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When you’re really struggling at work, it can be hard to know what exactly to turn around.

It’s likely that the quality of your work isn’t where it could be. You’re behind on deadlines or responding to stakeholder queries, you’re possibly irritable, tired, and simply not the best version of you.

All these symptoms are interrelated. Address the linchpin issue, and you’re back on track in a relatively short time. Choose a peripheral issue, and you’re pfaffing about on the edges without seeing much, if any, progress. So how do you know which is the fastest route to recovery?

the number one mistake that stops you getting back on track at work

When I have this conversation with clients, the most common self help remedy is to either buy a new app or online software or to sign up for a course on whatever seems like a good idea at the time.

But let me ask you this. If the world as you think you know it feels like it’s imploding all around you, are you able to discern exactly which course will solve your problem?

It’s tempting to search outside for the answer. It’s like trying to lose weight by purchasing and trying for a while, every diet programme that’s worked for this person or that person. How effective is oscillating from diet to diet when it comes to long term health and vitality and enjoying being at your optimum weight?

So rather than searching for that shiny penny, what if instead of looking outside, we looked inside?

The things that are going on inside become a circular reference. You’re dealing with an abundance of competing demands right now.

How do you choose to respond to that?

answer these questions to determine how work is affecting your health and well-being

  • In the past week, how often have you had trouble falling asleep due to thoughts racing around inside of your head?
  • How often have you woke in the middle of the night in a panic because you remembered you hadn’t run that report or signed off that thing?
  • How many weeknights or weekends are interrupted with your brain conducting spontaneous problem solving on an issue at work?

Scientists talk about the importance of active recovery as a way to manage or boost our energy, be resilient or to deal with stress. And this is something that high performance athletes know and use. A key part of active recovery is your ability to step away from the source of stress – physically, mentally, and emotionally.

No checking work emails on your phone outside of work, cognitive restructuring and active habit management to train yourself out of spontaneous problem solving of work related issues.

Instead of downloading an app designed to remind you of all the things you haven’t done, download one that reminds you to breathe. Breathe slowly, deeply and intentionally.

active recovery is the first step

Shift your focus to actively creating space in your life. Space to think, to dream, to remember what used to spark your joy. Actively seek out opportunities to laugh whether it’s taking in a comedy show, watching a rerun of your favourite 80s-tastic TV show. It will help you to breathe and of course, the endorphins that you release will help you to feel better.

how sleep affects your performance at work

Your next area of focus is to pay attention to the amount and quality of your sleep. Tired people make poor decisions. Poor decisions impact your performance at work. Check out why sleep is your secret productivity hack for tips on how to get better quality sleep.

Distance yourself from what’s stressful

Rather than sitting at your desk shovelling food into your mouth at lunchtime, go for a walk.

It allows you to distance yourself from work and refresh your body. If you’re near a park or a lake or a beach, even better.

When things aren’t going well at work, it’s rarely about the work.

Often it’s about paying attention to the foundations, those micro habits that boost your energy allowing us to be more productive, and begin to enjoy the process.

choose a new direction

I know when you’re in the middle of it, it’s really hard. I see it. I’ve heard it, and I’ve experienced it. Often we’re so immersed in the middle of it that we forget to chart a new course. Are you familiar with the story of the traveller passing through the village? He notices an adult elephant with a chain and shackle around one of his feet. The chain is tied to a peg which is stuck in the ground.

Why doesn’t the elephant leave the traveller asks? He’s big and powerful that chain won’t hold him.

The elephant’s master explains that when the elephant was a tiny wee baby, he was chained to the peg in the ground. The baby elephant tried to leave but each time, the chain attached to the peg in the ground, held him back. He learned that he couldn’t escape and so he stopped trying.

That peg won’t hold him back now. That’s the reality of the situation but in his mind he is that wee elephant whose circumstances are defined by that chain attached to the peg in the ground.

When you’re struggling at work, don’t believe your baby elephant mind. You can change this. Go within. Assess your foundations. How is the quality and duration of your sleep? What can you do to create space between the source of your stress and you? For example, set an alarm on your phone that reminds you to breathe; slowly and deliberately. Find something that makes you laugh out loud.

Just by focusing on these foundational practices, life will begin to feel a bit better. Your decisions will improve, your energy will improve, and your relationships will improve. And you’ll begin to struggle less and less at work.