From Chaos to Peace — 4 Keys to Leading in Chaos Four strategies that can keep you happy and productive in today's challenging business environment.

By Michelle Van Slyke

Key Takeaways

  • Working in an environment of occasional chaos is something we all accept
  • Thriving in an environment of constant chaos is a new challenge even experienced business leaders can struggle with.
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I remember coming home from work early in my career, kicking off my shoes and muttering, "Wow, one of those days." We all understand that "those days" are the occasional day when everything seems to be going wrong. "Those days" were notable for forcing you to deal with chaos. However, in recent years, I've noticed "those days" seem to be happening more and more often. In fact, today's business leaders are almost always operating in chaos.

Working in an environment of occasional chaos is something we all accept, but thriving in an environment of constant chaos is a new challenge even experienced business leaders can struggle with. Here are four strategies I use to operate and succeed in chaos.

Related: 5 Tips to Leading Your Company Through the Chaos

1. Compartmentalize and control your time

The key to being effective and happy amid chaos is controlling your time and compartmentalizing your tasks. Chaos can create havoc on your to-do list and lead to a situation where you are overextended and underproductive. That's why it's vital to be deliberate with your schedule and zero in on one task at a time.

For most of us, deciding on a game plan for tasks is a simple concept, but many fail because we forget to compartmentalize. Approaching one task at a time won't be effective if you divide your brain power by thinking about your other tasks. Compartmentalization can be difficult, especially in the age of near-constant communication. Consider some strategies to help you compartmentalize. Block focus time on your calendar, use do-not-disturb mode on your mobile devices or try creating a physical workspace for different tasks that signal your brain that it's time to focus.

Taking ownership of our schedule and compartmentalizing will make you feel more empowered and can lessen the stress and helplessness that some can feel when faced with a chaotic day.

Related: Why Embracing Chaos is Crucial to Your Success and Longevity

2. Determine your priorities

Business chaos often happens when there are too many irons in the fire to handle at once. The key to navigating chaos is to first accept you can't handle it all. You must prioritize your tasks and work from the top down. Everyone has a different approach to prioritization. One strategy is to ask yourself whom each task impacts. Another idea is to consider the reward or risk of the task's completion. For example, will completing this task provide increased revenue? Conversely, will not completing this task cause a negative impact? Asking yourself these questions can help narrow down the true priorities on your to-do list.

Once you've determined your priorities, you must decide what you can handle and where to delegate. Bringing in reinforcements is a crucial step in successfully navigating chaos. Today's business reality is that there are too many to-do's for one person to handle. Business leaders must lean on their employees and identify tasks they can ignore. As a bonus, delegation can positively affect team morale and help employees gain valuable experience in new workstreams.

3. Lean on technology

While business leaders are operating in a world with more chaos than ever before, we're also operating in a world with more technology to lean on. Utilizing technology is a strategy for success in the face of chaos. Technology can simplify and streamline our business processes, giving us more brain power to focus on priority work. I have begun to leverage technology more than ever, especially for organizations. For example, I use my online calendar constantly to carve out personal time and to accomplish less vital tasks.

Technology can assist in both internal and customer-facing challenges. For example, many UPS Store centers employ self-serve kiosks to assist customers with their package returns – allowing our franchisees and their associates to focus on high-touch customer service needs while enabling our returns or drop-off customers to get in and out more quickly, saving valuable time. This is an excellent example of how you can lean on available technology for support in the face of chaos.

Related: 5 Types of Technology All Entrepreneurs Need Access to in the Digital Age

4. Take time to recharge

A chaotic work or personal life can cause anxiety, stress and burnout – three factors that can make it even more challenging to succeed in complex business situations. One of the best ways to navigate chaos is to take time to recharge when needed. It may seem counterintuitive to step away from work when it feels chaotic. After all, there are only so many hours in the day, but just a five-minute break can change the next five hours of your day. Taking just a few moments to practice mindfulness, meditate, take a short walk, or step outside and breathe in some fresh air can help you become more equipped to handle stressful situations. In fact, our brains can go into overdrive if they aren't given time to recharge. This could lead to a loss of creativity and focus and or ultimately create decision fatigue. When your business is in chaos, you need to be at your best, and pushing through the mental wall that you may be up against isn't always the best option. Finding time to disconnect from your stressful day and focus on clearing your mind might just be the key to success in these types of situations.

From personal life obligations to work assignments, operating in the face of chaos seems to be a constant for today's business leaders. These four strategies help me to navigate the challenges and stay happy and productive no matter how chaotic my days are.

Michelle Van Slyke

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Senior Vice President of Marketing and Sales, The UPS Store

Michelle Van Slyke is the senior vice president of marketing and sales for The UPS Store, Inc., which provides print and small business solutions to entrepreneurs and small-business owners at 5,000 franchise locations across the U.S.

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