Is it just me or is the end of 2018 feeling particularly stressful?
Instead of winding down, reflecting and spending time with our most important people, if anything it’s ramping up.
There’s definitely a lot to juggle with finishing our last work responsibilities, attending Christmas parties, finding the perfect gift and deciding how to ring in the new year. It’s a lot!
It’s easy to get overwhelmed.
But have you ever thought about how you might be unconsciously adding to the stress?
Ways you might be making life, just that bit harder?
It’s easy to do but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can recognise your stressors and find a way to make them a thing of your past.
Committing without Checking
I’m guilty of this one all of the time. I promise I can get something done in a certain timeframe. Which I could if that was all I had to do. But that’s rarely the case.
It’s often a very casual ‘Oh yeah, I can get that done.’ It doesn’t feel like a big, proper commitment so I don’t treat it appropriately. I don’t consider what else I have on. Or think about how much time this new task will take. Or what equipment or resources I need to complete it.
So I’m making a commitment, setting an expectation to someone, without really checking whether that it’s feasible, doable, or practical.
The solution to this is you need a good schedule so you always have a pretty good idea of how much time and flexibility you have.
There are many benefits to scheduling (rather than just having a to-do list) but the main point here is understanding what your day and week look like. You can allocate time to important but maybe less urgent work, meaning they don’t always get pushed aside. And by proactively adding tasks to your schedule, when someone asks you to do something, you’re already going to know whether you can slot it in or not.
The Unchecked Time Suck
For many people, this is social media. Nothing quite like checking Instagram on a quick break between tasks to suddenly realise half an hour has disappeared.
Social media isn’t the only culprit. Maybe you have a work colleague that it’s impossible to have a quick chat to, it always turns into a lengthy discussion, miles off topic. Or you run a quick errand on your lunch break, that in reality was always going to take ages longer than you were telling yourself. Or faulty equipment that breaks or runs slow, eating up your day.
Whatever the cause, you end up losing twenty, thirty, forty minutes or even longer, which pushes your whole day off track.
No wonder it’s stressful.
How you combat time sucks obviously varies by the nature of the problem. What you need to think about is what you’re trying to achieve.
If it’s a break you’re after, try something different from social media or a chat to the work wife. Make a cuppa, Go for a walk around the block. Or even a flight of stairs. Take ten breathes. Preferably outside.
Maybe you still really want to check your Facebook. Or you really need to ask that colleague a question. If so, consider setting a timer. That way you get interrupted and brings you back on track. The mindless becomes mindful.
If you have faulty equipment, record how much time you’re losing each day and use it to make a case to get it fixed or upgraded.
For any time suck that’s stressing you out, identify it. Once you know what it is, the solution will be obvious.
More than One To-Do List
Two productivity apps on your phone. A planner. Your calendar. And a notebook. To-dos scribbled in all of them.
No one can keep all of that straight.
Your poor brain is being put through the wringer trying to remember if you wrote that note down, where you wrote and have you completed it?
That’s a lot of unnecessary cognitive load. A lot of stress.
The point of a to-do list is to reassure your brain that it doesn’t need to constantly remind you about that email or meeting or spreadsheet or phonecall. It’s written down so it’s taken care of, your brain can focus elsewhere.
Multiple to-do lists or reminders or whatever completely negate this benefit. You’re never quite sure if you know what you need to be doing. There’s a nagging feeling you might be forgetting something.
Not ideal at all. And pretty simple to avoid.
Pick one system.
Live your life by it.
I love a paper planner. Crossing something off my list is so satisfying. Using beautiful stationery every day is a treat. But the functionality of an online tool is winning out.
I use any.do and love that any time I randomly remember something I can just add it to the list. Then I promptly forget about it. Do you realise how good it feels to go to bed at night and not have a million thoughts buzzing about trying to ensure I don’t forget some task or other? It’s bliss. And makes for much better sleep.
I’m fast adjusting to running my life by the app (both phone and web) and my much-loved Passion Planner is falling by the wayside. Using my planner now creates stress and each work because it’s all in my any.do list.
If I can pick one system and stick to it, with my love of experimenting, then you can too.
Whether it’s telling yourself that you’re going to work a gazillion hours today, start at 4.30am or complete your next two months of tasks, being unrealistic is setting yourself up for stress.
Maybe you, like me, tell yourself you’re going to get to the office early. Plan your day from 7.30am. Promise someone that you’ll do something by 8am. Tell yourself that if you just get in half an hour early, you’ll get so much more done and finally feel on top of things.
But then you snooze your alarm and you’re lucky to arrive before 9am.
Unfortunately, you then start your day on the back foot. You’re already behind where you wanted to be and you haven’t even started yet.
Or you have nineteen things on your to-do list for the day. No matter how much you get done, it doesn’t feel like enough. Other things crop up. You feel like the day was a failure even though you accomplished plenty.
Whatever way it unfolds for you, the expectations you’re placing on yourself are unrealistic. You’re putting yourself in an impossible situation. And then beating yourself up when you don’t pull it off.
Much better to focus on the key five to seven things for the day. Then the eighth, ninth, tenth thing feel like an incredible bonus.
I don’t know about you, but I get a lot more done in the second scenario. I build momentum. I feel really good that I’m smashing my day and that encourages me to do even more. It’s a positively reinforcing cycle.
Something I’ve noticed with these unconscious self-inflicted stressors is we then berate ourselves for doing it and double the stress.
The self-talk goes something like, ‘gah, you’ve done it again, promised to do something you don’t have time for. Now you’re a bad person with no integrity, can’t do what you say you’re going to do. All because you didn’t think before you committed.’ And on and on we go. Round and round in our heads, making the stress worse.
So on top of all of the other suggestions on how to combat stress, be kind to yourself. Remember no one gets it right all of the time.
You’re just doing the best with the knowledge you have. Maybe today you’ve learnt something. Now you know better, you’ll do better.
And the positive cycle continues.