Five ways to regain some balance in your workday

In almost all jobs there will be some good days and some less than ideal days. Even if our work is normally engaging and rewarding, it’s bound to push us off balance now and then.

Sometimes a stream of minor tasks prevents us from addressing more important projects. Other times, we’re preoccupied with challenges at home or in our community. It can feel overwhelming.

While we can’t always deal with all challenges today, we can usually do some small things to regain some balance, to feel more grounded.

These are five ways to regain some balance that work for me.

1. Stretch. When many situations ask for our attention, we may “hunker down” physically as well as mentally.
 We might tense up when we concentrate and we might sit in one position for a long time.

So take a few minutes to stretch. For example, stand up and lean your right arm over your head, so that your right hand ends up by your left ear. Place your left hand on your hip to steady yourself. Stretch for 15 seconds or so, then repeat on the other side of your body.

Another stretch that may feel good is lifting one leg up on a table or a chair and gently leaning forward. That will stretch your hamstrings, which can get tight when you spend a lot of time sitting, as many of us do at work. Also try rolling your shoulders in circles, forward and then backward.

Stretching helps us relax not only physically, but also mentally. When we feel off-balance, the cause is often our thoughts, such as worries about what we have to do or whether things are going well. By creating pleasant physical sensations, stretching shifts our attention to our body and away from the busyness in our minds.

2. Laugh. Humor and levity can be a great counterweight to the nature of our work, which is often quite serious.

Try asking a coworker to tell you a joke. Read them your favorite article from The Onion. Or tell them about that time when you did something embarrassing. Laugh, and you’ll take some of the pressure off.

3. Go for a walk. Sometimes we lose our balance because we spend too much time in one place or in one position. When that happens, try walking outside for ten minutes. Get some fresh air and get your blood flowing. Be in a different space for a while.

Walking can boost your creativity and help you solve problems by getting your unconscious thinking going. Although you’re not at your workspace when you walk, you might find you’ll make a lot of progress on your work.

And if you can’t leave your workspace during work hours, you can go for a walk before or after work. For example, if you commute by bus, get off a stop or two earlier than you normally would, and walk the rest of the way. You can even meditate while you walk.

4. Do one thing at a time. When we try to multitask, we find ourselves doing tasks quickly and switching between tasks frequently. We can regain some balance by doing one task at a time.

Practice doing one thing at a time by making a cup of coffee or tea and giving that your full attention. Do it slowly. Be aware of what your hands are doing. The change of pace can help you feel steadier.

When you get back to work, try to continue to work on one task at a time. If you’re worried you’ll forget something, write it down. (I like to use OmniFocus to capture tasks.) Writing things down will clear your head and help you focus on the one thing you’re working on now.

5. Let go. When we feel there are too many things going on for us to keep track of, often the best thing to do is to let go of some of those things. When we let go of a situation, we stop trying to control how it unfolds. We accept that it might not turn out in a way that we consider ideal. When we do this, thoughts about the situation will no longer try to pull us off balance.

For example, if you worry about a situation at home, try accepting that you cannot deal with it from the workplace. Decide to focus on your work now, giving it your full attention. That doesn’t mean you have to be indifferent to the outcome of that situation; it means you chose to attend to something else right now. Then decide that when you get home, you will put work out of your mind, and give your home life your full attention.

Finally, realize that we can’t always fully regain our balance. Some days, everything will feel easy. Other days, we’ll feel like we’re stumbling through. But hopefully, when we use some of these tips, we will feel a little more balanced than before.

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