by Carthage Buckley, Stress and Performance Coach
Stress is an all too common occurrence in the modern workplace. It used to be that our roles were clearly defined. We were told exactly what to do and how long it should take to do it. However, in the era of the knowledge worker, our roles are no longer clearly defined. Before we can begin to organise our work; we must first define our work and determine what we should and should not be doing. This habit in itself will save significant chunks of time. There are a number of other time management habits which when implemented consistently will greatly reduce the stress you experience.
Time management habits
The following time management habits are relatively easy to implement but bring good rewards in terms of stress reduction and performance improvement. There are many more time management habits which you could implement, but the habits below will get you started.
Define your work
If you are not clear about exactly what you should and should not be doing, you will find yourself spending a great deal of time working on tasks which bring small, if any, returns. You will then find that you have little time to work on the things which really matter.
This is one of the most common problems encountered by those with poor time management skills. The advice that they are usually given is to prioritise their tasks. Prioritisation is important but you can’t prioritise effectively if you have not first defined your work.
You must have somewhere to collect all of the tasks that you should be doing and all of the commitments that you are making. When you have a proper collection system established, you will find that things no longer slip through the net. This will lead to immediate stress reduction as a great deal of mental energy is wasted trying to remember things which you have failed to capture effectively.
Do not make the mistake of trying to deal with things at the same time as you capture them. This leads to confusion and only serves to slow you down. Instead, just capture it. You can process all the tasks and commitments that you have made at regular intervals (e.g. every morning) where you will decide what to do with each item.
If you are like the typical knowledge worker, you will spend all day rushing from task to task. At various times during the day you will make commitments both to yourself and others. Unless you capture these items, a great deal of mental energy gets wasted trying to remember them.
Ideally, you should capture the commitment in an appropriate place as soon as you make the commitment. However, this is not always possible and some things slip through the net. This can be counteracted very simply by taking a few minutes each day to perform a brain dump. A brain dump is where you take a few minutes to get everything that’s on your mind down on paper. If there are people whom you regularly deal with or tasks that you regularly perform, you can use them as triggers to jog your memory.
Capturing your commitments will dramatically improve your time management and reduce your stress, as long as you actually do something with the items that you capture. We have all seen in-baskets on people’s desk which are stuffed full of items. These items only serve as reminders of what they are failing to get done. Good time management habits require that you don’t just make a record of your commitments; you must follow through and complete them. Before you can do that, you must decide exactly what you must do with each item. There are a number of options:
- Determine if there is action required. If there is not, you can dump it, file it for reference or, place it on a list for later consideration.
- Determine whether you are the right person to complete it. If not, decide who should be doing it and either delegate it or outsource it as soon as possible.
- If you are the right person to deal with it, you must decide whether you can get it done in a couple of minutes or, will it take longer. If it can be done in a couple of minutes you should do it immediately and get rid of it.
- If it cannot be done quickly, then place it on a project list and at an appropriate time, you can create a project plan to deal with it.
When you have decided what you need to do with each of your commitments, you need to ensure that you have a reminder in an appropriate place which will allow you to recall the tasks you need to complete at a time when you can actually complete them. One of the best tools that you can use for this is contextualized task lists. Contextualised task lists are lists that reflect the way you live and work.
To explain contextualised task lists, I will give you an example of how I use them. While I mainly work from home, I do spend a great deal of time on the move. I do not always bring my computer. Therefore, when I am out of the office, I do not need to waste time looking through a list of tasks that I cannot perform because they would require access to my computer. However, I can perform any task which only requires access to my phone. For that reason, I have a list where I only place tasks that just require access to my phone i.e. a context specific list.
The context can also be an individual e.g. if there are items which you need to talk to a customer X about, you can place all of these items on a list called ‘Customer X’. Then, when you are speaking with customer X, you can consult the list and make sure that you deal with all of the issues in one go.
Stress happens when we’ve said ‘Yes’ to too much work, social activities or when we’re not managing our time properly. Your tired body may affect your productivity and the integrity of your project. Sometimes you may feel compelled to do things, even when you know that you should be saying ‘No’. This is not helpful to anyone as it leads to stress; resentment and it can even do severe damage to relationships as you feel that you being forced to comply.
Rather than rushing into accepting new tasks; consider your work load thoroughly and determine whether you should really be accepting the extra work. In many cases you will realise that you should not be doing it. If you tell somebody that you cannot do it and, you tell them promptly, they are more likely to be understanding and accepting.
When you feel stress coming on from too much work, try to delegate tasks to others so you can take some time for yourself to relax.
It may seem counter-intuitive but rest and relaxation are absolutely essential time management habits. You do not have endless reserves of mental and physical energy. If you want to maintain high performance, you need to schedule time for rest and relaxation. This will allow you to refill your energy stores and return to work with more enthusiasm. Remember that relaxing isn’t a time waster if it helps to buoy you up so you can perform better.
Meditating, aromatherapy and many other methods can help you relax and reduce stress in your life and help you become even more productive.
Mental and physical fitness are becoming more and more important to help you deal with the challenges of a busy life. Exercising for just 30 minutes 3-5 times per week will help you to release stress from your body and increase your ability to work under pressure for longer periods of time. Exercise will also increase your resilience and you ability to deal with setbacks.
Time management habits are not just essential for getting more done. They are essential for reducing your exposure to stress and helping you to release any stress that has built up in your body and mind. While you cannot be productive without performing tasks, there are many time management habits which should be part of your schedule to ensure that when you take action; you are taking action on the tasks which actually matter. These time management habits will also ensure that when you are working on those important tasks; you have the energy, motivation and clarity of thought required to complete the work to the highest standards. There are far too many positive time management habits to include in just one article but the 8 listed above will make a real difference to your performance levels, while lowering your stress levels.
About the author
Carthage Buckley is a Stress and Performance Coach who helps entrepreneurs, management and driven professionals to identify and eliminate the sources of stress while developing and implementing strategies to realise their objectives and create a happy, healthy and successful life.
The principle philosophy of Carthage’s coaching is that the individual can shape their own world, rather than waiting for their world to shape them. Working from the inside out, it is perfectly possible for each person to create their own life, allowing them to fulfil their personal desires while living in harmony with the world around them.
Carthage has lived and worked in 5 countries and continues to work with clients all around the world, both in person and via the Internet.