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Conquer Your Chaos - Keep Stress at Bay

Stress is quickly becoming an epidemic in North America. Today, 75 - 90 per cent of all doctor visits are stress related. Conditions like high blood pressure, allergies, migraines, ulcers, bowel and skin problems and more have all been related to stress. That's not to mention the fact that stress has been linked to all the leading causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis and suicide.

In addition to causing all sorts of health problems, stress also creates lost revenues for businesses of all sizes. This is because over 60 per cent of employee absences are due to psychological problems such as stress. This results in an estimated 1 million workers who are absent on an average workday. With this in mind, job stress is estimated to cost U.S. industry $300 billion annually, as assessed by absenteeism, diminished productivity, employee turnover, direct medical, legal and insurance fees and more. These figures still don’t include the average of 150 hours of time wasted on searching for lost documents per employee each year.

In Michael Roizen’s book, “You, the Owner’s Manual,” he talks about destressing and how “stress is the greatest ager of your body in general, especially the nagging, unfinished-tasks kinds of stress that hang over you day after day.” He continues to say that “all those unfinished tasks can make your RealAge more than thirty-two years old.”

Sitting down at a cluttered desk can immediately increase your stress level before the workday has even begun; and of course we all know that this is not the time of the day to start taking on additional stress. That will happen easily enough throughout the course of your day.

The start of your day is the best time to feel fresh and confident in your ability to make progress on your tasks. This feeling of purpose comes easily with an organized workspace. Clutter, on the other hand, counteracts all good intentions with confusion and stress, and sets the tone for the rest of the workday.

How is it that a few stacks of disorganized paper can create a mass of stress in just minutes? It's because clutter is actually a sign of “deferred decisions”. Each piece of paper on your desk represents something you haven't taken care of yet. Merely thinking of that paper can increase stress.

Left unattended, these paper molehills can become mountains of stress, leaving you completely overwhelmed and swimming in chaos. By this point, you may not even know how or where to start with the de-stressing process.

Worse yet, the greater the stacks of paper, the greater chance there is for you to miss something important. Perhaps you misplaced a critical document that is needed for a meeting just minutes away, or you forgot about a bill that is past-due, or, you could even lose track of where you are on a significant project with an immediate completion deadline looming.

Then, we must address the electronic chaos. Spam assassin’s aren’t diffusing all of the spam anymore, the convenience of networking has created duplicates in local folders and network folders, stored documents on CD are almost impossible to retrieve and dare we enter the gloom of contact lists, emails and the “convenience” of archiving.

With all this in mind, now (more than ever) is the time to protect your health and business by Conquering Your Chaos. Getting organized is one giant leap towards dealing with stress effectively.

Through organization, none of the above scenarios come into play. Each piece of paper is dealt with once and then filed, scheduled or acted on accordingly. You are left with more free time, because you're able to get things done in less time. You are also able to focus on your goals and priorities, delegate projects clearly and effectively, and generally be on top of your game. This obviously relieves a great deal of stress, while creating a real feeling of empowerment.

Here are a few tips for reducing stress through organization.
Know your priorities and then schedule time for those tasks in your calendar. You don’t have to complete your list in one day, just focus your energy on what matters most and work your way down.

If Paper Chaos is your biggest challenge:
1.      Take all of the paper clutter you have on your desk, counter or table and place it in a box.

2.      Pick up the first piece of paper and apply the FAST principle™ - are you going to File, Act, Schedule or Toss this piece of paper?

3.      Once sorted, start with the action pile and begin to handle each piece of paper - filing it in your action files or scheduling the next action into your calendar.

4.      Next go to the filing pile and file them into your appropriate filing cabinets. Use the 2” rule – if a file is larger than 2”, break it down into smaller files.

If Electronic Chaos is your biggest challenge:
Fortunately, there's a lot you can do to take charge of your computer and abolish all electronic clutter this month. To start, block off at least an hour in your day planner before taking the following steps.

1. Review your computer files/documents and make a backup of all the documents that you know you will not refer to again. Once a backup has been created, delete all of these electronic files.

2. Remove any programs that you don't use. To do so, select "Start/Control Panel/Add or Remove Programs". Simply highlight the unused programs and click "remove".

3. Run Scandisk and Disk Defragmenter weekly and create a backup.

4. Make space in Internet Explorer by removing temporary files. To do so, go to "Tools/Internet Options/Temporary Internet Files" and click "Delete Files". Say "yes" to "Delete all offline content".

5. Take a few minutes to organize your files within your e-mail program. Add files for the following: action; read; waiting for a response; and templates. Each morning, delete unnecessary e-mails (spam/junk), respond to any e-mail that will only take two minutes or less to respond to, then move all other e-mails to their designated files, leaving a completely empty inbox. Then schedule time each day to deal with those e-mails.

6. Use only one calendar, either electronic or paper. A good idea is to use an electronic calendar that can be easily synced with a handheld electronic organizer, such as a PDA, on a daily basis.

Whatever you do to Conquer Your Chaos around the office, don't over schedule. Delegate tasks when appropriate - you don't have to do everything. Leave time free in your calendar for the unexpected and perhaps for a break now and then.

Enjoy your stress free office!

About the Author: Sherry Borsheim is the owner of Simply Productive and co-author of “Conquer Your Chaos”. Contact Sherry today at 604-233-7076 or e-mail for more information.

Do You Want Employee Engagement?

Most organizations provide some form of employee recognition. The problem is that many senior leaders think of these recognition awards – and especially service awards – as an expense; an employee benefit; part of the “soft side” of business.

“We compensate people well for their work, don’t we?” a CEO will say, “why give them an award for their years of service (or job performance)?”

As a result, they try to fulfill this expectation in the least costly and most convenient way possible, in truth, so they don’t have to touch it. They go through the motions of appreciation – and, in doing so, entirely bypass one of the most powerful ways to communicate their strategic messages to the people they are leading.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

There is power in appreciation. The North American workforce has hidden reserves of ingenuity, talent and resolve that most leaders have not tapped. But they can, with the right motivator. That motivator is recognition.

Straight to their Hearts

To succeed in business, you must tap the potential of your people. You must get your employees to embrace and embody your unique corporate brand. Companies that do are almost always at the top of their industries.

The only problem is: How do you go about it? Most of us have tried (and failed) with ubiquitous wallet cards, newsletters, speeches and other traditional forms of communication. Almost always, our words seem bland and predictable to our employees.

But sincere, public, frequent employee recognition takes your message to employees’ hearts – where your other communication vehicles often fail to reach.

Great leaders use recognition – service awards and performance awards – to communicate their vision and values. They recognize frequently. They are sincere in their praise. They present awards with class, style – and obvious preparation.
And the impact on employees is remarkable.

When employees see managers using their valuable time and effort to honor them, it touches their hearts and minds. (Let’s be honest, who doesn’t like to be recognized?) This “shared moment” of mutual respect builds an emotional connection between the company, manager and employee. There is no greater time for an employee to hear about the great things in their company as when they are in the spotlight themselves. Because of that connection, the employee engages and commits to the work at hand, and is willing to do more than put in time. That strengthens the corporate culture and enables managers to deliver more to the company through the efforts of the people who actually do the work – the employees.

And the process is never-ending. As managers’ expectations of employees rise, and recognition of their work follows, so does employee performance. And so on, and so on, and so on …

Strategy papers, speeches, newsletters, posters, admonitions, advertising—nothing instills a brand in employees better than recognition.

By far the biggest mistake companies make with their recognition programs is failing to train supervisors and managers in award presentation skills. Managers are key if you want your recognition efforts to succeed, and recognition provides so many critical communication opportunities for front-line leaders in your organization:

  • The opportunity to repeat the important strategic messages of the company.
  • The opportunity to express appreciation to an employee in a way that strengthens her resolve to carry out the company’s strategic imperatives.
  • The opportunity to give an heirloom-quality award that provides a lasting memory of the company’s good will and belief in the employee.

    Unlike other public meetings, you’ll find no one tunes out during an award presentation. And your time pays off as not only the employee being honored – but all those in attendance – learn what matters most to the company.

    Reward What Matters Most

    By far, the greatest benefit of recognition is the way it constantly reinforces your company brand, vision, and strategy in a sincere and natural way. Think of this: In a typical corporation, company values, vision and strategy come down from upper management to employees with limited effectiveness. It’s the few preaching to a questioning majority.

    Within a recognition culture, supervisors – and even co-workers – teach, illustrate and reinforce company values and strategy by the behaviors they reward and the recognition bestowed. Quite simply, they reward what the company wants repeated. In turn, the person honored – as well as his peers – channel their future energies into actions that benefit the company.

    It sounds almost too good to be true, right? But then, in a culture of recognition, anything is possible.

    John McVeigh is President of the O.C. Tanner Company Canada, one of the country’s leading employee recognition firm. Contact him at

    Employee Productivity

    I challenge you to say you would rather have someone who is unqualified, unmotivated but will stay versus someone who is fired up and ready to take on a position even though they might leave.

    Time and time again I hear upset employers frustrated because they can not find great people. Virtually every industry is feeling the pinch as we run into a combination of retiring baby boomers, untrained or unskilled workers, tight immigration rules preventing skilled workers to get here and a new generation that are often not concerned about making long term career commitments until their later 20’s.

    Finding the right employee for specific positions is one of the major concerns for companies, followed closely by the retention of employees that the company has hired and wants to keep. Employers have come to feel that they have become a training ground for employees to try something out before moving on with their newly found training and experience. Some owners are really upset with the fact that they hire someone and within a year or two they are leaving and going to a competitor or a similar industry.

    Although many owners and managers feel there is no way around the dilemmas I mention above, I believe there are methods to deal with these challenges. The starting point is thinking outside the box and looking for solutions that are non - traditional in nature.

    If your staff is leaving for competitors, then you need to look in the mirror and find out why. Paying the highest wages seems like the answer many times but more important is scoring high in Employee Satisfaction ratings. Wages will be part of this but as long as you pay a fair wage there will be many other reasons why people stay or leave. You have to know the answer either way.

    Another scenario that I hear often is people leaving for a complimentary industry rather than a competitor. This can be for many reasons and often you are just not able to compete with higher wages, benefits and more opportunities for advancement due to the size of the other company.

    This situation is very frustrating and you may feel like you are in a catch 22 situation. Do you hire the best person for the job knowing they will likely be moving on? Do you invest training dollars into someone again knowing they may take that training and development and apply it elsewhere? How can you win?

    Tough questions but at the end of the day you have to do the thing that is right for your company. Again: I challenge you to say you would rather have someone who is unqualified, unmotivated but will stay versus someone who is fired up and ready to take on a position even though they might leave.

    The first option assures your company will stay mired in mediocrity, although you will spend less time on the recruiting and hiring process. Instead, your time will be spent wishing for greater productivity, lamenting about lost bottom line and dealing with employee management and performance issues.

    I find too many owners and managers decide early that they have no choice and have to settle for the 50% solution. There are choices.

    I want to offer a change of thinking to you. Why not accept that there will be great people that learn a position, take training and move on? What is wrong with that? If you decide to park your ego and accept that you might be the best place for employees to learn a skill before moving on to another employer you might be able to attract the very people that you are looking for.

    Why do some Universities and Colleges attract more students or a certain type of students that other institutions? Largely it is about their reputation for placing students in a position that they will be attractive to future employers. Students will pay a premium and travel great distances to gain this edge.

    Try applying this same logic to the work place. Hold yourself out as a leader in your industry as well as a place where you not only prepare people for their next steps but actually build relationships with other employers. Time spent working and contributing at your company will be seen almost on the same footing as an apprenticeship program.

    If they are already going to another employer and you are not in a position to change your workplace to provide the opportunity they are leaving for, why not accept that as a part of doing business?

    In order for this to work you need to build agreements with other employers and determine what they are looking for specifically in a future employee. You might even be able to arrange some cost sharing of training on the basis of your employees getting a guaranteed interview in the future.

    You may also want to look into developing employment contracts with the new employees you are hiring. They might be required to work with you for 12 -18 months as a minimum in order to get a full recommendation and arranged job interview with another company. This will allow you to get a pool of people who want to work for you, (even searching you out!), and will do a great job in order to obtain skills, experience, a solid letter of recommendation and a guaranteed future job interview.

    You as the employer get a fully committed, top of the line employee who is willing to give you 150% for 12 -18 months with a planned exit strategy allowing you to recruit on a proactive vs. reactive basis. A hidden benefit is that some of these great people just might fall in love with your company and want to stay.

    It is your choice, 50% for 3 years or 150% for 1 year?

    Darel Baker is the President of Keldar Leadership Solutions. He may be contacted at 1-866-458-5044

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