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7 Effective Strategies for Highly Stressed Managers

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

Whether you’re working remotely or in an office, a great deal of factors can lead you to feeling like a highly stressed manager. From managing your team to dealing with difficult colleagues, meeting deadlines, performance targets, resolving conflicts (pause to breathe) and putting out fires. Some days, the only way to describe how you feel may be with the exploding head emoji 🤯

The good news is that you are not alone in feeling that being a manager is highly stressful at times.

Even better news is that you can take action and go from feeling like a stressed out manager to more like a surfing manager - skilfully riding any waves of turbulence that come your way.

Here are seven specific strategies that will help you move to a calmer, more focussed and productive place - and become a better manager at the same time.

1. Turn anxieties into projects

Carve time out in your calendar to be in a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed. Silence your phone and email/Slack notifications and take time for a structured reflection. You could call this “Productivity Planning”.

Take a notepad and a pen with you and follow these steps:

1. Spend a few minutes writing down what your particular stresses are as a manager. Which are most important for you to deal with first? Which one will have the most positive impact on you when you resolve it? Choose one issue to start with.

2. Once you have chosen an issue, write down where you want to be with the situation instead. Make sure to frame this positively - for example, if “no time for strategic planning/a lunch break” is causing you stress, turn it into a positive goal, like “I have one hour each week in which I can focus on strategic planning without distraction”

[The reason for positively framing a goal is that when we frame goals negatively, we are more likely to focus on the obstacles that will get in the way. When I say: Don’t think of a red rabbit! - what image does this bring to your mind?]

3. List the benefits that will come with achieving this goal.

4. Set a realistic timeline for achieving the goal.

5. On a scale of 1 to 10, where are you currently with the issue (1 being overwhelmed, 10 being calm)?

6. Generate a list of actions that will help you move one step closer to calm (for example, from a 4 to a 5).

7. Pick two or three most effective actions from your list.

8. Schedule specific dates and times for completing these actions in your calendar."

2. Tackle obstacles strategically

Take proactive steps to tackle your biggest challenges. Consider the following:

  1. Identify the main obstacles preventing you from reaching your goals.

  2. Reflect on past experiences and how you successfully overcame similar challenges.

  3. Assess your current mindset and determine what would be a more constructive attitude to adopt.

  4. Seek support from a trusted colleague or mentor.

  5. Brainstorm additional solutions and alternatives.

If you perform better with a partner who challenges and expands your thinking, consider working with a leadership coach. This investment may provide valuable insights and guidance as you navigate through these challenges.

3. Set a vision for where you want your team to be

If it’s your team’s performance that you’re worried about, think about where exactly you want to be with your team. What will be happening when your team is performing better? What’s the most important milestone to focus on achieving first - and what makes it so beneficial?

Next, as appropriate, in collaboration with your direct reports, set up clear SMART goals with each team member that reports to you, to help you get there. Clear goals will help your team know exactly where they are headed and how to prioritise work that comes their way. Sharing the benefits of achieving the end goal with your team will also help improve their engagement with their projects, which in turn will have a positive impact on their productivity.

4. Build powerful relationships with your direct reports

Google led a study into the things that make great managers so effective, Project Oxygen. One of the factors that the results highlighted was that effective managers are more likely to have frequent 1:1 meetings with their team members.

What makes 1:1s so beneficial?

Done well, these meetings have been found to improve team engagement, motivation and productivity.

1:1s are ideal opportunities:

  • for your team members to share ideas and let you know where they need support and permission to take action.

  • for you to acknowledge their recent achievements, give feedback and motivate them.

  • to learning and development opportunities and talk about career progression.

  • for coaching around specific goals/issues.

  • to build trust and build strong working relationships.

  • to find out how you can become a better manager.

Tips for leading effective1:1s:

  • Set up 1:1s to be a recurring meeting in your calendars, ideally once a week for a half hour.

  • Don’t cancel: When you cancel 1:1s often, you’re sending the message that you don’t value this time with your team member. When urgent things come up, reschedule if you need to, but try not to cancel on the same day.

  • Remember to give this important meeting your full attention. Close the door, silence phone and email notifications, and give your focus to your direct report. When we are not listening, people know - and lose respect for us.

  • Try to aim for doing 10 percent of the talking and 90 percent of the listening.

5. Close your eyes

Perhaps after reading this paragraph. Can you feel any muscle tension in your face? Perhaps you notice that your jaw is clenched, or your eyebrows are furrowed. Simply becoming aware that we are tensing can cause us to relax - so take an opportunity each day - perhaps before a meeting, or perhaps after - to take a deep breath in….. and then another out.

6. Say no skilfully

Feeling like you might explode if you receive another request?

Saying no in a professional setting is a valuable communication skill for managing workload and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

By setting clear boundaries, you can prioritise your responsibilities, avoid overcommitting, and protect your time and energy. This can prevent burnout and improve your overall wellbeing.

Saying no to work-related requests outside of work hours also helps preserve your professional reputation and credibility. By avoiding taking on more than you can handle, you demonstrate to others that you are a responsible and capable manager.

In addition, by regaining control of your time and energy, you can focus on tasks that are most important to your performance and career. By saying no in a professional and assertive manner, you are taking control of your work life and setting yourself up for success.

It’s critical to be able to say no in a way that is respectful and avoids creating conflict. Here are some tips for saying no skilfully in the workplace:

  1. Be clear and direct when declining a request. For example: "I'm sorry, but I won't be able to take on that project at this time."

  2. Share the reason why. This will help your colleague understand why you are saying "no" and reduce the likelihood of conflict. For example: "I have a number of other commitments that I need to focus on right now, but I'd be happy to help in any other way I can."

  3. If possible, offer alternative solutions or resources that may help the other person achieve their goal. For example: "I'm not able to take on that project, but I can recommend a colleague who may be able to help."

  4. Acknowledge the other person's situation and show understanding. This can help to maintain a positive relationship. For example: "I understand that you're under a lot of pressure to get this project done, and I'm sorry that I can't be of more assistance."

  5. Don't feel pressured to change your mind if you believe your refusal is reasonable and justified. For example: "I appreciate your request, but I've thought it over and I still believe that I won't be able to take on this project."

7. Try Out Eisenhower’s Decision Matrix

Eisenhower’s Matrix is a useful tool to help you be more productive and achieve your goals faster. This simple matrix separates out the tasks that really matter from less important tasks so that you know where you need to be spending more of your time.

This is what the matrix looks like:

You can print it out and start adding notes to it, or easily make your own using PowerPoint, or a free tool like Excalidraw. I create columns in a Trello board to replicate the matrix, and find this helpful to prioritise my work. I will share more detail on this in a future post.

Ready to kickstart your journey to calm?

If you found this article helpful and would like to kickstart your journey towards the calm, confident and capable manager, who can skilfully tackle challenges that come your way, email me and we can arrange a free 30 minute conversation. You can learn more about me here.

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