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5 ways to work smarter, not harder for a less stressful career

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A recent study commissioned by Life Reimagined and USA TODAY revealed that almost a third (29%) of pre-retirees plan to change careers in the next five years. According to the survey of 1,006 people, ages 40-59, their top reasons for making a switch: less stress and more work-life balance.

No matter the age, we’re all stressed out at work these days. There’s an endless stream of e-mails demanding immediate responses, voicemails are piling up and the boss and cube-mates seem only to have time to snipe. And could a pink slip be coming our way?

For some a career change may not be necessary. Here’s how to work smarter, not harder to gain control and go beyond surviving to thriving:

1. Stop reacting and start prioritizing. Just because the phone rings doesn’t mean you must answer it. Make sure your voicemail does a good job of professionally representing you and, if appropriate, sets expectations for when you can be reached and/or will return calls. Exception: Always pick up the phone when your boss calls!

2. You’ve heard it before, but it makes sense: Cut the clutter and pounce on all paper you don’t need. Piles on your desk won’t make you look busy or creative; they’ll make you appear overwhelmed and indecisive. You’ll feel that way, too. When something comes in, either tuck it away (filed, of course) or toss it.

3. Make appointments with yourself to tackle your most important tasks. Literally enter them into your organizer – online in your smartphone or in your bound planner – just as you would meetings. When approaching them, aim for progress, not perfection. Only the most critical projects require your complete, intense focus in finishing them flawlessly. You’ll earn points for being more productive if you make smart calls about what requires your best effort, and what doesn’t. Oh, and be sure to add an appointment to keep your boss apprised of your weekly (or monthly) accomplishments via a quick, results-focused e-mail memo.

4. Fight stress by cultivating a relaxed attitude. Set your intention for this by using positive affirmations while you get ready for work. This will actually improve your performance. How? Your mood impacts others as well as you. If you’re constantly griping and grimacing, others will be anxious about approaching you. And this will undercut goodwill and collaboration and hinder getting things done.

5. Realize that office politics are a reality – and there’s no doubt they’re getting more vicious as the economy has gotten worse. Be aware of what’s on the grapevine but don’t obsess about it. Staying focused on what matters most to you – your life goals; not just work ones – will serve you better than getting in on all the gossip. We agree with what Richard Carlson, author of “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff at Work,” has to say on this: “Even if your co-workers are acting like a bunch of ignorant sixth graders, you must rise above it. You’re better than that. You’ll forgive, work and move on.”

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