How to Build Resilience for Work

Dec 5, 2016
Post Masthead

Have you ever had an incident happen that has sent you for a bit of a tailspin?

It happens for most of us at some point; something throws you so off-center that you struggle to maintain the headspace you need to get on with your work and produce the results that are required of your job.

We’ve been hearing a lot about this lately, especially with recent political events. People get so caught up that they can’t focus and productivity suffers as a result. If you’re a small business owner or consultant, the consequences can be particularly bad for you because you don’t have anyone else there to keep things going.

Of course there is a time and a place for all that angst, but if you don’t want to be dismissed as a “special snowflake” (or any of the other terms people love to throw around), you need to be resilient enough to produce good results at work regardless of distractions.

How can you build better resilience and keep up your productivity at work? Let’s look at a few ideas:

#1. Keep Your Eye on the Prize

The most resilient people have a strong sense of purpose and “keep an eye on the prize.” You may get momentarily distracted by a number of things; bad days at work, worry over personal situations, even an argument with a client. The key thing is that you find a way to center yourself at work and focus on your key objectives.

Of course, it helps if you’re clear on what the objectives are in the first place. Try writing down your goals, perhaps even posting them up in your work space so you are reminded of them constantly. When you allow yourself to be guided by an overall vision that you have for your career, it helps provide some extra meaning or impetus to your work life.

At the same time, you need to find a way to avoid distractions. Too many people let the thing that blindsided or upset them become their key focus. There’s a saying; “what you focus on, expands”, meaning that pretty soon, those work goals become a distant item on the side as the issue bothering you becomes all-consuming.

You don’t want to be in “triggered” status when stuff needs to be done, so here are a few things that may help:

  • Turn off your phone for a while (or at least put it on silent). Seriously, what are the chances you’re going to miss anything important?
  • Stay away from the news, social media and ESPECIALLY the comments section on either of those. It’s a slippery rabbit hole that will either leave you despairing of humanity or angrily pounding out responses on your keyboard (or both).
  • Shut off distractions, such as email and social media, while you need to get work done.
  • Use a productivity tool, such as Cold Turkey, to help you block distracting websites.


#2. Focus on What You Can Control

This follows on naturally from those goals. There is absolutely no sense in obsessing over things that you have no control over, after all, what can you change about them? Can you change a client’s decision to be in a bad mood? Can you change something that has already happened? Nope, so take the sting out of those by focusing on things you can positively influence.

For example, you can control your own reactions and how you conduct yourself. Actively seek ways to stay productive, even if something has struck a low-blow.

One idea to keep productivity on the boil and to avoid tanking your work life is to structure your day so that you are monotasking. Research shows that, despite accolades and our frequent obsession with multi-tasking, humans simply are not good parallel processors. When we try to multitask, we tend to not only take longer to complete tasks, but we are more prone to making mistakes.

If we can compartmentalize work so that we’re not needing to switch contexts all the time, we are much more productive. You can achieve this by breaking your day so you create dedicated times for certain tasks or just to focus on a certain client. If the distraction still keeps interfering, sometimes the best thing to do is make a list of those tasks. Start at number one and work your way down until you reach a pre-decided point for a break.

#3. Connect Positively

There’s another saying that comes into play here; “no man is an island.” Resiliency is often built through the positive networks we surround ourselves with.

As Kerry Hannon points out, don’t wait until there is a crisis before reaching out, actively build those networks by going to events, joining groups, finding mentors and finding ways you can help others. Be there for people in your circle who find themselves in crisis - the law of reciprocity is real and, most of the time, you’ll find they’re there for you too.

You’re not looking for someone to be your personal counsellor (unless that’s what they’re paid to do), but finding ways to unwind with friends is often good therapy anyway. Play sport, go hiking, hit up a movie or a bar after work. Hang out with people who help you to decompress and focus on the important things.

If your problem is work-related, sometimes help can be found online. Look for social media groups or forums for your particular profession. There are thousands out there that are full of experienced people who are willing to give a word of advice or a friendly ear (just pick who you take advice from carefully!).

#4. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness means training yourself to focus on your awareness and pay attention to thoughts and feelings while accepting them calmly.

It’s not as “woo woo” as it may sound to some people; research has shown that practicing mindfulness can go a long way toward mitigating distress. It predicts accuracy, judgment and, according to a Harvard Business Review article, promotes resilience and productivity at work.

The question then becomes, how do you train yourself to practice mindfulness? Do you need to invest in yoga pants and chakras alignment? Possibly - if that’s what floats your boat, but there are also whole host of apps, books and tools available to help.

Check these out:

Apps: Muse, Headspace, Mental Workout
Books: Mindfulness: An 8 Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World

#5. Learn to Reset

Ever heard of the ultradian rhythm cycle? It’s a brain cycle that is present both during sleep and waking times where we tend to move through 90-minute patterns of different levels of alertness. Research has found that, given these patterns, your brain can only focus for 90 to 120 minutes before it needs a break.

Source: Fast Company

Source: Fast Company

For the sake of mental clarity, resilience and productivity, you need to be stepping away to take those breaks regularly. Finding a way to detach can promote your creativity, energy and focus, even if you’re simply taking a short break to switch gears.

If you’re able to be disciplined about taking regular breaks throughout your workday, you build up your stock of energy and resilience, and gain longer-term benefits, such as preventing burnout.

Final Thoughts

Still feeling “salty” or perhaps a little triggered? You don’t have to let that affect your ability to be resilient and productive at work. You’re relying on being productive to remain in business, right?

There are certain attitudes and practices that the most resilient people always follow, and you can use these to keep your head in the game.

Have clear goals for your work and keep your eye on the prize. Limit distractions and focus on the things you can control. Build a positive network, practice mindfulness and take your breaks in order to reset. This way you can build resilience, not just through any current crisis, but as a long-term measure to prevent burnout.