Keep Calm and Work

overloadedStress takes a terrible toll on our bodies and minds.

But did you know that it can also affect your bottom line?

More than 13.5 million working days are lost every year due to stress in the U.K.alone. This costs employers £370 million yearly.

IESE Professor Alberto Ribera, who teaches a course called “Stress Management, Focus, and Well-Being,” has some advice to help executives manage stress:

  • Take Basic Care of Yourself: Any parent knows a toddler will have a tantrum if she’s tired or hungry. Though we may not throw tantrums, the same goes for adults. Get adequate sleep and exercise, and eat regularly.
  • Attend to Your Higher Needs: Taking time to reflect and renew your spirit (whether you do so in a park, a forest or a church) might sound like a luxury but it’s an investment that will pay off in more productive and less emotionally-charged work time.
  • Forget Multitasking: You might think you can do it well, but this is a common misconception, says Ribera. Working on several things at once is inefficient, increases stress and errors, and compromises your memory. Instead:
    • Do one thing at a time and don’t stop with a task until you’re finished (or break bigger projects into tasks that can be done in one sitting).
    • Switch off phones, tablets, computers, email alarms and the like – unless you need them for the meeting or the task you are dealing with.
  • Cultivate Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a state of heightened awareness and attention. If you learn to tune out noise and focus on what’s important, you will be more productive, make better decisions, and feel a greater sense of emotional stability and well-being. How can you do it?
    • Build up your attention “muscle”: Start by focusing on your breath. When your mind wanders, simply notice that it has, and then bring it back to your breath.
    • Throughout the day, notice when your mind has wandered. Rather than criticizing yourself for drifting away, become aware of how and when your attention strays. Over time, practicing self-awareness and committing to always going back to a period of concentration trains your brain to be mindful.
    • Try to be aware of your emotions as they start to bubble up. Don’t attempt to “stop” them, just pay attention and label them. This has the effect of helping you temper strong reactions to events.
  • Get in the Flow: “Flow” can be thought of as the opposite of a stressful or distracted experience: It’s a state of full immersion in an activity that produces pleasure in the moment and enhances overall well-being. Seek out flow by undertaking tasks that highlight your skills and challenge them without challenging them too.
  • Learn to Say No: When someone proposes a deadline you know you can’t fulfill, say so. Don’t address tasks that pop up suddenly, giving them a sense of urgency. Instead, stick to the items you’ve already prioritized. Finally, say no when employees and colleagues delegate work back to you. Protect your time and your to-do list.
  • Ask for Help: There’s no shame in reaching out to others when you’re overwhelmed.
  • Connect with People: Light encounters with family and friends lower stress hormones, as does laughing. A few “interpersonal pauses” will make you more resilient in the wake of stressful situations for the rest of the day.


IESE Business School News. “Stress – It’s How You Manage it That Matters”. Posted on December 14, 2015.

Ribera, A; Guillén, J.L. “Mindfulness: Multiply Productivity Through Undivided Attention.IESE Insight Review Issue 20, First Quart 2014.


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