Stress is a natural component of the job. How you manage it can help you rise above it and become more successful and productive. Our experts identify 10 common sources of stress and provide solid advice for managing it.
1. Look for technology-driven resources, such as project management tools, to manage the minutiae and free up your time to be creative.
“The No. 1 tool for meeting planning is still the Excel spreadsheet,” says Kevin Iwamoto, of Lanyon Solutions in Dallas. “If you’re a power planner who likely is executing on more than one event, Excel becomes a very demanding boss because it’s so manual, and it’s so subject to human error. All you need is one mistake, and it can take you way off base.”
Automation also can make post-event reporting and documentation more accurate and less agonizing.
“Today you have more clients and corporations that require copious documentation for audits around events, especially in financial-services verticals,” Iwamoto says. “It’s hard to do that these days without using an automated process.”
2. Nail down the budget as early as possible in the planning process.
“Some planners will start working on an event as soon as the order comes through, only to find out halfway through that the budget they were expecting didn’t come through,” Iwamoto says. “If I didn’t have a confirmed budget, I wouldn’t do a lot of serious prep work for that event.”
3. Stay in the “now” instead of fretting about what “could” go wrong.
“We are usually afraid of things that ‘might’ happen,” says Tyra Hilliard, CMP, an attorney and associate professor in the Restaurant, Hotel and Meetings Management program at the University of Alabama. “We worry about the worst-case scenario.
“I try to remind myself that it is better to deal with what is now and what is real and not to worry until there’s something concrete to worry about. Easier said than done, I know,” Hilliard says. “I just try to focus on the things right in front of me. When I do this, I feel less stress.”
4. Find an organizational system that works for you, and stick to it.
“Being organized reduces my stress,” Hilliard says. “Although my husband says I thrive on chaos, I feel calmer and less stressed when my desk is neat and tidy, and I’m working from a to-do list.
“One of the things I always liked about being a meeting planner was the on-site chaos. But even within that chaos, I liked having my binder of information so I would know what should be happening and could tell immediately when the conference train went off the tracks.”
5. Don’t let paperwork overwhelm you.
“I’m a big fan of the philosophy of ‘handle every piece of paper once,” Hilliard says. “As much as I can, I deal with what is in front of me right now so that it doesn’t sit and brew and pile up, which is stressful.”
6. Step away from the desk.
“When the stress levels are high, I take control of the situation and step away from my office, take a walk, meditate to music or do something as simple as playing with my dogs,” says James Rota of Dazzle Creation Events. Once I’m back in the office, I take a series of deep breaths and get back to the tasks at hand.”
“Arianna Huffington said something that really resonated with me,” says Emma Dahl of PeopleNet in Minnetonka, Minn. ” ‘We are all living under the collective illusion that burnout is the way to succeed.’ Take the time to disconnect and be as aware of how much energy you have left in you as your cellphone has battery life left in it.”
7. Find creative ways to meet deadlines even when others don’t cooperate.
Christy Lamagna of Strategic Meetings & Events in greater New York City describes a familiar and stress-inducing scenario — clients who go radio silent at critical times.
“This is maddening because I want to exceed expectations and hit all deadlines,” she says, “but there is a limited amount of control when the task is out of my hands.”
Her solution: “Reach out to the client to explain the concern and my commitment to meet their goals but with the threat that without their help it may not happen.
“If I can’t reach him/her, or the initial call is not helpful, I find the assistant and get a call booked so that I am on the calendar. I follow up with emails to clearly, politely and definitively state the need, the challenge and the risk if their assistance is not given.
“Usually if I can cut through the noise and get their attention, it’s a quick fix.”
8. Plan travel to avoid, or make the most of, flight delays, cancellations and rescheduling.
“I travel with food I enjoy, books to read and comfortable clothes,” Lamagna says. “I invested in an airline club membership so I can wait out the delays in comfort, and I book my flights to arrive as early as possible before the meeting, sometimes by a full day, to avoid a potential challenge.
“If I fly at odd times or on an ‘off day’ (not a Monday or Friday), I can often get less expensive fares, which cover any potential hotel or additional meal costs from an earlier arrival.”
9. Recognize that you can’t get everything done, and look for ways to build productivity.
“I have yet to conquer this one, but I have chipped away at it,” Lamagna says. “My email only updates every 30 minutes and, when it does, there are no notifications. I am no longer driven to act by the alerts that ding every time a new email arrives.”
What other productivity hacks has she worked out?
- I do the thing I want to avoid most first thing each morning. That makes the day easier to manage.
- I make lists of the Top 3 things that MUST happen that day and create second lists for anything further down.
- I schedule time in my day that is call- and appointment-free so I can get my own work done.
- One day a week I come in early or stay late to get ahead.
10. Look at life changes that can help you reduce stress.
Stress can mess up your body and brain. According to the Mayo Clinic, it can induce headaches, muscle and chest pain, fatigue, sleep and libido problems, anxiety, restlessness, irritation, sadness or depression and lead to poor nutrition, drinking, drug use and smoking.
So, why do we keep engaging in the madness? For the rewards when it all goes right, Dahl says. “My favorite moments are the ones right before everything kicks off. The signage is in place, everything is ready, the clock strikes 7 p.m. and it’s go time.
“Seeing everything that you poured your life into for the last days, weeks and months come to fruition is the most rewarding feeling,” she says, “and makes most of the stress, late nights, early mornings and each and every little complaint and ‘suggestion’ worth it.”
Which tip is your favorite? Can you add something to the list? Please use the comment section below. Now, step away from your desk.