From chaos to calm in three easy steps

Petris Lapis reveals her key strategies to keep the chaos at bay. Her three steps will have you thinking logically, de-stressing and looking after yourself in no time.

Our lives both at work and at home have never been more chaotic. We keep throwing more and more things into the air in the hopes we will be able to juggle them all. When something unexpected happens we struggle to cope because we are already stretched so thin. We are drowning in our commitments, expectations, deadlines and lists of things we think we ‘should’ do. We have allowed ourselves to reach the point where to be busy and overwhelmed is a badge we wear with honour and our most common topic of conversation. In the words of Dr Brene Brown, ‘exhaustion has become a status symbol’. We have become slaves to being busy.

Some days at work are like a saucepan of boiling spaghetti and the more we turn up the heat, the worse the mess gets. When we become focused on the chaos, is when we become disconnected from ourselves, our health, our relationships and the love we used to have for our work. We are short tempered (and we take it home with us), we don’t make time for self-care and we start to suffer.

The chaos isn’t diminishing, so hoping it will get better is not a great coping technique. Fortunately, there are things you can do to get out of chaos and into calm despite the daily turmoil you find yourself immersed in.

We hear the word ‘urgent’ and we react

Dwight D. Eisenhower is alleged to have said, “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” Most of us spend our working day reacting to urgent issues rather than planning what we want and making that happen. What if at the start of each day you were strategic and you tried these three steps?

1. Set your intention for the day: Determine what you want as the outcome from your day and then plan your priorities, energies and actions accordingly leaving time for the unexpected.

2. Set strong boundaries: One manager I know has a tiara on her desk that she wears when she needs some quiet time to finish a job. No-one messes with the Queen and she takes it off again when she has finished the urgent job. If you are the person in the office everyone goes to when they have a question and you aren’t finishing your own tasks by the end of the day, then setting stronger boundaries might help you get more done in less time.

3. Start ditching stuff that doesn’t matter: Goals you keep ignoring but leave on your ‘to do’ list, people and activities that waste your time. Focus your intention instead on the things and people that really matter.

Your brain is a busy body

One of the reasons it is so difficult to cope with chaos in the workplace is because of the way your brain evolved. It is hardwired to notice and be alarmed by changes in your environment. These changes are a warning that you might be in danger of being eaten. This fantastic alarm system now drives you bonkers at work because it makes you easily distracted by emails, text messages, conversations in the adjacent work station, ringing phones and the beeping of the printer that has run out of paper and which everyone else is managing to ignore. You are so primitively and deeply hardwired to be alert for changes that you are distracted by almost everything and anything that happens around you.

You can help yourself cope with this hardwiring through simple things such as putting your phone in a drawer, turning off the email alert or finding ways to minimise noise. Find ways to work with your brain and keep distractions to a minimum.

When your brain isn’t being a busy body it likes an addictive rush

Your brain rewards you for good behaviour with a dopamine hit. When you finish a job, the high you get is due to dopamine. Each time you take a step towards a goal or cross something off your ‘to do’ list, dopamine goes wham and gives you a nice little feel good boost.

Dopamine not only feels good, it is also addictive. It is the reason you constantly check emails, tweets, facebook or text messages. Each time you find a message, you get a hit of dopamine as a reward. This is why you feel constantly compelled to search for messages in the same way a gambling addict is constantly compelled to keep going for the big win.

You can harness the power of dopamine for good by giving yourself a creative environment to work in, breaking big projects down into smaller chunks you feel good about finishing or going for a walk in your lunch break. Use your brain’s reward drug to keep you fired up and in control of your working day. Break your day down into small achievable tasks and tick them off as they are done. You will get a dopamine hit each time and feel motivated to do the next task.

Look after yourself first

Putting other people first is a very important, noble and worthy cause. However, the best way to provide service to others (colleagues, family, work, community, friends etc) is to sleep well, eat well and look after your physical and mental wellbeing. Only then do you have what it takes to be switched on to making decisions, being present in conversations and motivated to take action.

How to get from chaos to calm in three easy steps

Working harder doesn’t get you from chaos to calm. You need to do something else. So, when the chaos hits your workplace and you don’t know how you are going to cope, try this:

1. Stop: Seriously stop what you’re doing, the rushing, the internal chatter about the serious situation you are in and breathe deeply several times in and out. Pause and take stock of what is really going on. Get out of panic and back into control.

2. Prioritise: Do it like a pro. Act as if you were in the emergency department of a hospital. What is a head cold and can wait and what is serious and needs immediate attention? Leave or outsource what you can and tackle the stuff that really needs tackling.

3. Act: Calmly, purposefully and in the direction of your choosing take action. As an army officer once said to me, ‘Leaders don’t run as it panics the troops’.

When you have done these three steps, do them again and again and again until they have your habitual working day routine. At that point, you will have moved from the commander of chaos to the captain of calm.