“I know my stress is building, because I start getting more speeding tickets”

Last night I was at a CBI dinner, as a guest of my favourite client. I got chatting to a lovely guy who worked in the construction industry. He asked me what I did, and I gave my spiel about reducing stress and helping people use their time better, when long hours and hard work no longer work. The construction industry has been a pretty stressful place over the last five years, and we talked a lot about increased work load and dealing with the pressure that created for him. He was a seasoned veteran of four or five recessions, so he had a good sense of how to weather the storm and keep going – and obviously he worked really hard. But he had a unique way of measuring his stress: there was a direct correlation with the number of speeding tickets he picked up. This is how it worked: because he was cramming more into his day, he drove faster and faster between appointments, trying to fit it all in. So he started  tripping speed cameras as he travelled around. That was his signal to ease back and take a break, otherwise he would lose his health, his driving licence and his job.

What signals do you use to let you know that the pressure is building. How do you pull over into the slow lane and still make progress? Here are 5 ways you can slow down and spend less time in the fast lane, and still be productive.

  1. Pause and reflect. Everyone needs a break in their journey. Paradoxically, stopping for a break increases your productivity and will save you time in the long run. It’s a chance to integrate what you’ve learnt, so you don’t repeat mistakes.
  2. Pace yourself. You won’t be able to drive at full pelt all of the time. Other people will slow you down. Unpredictable conditions mean you can’t proceed at maximum speed, so plan for that.
  3. Allow more time This is connected with number 2. If you add some “white space” buffer time into your schedule even if you meet a problem, you won’t be late.
  4. Be realistic. Just because you seem to have space in your diary to cram in another meeting, it doesn’t mean you actually can. Or that you need to. Here’s what I wrote a few weeks ago about realistic planning.
  5. Take a long-term view. Picking up speeding points wasn’t going to help my new mate get his job done, not if he ended up losing his licence. When we’re stressed, though, our thinking gets blinkered.