6 Ways To Overcome The Stress Of A Busy Schedule
- January 19, 2013
- Posted by: Craig Chamberlin
- Category: Blog
Since I have a wife, a kid, a full time job and manage a part time startup, the topic of stress management is very personal to me. Stress management is an essential lesson every productive person will need to learn at some point in their lives and this skill is quite often passed up or ignored.
The primary effect of improper management of a stressful schedule is what I call the “burnout” effect. During the burnout, the person goes from extremely productive to useless in a matter of days, hours or even minutes. Burnout is a risk that even modern day business managers have not adequately considered or handled properly.
When an individuals stress levels have peaked to their breaking point, language such as “this just isn’t worth it”, “I can’t handle this” or even bitterness towards others and statements such as “If I wasn’t doing everything myself then…” become common place.
The truth I’ve learned is that in most cases, this breaking point and burnout are entirely self inflicted. It is is all due to improper expectations and time management. Hopefully you will fully understand what I am attempting to teach here. If it doesn’t hit you now, it will surely hit you in the future, so prepare yourself.
Are You A Highly Stressed Individual?
Highly stressed people tend to focus heavily on maintaining a state of “being productive” at all times. They consider downtime or “relaxation” an act of inefficiency. The results? They quite often are incapable of putting down tasks and focusing on fun.
It’s important to stress that being productive is never a bad thing, but it is extremely important to differentiate between tasks which are important to accomplish and tasks which are not tasks at all, but outlets for managing the human machine.
We were meant to be productive, yes, but we weren’t meant to wind ourselves so tight that we have no lives. This is ultimately the reason people “break down” or “burn out”, the human machine is designed to notify it’s operator “enough is enough”.
The following techniques are essential for maintaining proper condition of the human machine to prevent burnouts. From personal experience, I have yet to accomplish a full implementation of these strategies, but they certainly have expanded the gaps of time between normal functioning and burnouts.
1. Organization: The Infamous To Do List
Taking technology out of the equation, organization is a skill and tool that has been used for thousands of years. Seldom will you find an individual without a to do list who is both highly productive AND has a smile on their face.
The to do list is a simple hand written or digitally managed list of activities that need to be accomplished. At this point, the list may or may not be prioritized, we will get into that in the next step. The importance of a to do list is that it places an overall emphasis on what needs to be accomplished, thus preventing what I like to call “task overload”.
Task overload is has a way of creeping up to individuals who do not keep a running to do list. This commonly occurs if you have tasks set for the day and are “suddenly” given an additional task on top of the originals.
Have you ever had that sense of being “overwhelmed” at all you have to accomplish? This is commonly a result of task overload. Yes, these tasks need to be accomplished, but the list is much more intimidating if it’s floating in space rather than written down. We have a tendency to exaggerate what actually needs to be done if it’s not in writing. So keep a to do list and write it down!
2. Prioritization: No, You Can’t Be Everything To Everyone
It’s an unfortunate truth to learn we aren’t capable of accomplishing every task on our to do lists. Until we have accepted this truth, task overload or burnout will be the inevitable consequence. Having a running to do list allows you to take the next essential steps in organization and prioritization.
We all have tasks that need to be done, but we need to come up with some form of criteria to establish what tasks are more important than others. These criteria will change based upon the task, the person, the job and the situation of the individual. No matter the circumstance, the criteria must be established by the person creating the list.
The most powerful aspect of prioritization is what I call the “blame shifting” effect. If you are given an additional task to perform, you can simply hold up the list and say “Yes, but tasks A, B and C must be accomplished first, so I may not get to yours until next week.” The burden of justification, then, falls on the task giver to accept your terms or somehow justify how their task is more important or critical than the other tasks. If they can do this within your criteria, then they can be bumped up the list in priority.
Ultimately prioritization, then, allows you to set realistic expectations on your tasks and goals, which brings us into our next step.
3. Realistic Expectations: No, You Can’t Do It All Today, Get Over It.
This is the step most often ignored. Unrealistic expectations are probably the most common causes of task overload and burnout. Quite often I continually put more and more tasks on my to do list without setting realistic expectations or goals. The results? A massive to do list with no gauge of how long it will take to accomplish any of it. Pretty overwhelming, right?
The truth is the human machine can only accomplish so much given a set amount of resources, time, energy and circumstances. These all need to be taken into consideration when setting realistic expectations on tasks. Each tasks should be evaluated for a realistic time frame they will take to be accomplished and that time frame should be noted next to the task.
Realistic expectations will empower one to accept reality for what it is, realistic. You will quickly find that all of the tasks you stressed yourself attempting to accomplish could not have been accomplished quickly even by the most seasoned of veterans in your field.
Once you fully know how much time your tasks will take to accomplish, you are empowered once again to set more realistic deadlines and goals with others. When a person asks you for help on a task, you can let them know when to expect your time and availability based upon the location and priority of their task on your to do list.
4. Focus: Make The To Do List The Top Task On Your To Do List
Starting a to do list and then ignoring it is the most common cause of failure in time management. Many people do not make the time every morning to dedicate to the addition, prioritization and expectations of each individual task. The results are cumulative. When unchecked, the to do list itself can quickly become the source of stress or task overload.
Evaluating each task as they come is usually the best practice. If one fails to do this they may find themselves with a load of tasks in which they will have to set time aside simply to organize and prioritize them.
This is a difficult one for many to adopt because in many cases they will be given a task while they are working on another one. Rather than immediate prioritizing the new task, they put it to the side to prioritize later. This is a mistake. The results are often that the task never gets the proper organization and prioritization or it is forgotten entirely.
Make sure you take the time to focus on new tasks and organize them properly as they come in. Always make your To Do list the top priority and item on your To Do list and depending on your schedule, it should be updated and checked daily.
5. Persistence: Failures Are Markers On The Road To Success
If at first you don’t succeed, then you’re probably human. To this day I have yet to meet an individual who became extremely productive, efficient and happy without accepting failure into the equation. Failure is an inevitable part of life and is sadly not emphasized or talked about enough in schools.
Realistically we cannot believe that we will accomplish our task of becoming organized and efficient the first time we try. Organization does not come naturally, it is a learned skill. How does the human machine learn? Through failure, mostly.
The person who gives up after failing is the person who will never learn to succeed. Success and a successful attitude are not an in born trait, they are trained, honed and acquired through years of failure – so get used to it.
6. Destressing Outlet: All Work And No Play Make You Insane
When it’s all said and done make sure you’ve left a nice gaping hole in your schedule for an outlet. This outlet must follow some essential criteria and these criteria must ALL be met for them to truly reduce your stress levels. The outlet is the grease that keeps the human machine running.
Activities that qualify as destressing outlets must follow these criteria:
- They must have nothing to do with your work, day or side job.
- They must make you smile or entertain you in some way.
- They must challenge you physically or mentally.
- They must make you feel an emotion.
Unfortunately lazing about does not qualify as a destresser, in fact, laziness can often cause the person with a productive personality to stress even more, believe me, I know.
The more you start to manage your time, the more you will realize that most of your stress was self inflicted. Many times it will be related to disorganization and unrealistic expectations. If you follow these simple instructions and strategies, it should greatly reduce the amount of stress you carry with you throughout your day and it will help you handle incoming tasks with a smile on your face.