on that work day and go home. Even if you're stuck in traffic on your way home, your mind should be congestion-free. You'll even sleep better.

3. PRIORITIZE!

Not enough emphasis can be given to the importance of establishing goals and mapping a strategy that will take you there. Each successive step must be charted as a priority. Make a written list of everything that must be done in order of importance, then tackle the list beginning with the most vital objective before going on to the next task or project in order of importance. Avoid the common practice of procrastinators who usually do the easiest-usually less important-jobs first.

4. TAKE MOOD BREAKS!

At least once in the morning and once in the afternoon take time to leave your desk and do something that will energize you. The August '04 issue of Entrepreneur magazine suggests trying the ".....stress-relief CD 'Laugh It Off' to lift your spirits. The CD features sounds of people laughing to help get you in a giggling mood. Don't laugh: Experts say the technique works. Priced at $10, the CD is available at HYPERLINK "http://www.heyugly.org" and proceeds from each sale of each CD benefits this 501C3 nonprofit organization that helps teens.

5. DECIDE!

Do it, delegate it, or discard it. Once you get a project, decide how it will be handled and who will handle it. If you elect to do it, assign a priority to the project. If you decide to have someone else do it, act on that decision immediately. Such decisions and actions preclude inertia, work pile-up, and interference from unexpected projects that might later materialize.

6. DELEGATE!

Decide who is going to do the project and communicate your decision and the project deadline date to that person both orally and in writing to ensure no miscommunication or faulty memory. Beyond which, the written word provides visual reinforcement. If you are still overseeing the project, make sure the evaluation at the project's conclusion is submitted in writing to the person responsible. Remember to commend the person's efforts when warranted. If results are less than desirable, point out how they might be more effective in the future.

7. CLEAR YOUR DESK!

Desk Stress is made up of silent interruptions that infiltrate the workplace disguised as files that distract from the task at hand, numerous phone messages and reminders strewn on the desk written on tiny scraps of paper, etc. This is called "paper talk" as the files say "read me" and the phone messages scream "call me." The result is a trail of unfinished or unstarted tasks, unanswered letters, unwritten reports, unreturned phone calls, and unread memos and publications -- all of which literally haunt your mind. It's important that you work from a desk cleared of everything unrelated to the project at hand. Everything else should be in files, drawers or closets.

8. GET IT TOGETHER!

Basic to optimum organization is a system where all necessary information is accessible to you: calendar, telephone numbers, projects, goals, appointments, "to-do" list, notes, etc. Most companies and computer systems have management software such as Microsoft Outlook or Act! that will help you eliminate memo sheets, matchbook covers or napkins with notes and numbers. Such a system is essential to planning and tracking relevant activities. With everything in one place, you are reminded to call someone and are provided with the telephone number; while on the phone you can refer to pertinent notes, set an appointment without fear of a schedule conflict, and jot down results and/or future plans. You can reference a "to do" list and check off each item as it is done.

9. DIVIDE AND CONQUER!

When overwhelmed by the enormity of a project, break it down into smaller tasks and get a different (more reasonable) perspective. Deal with only one task at a time.

10. ELIMINATE INTERRUPTIONS!

Added to silent interruptions are the everyday noisy interruptions which occur once every eight minutes in the form of colleague interruptions, telephone calls, meetings, etc. The result is the daily loss of at least one hour of effectiveness. If your desk faces a hallway where you can see co-workers walking by, the chance of one of them stopping in for a chat or consult is strong. Turn your desk away from the door and this will eliminate stop-by distracters. Screen your phone calls so you can decide who you need to talk to and who can go into voice mail for a call?back at a more convenient time. Cut down on meetings or at least keep them to a tight, specific agenda and timeline so they don't run over.

Betty Hoeffner has been authoring articles for various media outlets for the past 30 years. She is currently president of Hey U.G.L.Y., Inc. NFP, a 501C3 nonprofit organization dedicated to helping teens with self esteem issues. U.G.L.Y. is an acronym meaning Unique Gifted Lovable You. As the organization says, U.G.L.Y. is the new beautiful.

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