Work reset: 13 tips to make your job less stressful this year

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While many people use the new year as a time to start eating healthier, working out or drinking more water, productivity experts say it’s also a good time to reset at work.

The start of the new year offers workers a reference point in which they can evaluate what went well, what went poorly and what they want in the future and make a plan for progress, experts say. It may be just as important, if not more, than setting personal health goals as most workers spend the majority of their waking hours at their jobs, they note.

“It’s important to take the time to assess the past year and look forward,” said Jono Luk, vice president of product management at Webex by Cisco. “It’s so easy to jump back to that same clip and pace [you had before].”

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Making meaningful change doesn’t have to be overwhelming, difficult or even massive, they added. Even small tweaks can make big differences in how someone works.

“I’m a big believer in making small incremental changes,” said Joshua Zerkle, head of global engagement marketing and productivity expert at Asana. “It’s never a good idea to upend everything.”

Here are 13 ways workers can set themselves up for success at the beginning of the year.

1. Reestablish your boundaries.

The pandemic blurred the lines between work and home life over the past couple of years, Luk said, so it might be a good time to reinforce boundaries, which could look like anything from ensuring you have dedicated workspace to understanding when work should and shouldn’t be done in your schedule.

“Share your goals and boundaries with others,” he said. “So something like, ‘If you see me online at 7 p.m., kick me off.’ Others will hold you accountable.”

2. Articulate your goals.

One way to think about your goals is to remember what you’ve accomplished and apply that to what you want to do in the future, said Akhila Satish, CEO of Meseekna, a tech company that uses simulations to aid with talent assessment. Try to make your goals as actionable as possible with small time frames to make them achievable, she said. You may need to gather feedback to help you, said Anita Williams Woolley, professor and associate dean of research at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. She also suggests spending a little time every day or week to review your activities and align them with your goals.

“Be intentional and specific on what you need to be doing so you make progress,” she said.

3. Assess your priorities.

What’s urgent may not always be what’s important, Woolley said, so make sure you understand your priorities. Once you’ve done that, you can map out specifically what you plan to do and repeat until you create new habits. That may look like adding calendar items to block out times to focus on specific tasks. “Focus on things that are important,” she said. “Don’t let them get derailed by non-important, urgent things.”

4. Communicate intentions.

Make your commitments and intentions for the year known, experts say. Sharing your thoughts may be helpful for the rest of your team, who may have input or need to adjust their expectations. “It might reduce the number of things that could derail you,” Woolley said. “And if you make a public commitment, you’re more likely to do it.”

5. Evaluate your productivity.

Look at your calendar and assess when you were most productive and when you were least, Satish said. It may reveal trends in when you’re most and least productive so that you can structure future meetings and focus times around that. You also should review which calendar items are worth keeping, Luk said. That may mean auditing recurring meetings to shorten, cancel or reformat them into emails or other forms of communication, Zerkle said. “It turns out most people could eliminate 25 percent of what they do without any impact on productivity,” said Harry Kraemer, clinical professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “We do some things only because that’s the way we’ve always done them.”

6. Find your balance.

Consider how you spend the 168 hours that you get every week, Kraemer said. Break down the percentage of time you want to spend across six areas: career and continuous education, family and friends, spiritual and religious perspectives, health, fun and social responsibility. Then compare that with how much time you’re actually spending and adjust accordingly, he said. “We have this bizarre concept of multitasking,” he said. “But have we confused activity with productivity?”

7. Leverage digital tools.

Saving time might be as simple as copying and pasting a commonly needed email response from your laptop’s notepad, Satish said. But are there other programs or ways you can digitize small tasks to improve your workflow? Zerkle said you might even need to reduce your digital tool set to be more effective. Instead of working out of your inbox, for example, there might be a work management system that makes more sense for teams to use on specific projects for which they may want to chat, share resources or set deadlines.

8. Plan for time off.

Start planning your time off now, even if it’s a vague estimate, Luk advised. If you know you want to take a beach trip in summer, pick a couple of weekends that would be ideal and mark them on your calendar to ensure planning doesn’t get past you. Then as you get closer, you can solidify your plans. “If you don’t at least write it down, you’re not going to get it done,” he said.

9. Reconnect with people.

The new year is a great time to reconnect with your professional network, Satish said. So take some time to contact former mentors and connections. “It’s hard [to keep in touch] during the year,” she said. “But it’s really easy to re-engage with a happy new year message.”

10. Update your résumé.

The turn of the year is a good time to make sure your résumé and personal websites or profiles are current, Satish said. “You never know when you’re going to need it.”

11. Adjust your notifications.

If you’ve been working with default notification settings on your devices and apps, you’re probably getting hit all day with distractions, Zerkle said. Satish suggests setting focus and work mode settings on iPhones and Android devices to filter out noise when you’re trying to get things done. You can also set time limits for each app under Screen Time on iOS, she added. This may mean shutting down your email, or toggling your Slack or Teams notifications for focus time, Woolley said.

12. Organize and archive.

You should not only organize your physical workspace, but also your digital one, experts say. That means cleaning up your desktop, moving icons for apps or documents you regularly need to convenient spots, archiving projects and organizing your email, Woolley said. “Clear out the gunk, so you can get to things that are more important,” Zerkle said. “It may make you feel better.”

13. Get a head start.

Start your day or week by spending the first 15 minutes going through your inbox, calendar and other communications and creating a priority list for important work, Zerkle said.

“You can put yourself back in the driver’s seat by giving yourself a little space at the beginning of each day,” he said.

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