Safe Stress Tips for the Springtime
Springtime for Meeting Planners. As much as the cherry blossom buds, meeting and conference buzz fills the landscape and mindscape. Unless, as the eleventh hour approaches, the buzz feels like a buzz saw, and now you fear being sliced and diced and spread way too thin. From rates of attrition to contract negotiation, from indemnification and acts of terrorism, is springtime morphing into stresstime?

Have no fear…for springing lightly above the blooming and buzzing confusion, Five Stress Doc Tips:

  1. Start Early. For one Planner, meeting survival means the big tasks are done thirty days before the E-Day (Event Day) invasion. You'll have the energy and clarity to manage unexpected fires and last minute details. The strategic key, of course, is self-organization and overcoming procrastination tendencies. Easier said than done?

  2. Start Small. At the onset, many are prone to big project paralysis. To get started, carve out a doable first step, no matter how small or seemingly trivial. Amazingly, this provides a window of opportunity: at minimum, you can begin transforming an overwhelming mass into a manageable mess. Though multi-tasking is the buzz, sometimes you need to establish mental and physical boundaries - such as an occasional closed door (or perhaps bamboo-like curtains for a cube) or temporarily turning off a cell phone. When necessary, your "step" mantra: "One task at a time!"

    Of course, as a once big time procrastinator, I had to learn the hard and humbling way. Unbelievably, my mother was a channel for the ancient Roman poet Horace: To begin is to be half done. Dare to know - start! (And you wonder why I'm such an expert on stress, performance and neurosis.)

  3. N & N, Not Just R & R. After a crazy conference, you surely know the importance of taking time for "Rest & Recreation." (Though, speaking of steps, sometimes "R & R" seems closer to "Rehabilitation & Recovery.") But for a prevention strategy, "N & N" is as good as it gets: the ability to say "No" and to "Negotiate." Alas, the ability to "Just Say No" ain't always so easy. People who avoid conflict at all cost, or who have an inordinate need to be liked, and also believe they must always be pleasing or accommodating may be vulnerable to being overextended and exhausted. Remember, burnout is less a sign of failure and more that we gave ourselves away.

    Consider these steps for "N & N":
    • Don't reflexively say "no" unless absolutely necessary or you are clear about what you can and cannot do
    • Sleep on or reflect upon the other's order or request; identify your concerns and questions. Now's a good time to bounce ideas off a supervisor, colleague or mentor. Develop a support system that understands your business. As one Planner noted: When it comes to her work, "family members don't have a clue."
    • Reengage the other party and now explain your concerns and the reason for your "no"; also provide exploratory problem-solving options and negotiation points. When negotiating with a supervisor about workload, for example, if your plate is truly full ask for her help in reprioritizing key tasks. Don't be the "Lone Planner."
    Try this Stress Doc aphor-mation: "A firm 'No' a day keeps the ulcers away…and the hostilities too!"

  4. Negotiate with Flexibility and Integrity. As a negotiator, strive to be confident and flexibly firm. For example, when negotiating with a NIH program committee (interviewing a number of potential speakers), these members looked askance when I shared my intention to do a discussion and drawing exercise with 150 participants, despite the auditorium setting. (The committee members could not conceive of such an exercise in the tight space. Previous success in such settings was my negotiation partner.) I had agreed to content changes but held fast to my signature exercise. I left the interview thinking my "bottom line" stance had me on the bottom of the interview barrel. To my surprise, they gave me the contract. The reason: the committee liked my conviction, confidence, passion and track record. (P.S. The exercise was a smash hit.)

  5. Communal Sharing, Playing and Laughing. The aforementioned exercise has had a near magical quality as an individual, departmental, and, even, organizational stress reliever and team builder. The audience is divided into small groups that discuss the sources of stress and conflict in their workplace operations. (Make group composition diverse, e.g., by seniority, gender, race, etc.) Then the individual stress perspectives are converted into a group picture with a common theme, into a stress icon or a visual story. Transforming angst into a shared creative art project becomes a team adventure for high energy, passionate play and camaraderie.

    For example, when an unreasonably demanding customer or a "devil of a boss" has a long tail, exaggerated ears and whip in hand or the organizational ship has sprung a leak and the sharks are circling, the gales of laughter erupting throughout the room indicate how much the participants needed this "Stress Brake." (And the revelry is a builder of trust: management is open to creative and constructive expressions of frustration and employee feedback.) People feel less isolated knowing there are common concerns. And science tells us that hearty laughter really is good medicine: such laughing is like turning your body into a big vibrator giving vital organs a brief but vigorous internal massage. The endorphin chemicals released are natural mind calmers and mood uplifters.
As psychiatrist Ernst Kris observed: What was once feared and is now mastered is laughed at. And as the Stress Doc inverted: What was once feared and is now laughed at is no longer a master!

Surely words for springtime rebirth and renewal, and words to help you…Practice Safe Stress!