If you want to deal with stress in the workweek, look to change your habits on the weekend.
“The secret to winning the war against stress lies in what you do when you aren’t working (and presumably aren’t stressed). You need to structure your free time wisely,” psychologist Travis Bradberry writes in Emotional Intelligence Habits.
He follows seven rules when not working that he suggests you consider, although acknowledging that if you’re working 80- to 90-hour weeks you may not have energy or focus to use your time out of work wisely:
- Minimize chores: There’s a tendency for chores to monopolize free time, robbing you of the opportunity to relax and reflect. Schedule your chores like anything else during the week and if some don’t get completed leave them for next weekend.
- Exercise: You have 48 hours open on the weekend if the week’s time crunch doesn’t allow exercise. He says that getting your body moving for as little as 10 minutes releases GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a soothing neurotransmitter that reduces stress, and exercise can spark new ideas.
- Pursue a passion: “Things like playing music, reading, writing, painting or even playing catch with your kids can help stimulate different modes of thought and that can reap huge dividends over the coming week,” he says.
- Spend quality time with your family: The week often flies by with little time for family. Finding quality time on the weekend can help you relax and recharge. “Take your kids to the park, take your spouse to their favourite restaurant and go visit your parents. You’ll be glad you did,” he says.
- Schedule micro-adventures: Knowing you have something special planned for Saturday or Sunday – tickets to a play, a hike rather than walking on the treadmill or something you have never done before – brightens your mood during the week and of course can be a weekend highlight.
- Designate mornings as me-time: Getting up early and carving out some time for yourself can pay massive dividends in happiness.
- Prepare for the upcoming week: Planning the next week can increase your productivity and reduce stress. Without the distractions and tensions of the work week you will see things more clearly.
Build those habits into your life. Emotional intelligence is seen as important as IQ in determining success and unlike IQ can be increased over time. Habits like these can become second nature and improve your ability to handle stress. “Cultivating the right habits will take you where you want to go in life,” he declares.
With that in mind, he recommends the following general success habits:
- Be biased toward action: Emotionally intelligent people confidently act on their ideas because they know that a failed idea is not a reflection of their ability but a wonderful learning experience.
- Seek composure: People who are composed understand their emotions and use that knowledge in the moment to react with self-control to challenging situations.
- Appreciate the here and now: Gratitude is fundamental to peace and happiness. Whatever the constraints of your life, appreciate the positives of what you have now.
- Stick to realistic goals: Find goals that are challenging but try to stick within the bounds of reality. Small habits can inspire big gains over time.
- Expose yourself to a variety of people: “There’s no easier way to learn to think differently than spending time with someone whose strengths are your weaknesses or whose ideas are radically different from your own,” he writes.
- Turn tedious tasks into games: Emotionally intelligent people find ways to make the tedious interesting, challenging themselves and producing high-quality work rather than letting the tedium lead to sloppy results.
- Get out and do something that reminds you who you are: Make time for the activities that are authentically you.
He urges you to make your life more meaningful and fulfilling by incorporating those habits into your life.
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Harvey Schachter is a Kingston-based writer specializing in management issues. He, along with Sheelagh Whittaker, former CEO of both EDS Canada and Cancom, are the authors of When Harvey Didn’t Meet Sheelagh: Emails on Leadership.