Design Thinking To Manage Workplace Stress

by Yong Vin Kit

Taking up my first full time job was a real eye-opener. Thought that all those years of stressing yourself out from studying was the worst time of your life? Well think again! But that’s another story for another day.

So what is the best way to manage stress in the workplace? Well, a quick Google search gives you tons of ideas from exercising to tapping into your senses to even faking a smile (whaaat?).

But another great way of managing stress could be Design Thinking. Originally created by the Architecture School at Stanford, it’s a five step process that helps you understand what the people you want to help need before you create a solution.

So how can a process meant for architects help you overcome stress in the workplace?

Here’s how!!!

Step 1: Stop and think about your problem

Sometimes problems are problems because we tend to overcomplicate things, which is no surprise since you may have a dozen or more things coming at you in the office at once. Give yourself a second to really think about the problem and ask yourself: “Is the problem really as urgent as I think it is?”, “What is the most important problem I’m facing right now?”, and “Will this problem affect my other problems?”

Step 2: Write down your problems in one sentence

Once you’ve have a clearer picture of the problem, try writing it down to one sentence. For example, if you have a project that’s due next week, you can write “A project due next week is still short on data”.

Note: Do not create a to-do list now as it can reduce the number of ideas in the next step.

Step 3: Brainstorm for ideas

Stay open for ideas. Brainstorming all by yourself can be hard since there’s no one else to bounce ideas out of. So try getting a friend or colleague to help. As with all brainstorming sessions, keep an open mind and consider ideas no matter how whacky they seem at first.

Step 4: Use the simplest idea

Once you have a list of ideas you can chew on, choose the simplest. Now you can come up with a to do list or plan how you would like to use your idea in solving your problem.

Step 5: Start it small

As the saying goes, big things come in small packages. Start small when you’re using your idea. For example, you may want to schedule enough rest time for yourself to destress yourself. If it works, think about going bigger. If it doesn’t, maybe try something else on the list.

In a nutshell

There may not be one best way of managing stress for everyone, but Design Thinking can definitely play a part in helping you overcome problems that are stressing you out. So try it, and see if it fits your style of managing stress.

Positive X is a people development firm that equips talents with design, innovation, and entrepreneurial thinking and skills. You can know more about is at http://www.positivex.asia.

This article was written by Yong Vin Kit, our resident 2018 intern at Positive X.

Want to know more about internship opportunities at Positive X? Send us your resume now at info@positivex.asia to find out more!

Edited by Hannah Azlan and Ben Chong.

 

How I Learnt To Take Performance Reviews In Stride

As a young professional, the very thought of going for a performance review still makes me a tad nervous – not as bad as the first few sessions early in my career life but that fleeting moments of nervousness is still there.

Our Asian culture which dictates that we must always respect our elders, seniors, or bosses, and to humbly accept their feedback and criticism for they are wiser, rich in experience, and always right; I couldn’t help but feel a small sense of doom even before I step into the meeting.

Over the years and having gone through a number of performance reviews, I realised that I do look forward to these sessions because at the end of it all, I have walked away with insightful gems.

Sheila Heen rightly said in her book Thanks for the Feedback, “It’s the receiver who decides what they’re going to let in, what sense they’re going to make of it, and whether and how they choose to change.”

However, it is not always straight-forward process because there are times when receiving and responding to feedback, my emotions have gotten in the way – clouding my rationale and ability to distil constructive feedback and actionable insights, reducing me to tears, or becoming snappish towards my superior.

Fortunately, life is a learning processes filled with kind and patient seniors and bosses who were generous enough to share their experience with me on how to make the process a positive one where everyone wins.

So here is my two cents worth on how you can manage your own performance review better:

Think Positive

Try be positive and pro-active. Instead of dreading your review, kick-start the meeting on a good note by letting you managers know that you interested to know how you performed and would like to understand what are the areas that you can improve on.

And just in case, also them know that you may need time to think about their feedback and comments as you may have more questions and thoughts. In-directly, giving them heads up that you may request for a follow-up session.

This works for me as it allows me to focus on what is being said rather than what I feel because of what is being said.

Don’t be afraid to ask for a time-out if you need it

If somewhere in the middle of your review your boss says something that you think it’s wrong or unfair and it gets you worked up you may want to request a break to “cool off” before you say or do something that may damage the relationship or your reputation. You may be a bit apprehensive to ask for a break, but trust me both parties would appreciate it.

It might also give you a few minutes to calm down, think about what triggered you, and when you return to the conversation, you’re more ready to ask specific questions.

Concentrate on clarity

It’s pretty normal impulse when someone tells you how you can improve, your first response may be to think about all the reasons why they’re wrong. However, it can be quite harmful if you cling to it and dismiss everything your boss says. Try let go of your defensiveness and focus on getting clarity from what’s being said. Understand what your boss is saying as clearly and specifically as possible and to ask a ton of questions.

If your boss tend to be vague with his statements like “We want to see more leadership from you” or “I’d love to see you get more proactive.” It’s up to you to find out what they mean.

On the other hand, if you work for an organisation or bosses that is very generous with their praise and would avoid any hint of negativity, you may want to take a different approach.

Asking your boss “Do you have any feedback for me?” is good because there’s always room for growth but it may come across unclear as to what sort of feedback you would like. Ask instead for one or two things that you can do to improve.

Take notes and ask friends to evaluate any criticism

One thing that I find which helps me maintain keep an open mind and keep my emotions in check during performance review is taking notes – not mental ones but actually writing down the feedback you’re receiving.

Not only does it helps you focus on something else other than your own feelings or the voice in your head, it acts as a reference point for further questions and clarify.

Additionally, if it still troubles you, these notes allows you to go to a trusted buddy to ask for help to sort through it. They can give you a candid feedback that you may not have been able to see yourself.

Let it go!

Some of us are harder on ourselves, so there will be times when we would take a feedback and criticism more personally. It’ll eat us up on the inside and it takes up a lot of mental space. If that sounds like you, I do suggest putting things into perspective on paper – journaling it down or drawing a chart with columns to make sense on what the feedback is about and what it is not will enable you to have a more balanced point of view.

It helps to remember that a performance review is designed to help you grow as an individual and team player in an organisation rather than merely criticism. Along with these little tips, I hope you can view your performance review in a different light and gain some insights that will help you with your career and personal growth.

Finding Your Focus In The Chaos of Juggling Multiple Projects

It is normal for most of us to find ourselves juggling the demands of many teams at once in today’s workplace because theoretically, this system of “multiteaming” offers a number of upsides: You can deploy your expertise exactly where and when it’s most needed, share your knowledge across groups, and switch projects during lull times, avoiding costly downtime.

However in a  research conducted over the last 15 years by Heidi K. Gardner and Mark Mortensen, they found that for most of us, getting pulled across several different projects is stressful and less productive than theory would suggest.

Switching attention between tasks takes time and it saps our focus and energy.

When moving between teams, you will need to adjust to different roles — you might be the boss on one but a junior member of another, for example — which changes not only your level of accountability but also your ability to juggle resources when a crunch time hits.

On top of that, you may also need to nagivate between different teams with their own unique cultures, including relationships, routines, symbols, jokes, expectations, and tolerance for ambiguity which would required energy to manage.

How can you manage your time and stress-levels if you’re on multiple teams? And how can you stay focused on what’s most important?

In their article, Gardner and Mortensen suggests to start with some up-front planning and to follow a few simple rules:

Prioritizing and Sequencing Your Work

Get the big picture. Schedule a regular status check on all your projects to note milestones. By proactively identifying crunch times when multiple projects have high demands, you can better manage your time and set expectations.

The speed and demands of your projects determine the ideal frequency of check-ins, and the management style and seniority of your stakeholders sets the tone for establishing priorities when push comes to shove.

Sequence strategically. Pick one task and focus on it intensely, rather than juggling. Start with the task that requires the greatest concentration and give it your undivided attention.

Decide on a distinct set of must-achieve outcomes, define which actions are necessary to achieve only those results, and ruthlessly stick to them.

Research shows that attention residue — thoughts held over from a project you’re transitioning from — takes up valuable mental space, so the fewer switches you can make in a given day, the better.

If you must multitask, then coordinate and group any compatible duties. For example, if you know you are going to need to answer phone calls at random intervals, work on another task that can be interrupted at any time.

Setting and Communicating Expectations

Protect yourself. When you’re focused on a high-priority task, buy yourself a mental escape from unnecessary intrusions. For example, when I’m writing — my highest-concentration task — I put an automatic reply on my email telling people I’m not checking messages till a certain time of day, and offering my mobile number in case of an emergency.

By telling people not to expect an instant reply, you buy yourself some time to focus, while reassuring them that you will pay attention — later. Including your phone number signals your willingness to respond but also makes people think twice about whether their request truly needs immediate attention.

Document and communicate progress. Seeing momentum helps your team leaders feel empowered and in control. Be up front when problems arise. The earlier you say, “I’ve got a conflict and might have trouble delivering 100%,” the more leaders will trust you.

One seasoned team member in the authors’ research shared that many of his responses to team requests are simply two words: “On it.” Even this super-brief response tells colleagues that he received their request, so they know he’ll follow up when he can provide more details.

The significant financial benefits of multiteaming mean it has become a way of life for many of us however following this simple guideline may just help us manage the stress and focus when faced with multiple projects all at once.

The Art of NOT Procrastinating

It is the start of the day and I’m ready to rock and roll!

I get up with a full list of things I want to accomplish – get started on a work project, talk to a couple of clients about a new idea, get that presentation deck ready for an up coming meeting and etc.

Oh, there’s also a few emails that I need to send out from last week, and that other document that is pending for another project with a looming deadline, ugh, but those can still wait. right?

Before I know it, there’s this little voice saying perhaps some of the “more difficult” items can wait while I focus on the “easier” work so that I can get those done faster hence giving myself a bit more time later to focus on the harder tasks.

It becomes a vicious cycle of procrastination with plenty of stress, guilt, and frustration of not getting things done which does not seem to end!

After many procrastinating cycles and even more pending items later, I realised that there is actually a very simple way out of it – just get it done. Throw in a bit of discipline (and intentional focus), soon I was getting things completed – and that felt good!

Recently, I came across an interesting article by Heidi Grant on the Harvard Business Review which sheds light on why a person procrastinate and employing the right strategy to over come it.

In short, there are 3 reasons why we are more inclined to procrastinate. By recognising them and adopting the suggested solutions, it may actually help us be more effective getting things done.

Reason #1: We put things off because most of us are afraid of messing things up.

Solution: Try adopting a “prevention focus.”

There are two ways to look at any task. One, we can do something because we see it as a way to end up better off than we are now – as an achievement or accomplishment. This is what psychologists call promotion focused.

Or two, when we are driven by anxiety or doubt, and is afraid we might mess up a project or task. These fears and anxieties may actually paralyse us from taking any action at all.

So instead of thinking about how we can end up better off, we see the task as a way to hang on to what we have already got – to avoid loss. The author calls it prevention focus.

When we are focused on avoiding loss, it becomes clear that the only way to get out of danger is to take immediate action.

Overcoming our fear of messing up is a lot easier when we realise that there are more dire consequences if we do nothing at all.

Reason #2: Because we do not “feel” like doing it.

Solution: Ignore what our “feelings” and just do it.

Oliver Burkeman, author the book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking points out that much of the time, when we say things like “I just can’t get out of bed early in the morning, ” or “I just can’t get myself to exercise,” what we really mean is that we cannot get ourselves to feel like doing these things.

To be honest, if you think about it, somehow we have been sold the idea that to be motivated and effective, we need to feel like we want to take action. To some degree, yes we need to be committed to what we are doing BUT we do not need to feel like doing it.

Afterall, successful people and top athletes get to where they are today because they rely on routines that forces them to put in a certain number of hours a day – rain or shine.

So what is stopping us? NOTHING! Because we really do not have to feel it to get things done.

Reason #3 We things off because it’s hard, boring, or otherwise unpleasant.

Solution: Use if-then planning.

We have to admit that our will power is limited and some days getting ourselves to do things we find tedious, boring, or awful can be a challenge.

This is where the if-then plan comes in handy.

Making an if-then plan helps us decide specific steps we need to take to complete a project and it also decides where and when we will take them.

For example, If I am unable to finish the report by 2pm, then I will stop what I am doing and work on the presentation that my colleague requested.

Deciding in advance what we are going to do, when and where we are going to do it, leaves us very little time to deliberate – reducing the demands placed on our willpower to decide at the critical moment because we have already made a decision way ahead.

So the next time you find yourself struggling with procrastination, take a step back to figure out why you are doing so and use one of the 3 strategies above to help you be more effective.