CHRO SA Community Conversation offers tips for productivity and stress management 

Beyond The Dress's Lori Milner gave HR leaders tips for doing their best while working from home. 

The third weekly CHRO South Africa Community Conversation was held on Tuesday 6 April and saw more than 20 HR leaders come together to share ideas, challenges and experiences in the hopes of easing the various burdens that they are all carrying at this time. The topic for this particular conversation was productivity, stress, and how to manage it all during these trying and uncertain times. 

The conversation was led by Lori Milner, the founder of Beyond the Dress, who gave attendees some useful tools to help them manage their stress. For her, it all starts with self-care. She said it was not uncommon to have unhealthy performance anxiety about working from home due to the fear of being perceived as not working hard enough.

“When we’re at work it is easier to take lunch breaks and clock out for a conversation with a colleague because people can see when we are working, but when we are at home that’s not the case,” said Lori.

This performance anxiety can have a significant impact on the stress that executive leaders, line managers and employee alike are under. With this in mind, Lori gave attendees five tips for easing their stress levels and improving their productivity during this period 

1 Set boundaries

Lori said that stress management was about boundary management. This meant setting a starting time and a quitting time and making a commitment to switch off whether the work is done or not – because the work is never really done. 

“If you don’t set that boundary you will start experiencing burnout,” she said. 

2 Set time aside for yourself 

Lori said stress management is about energy management, which means people have to ensure they have the energy to show up throughout the day. A good way to do that is to give yourself some time to recharge, whether that involves taking a nap, exercising or meditating. 

With people working from home on lockdown with every member of the family in the same house, however, this might prove easier said than done.  

Lori suggested waking up a “bit earlier to fit in some time for yourself. Even If you find 15 minutes every day, it’s going to compound over time.  Five minutes of actual meditation is better than 25 minutes of thinking about meditation.” 

3 Make a ‘to-be’ list instead

Many people, when working from home, tend to make a to-do list at the beginning of every day, but Lori said that was likely the wrong approach, saying that the to-do list was a ‘guilt list’ because it serves as a reminder of all the things that haven’t been done. “With children, family and colleagues all demanding one’s time, people tend to get to the end to the day and find many of those things have not been done, and ‘that makes us feel guilty,” Lori said. 

She continued: “Things at the top of the to-do list are not the most important things, they often just the first thing that came to your mind.”

Instead of thinking about what you want to do, Lori suggested making a ‘to-be’ list instead.  For this, the idea is to set a goal for who you want to be and how you want to feel instead throughout the day and use that to guide the way you handle all the people and tasks competing for your time and attention.  

“Confidence is directly proportional to the promises you keep to yourself. The more you keep promises to yourself the more you will grow into the person you want to be,” she said, 

4 Beware your inbox

When it comes to tasks, Lori said to focus specifically on finishing one or two things and you have thought about either a day or a week prior, “because when you write a to-do list, the things that are at the top are often not the most important but rather just the tasks that first came to mind”. 

Once a key task has been identified, Lori said to beware distractions because they often derail people from their tasks they prioritised because the first thing they do in the morning is open their email inbox, which immediately takes them away from what they had initially planned to do.  

She said emails are urgent for other people but often not very urgent for you, so be sure to do the things that give you peace of mind and relief, sooner. 

“Be care of self-interrupting. Every time your phone rings with someone sending you meme or a funny joke, that is time away from your schedule.” 

She also said to design your work environment as conducive to being as productive as possible. Even if it means having a snack and water in the room you work in so that you don’t have to leave to get a quick bite or drink.

5 Manage your thoughts

Managing your thoughts is one of the most important elements of productivity, especially in times of such uncertainty when so many people are focusing so much on all the things that could go wrong. 

This puts people in a never ending-cycle of damage control and prevents them from concentrating. To overcome this, Lori suggested that leaders consider what they know, what they can control, and what they can influence.

Said Lori: “Sometimes all we can do is control the way we react. Sometimes all you can control is your breath. This means planning your week in advance and your day in advance. Be more kind to yourself, Be okay with the days that you couldn’t get a lot done and, instead of beating yourself up, think about what the learning opportunities were.”

Lori highlighted that many of these tips were by no means revelations that attendees had never heard before. Many of them were common sense but “common knowledge is not common practice”, so she urged the attendees to be present and intentional about the way they spoke themselves in these uncertain times.