This is an excerpt from my book, 10 Best Ways to Manage Stress. Enjoy!
Stress is almost always related to time pressure. You’ve got to hurry to get this or that done, to meet this deadline at work or get the kids to the dentist appointment on time.
Have you ever heard of the Blue Zone? These are a handful of societies on earth where people live exceptionally long lives. They aren’t isolated tribes, but live in the modern world and engage in life much like you and me.
But researchers have found a few differences in their lifestyles that extend the average lifespan by 10 or even 20 years. Centenarians are common in these Blue Zones for a variety of reasons including a largely vegetable based diet, an active lifestyle, close family ties and one key thing to our purpose here: They have stress, but they do not succumb to time pressure. They are not constantly rushing from here to there and spending their lives ratcheting up the stress monster to a level that becomes intolerable, toxic and ultimately, fatal.
They have learned how to downshift, to take time away from the rat race and refresh themselves. Long-lived Okinawans take time each day to remember their ancestors, Seventh Day Adventists pray, people in Ikaria, Greece take a nap and the happy Sardinians have happy hour.
Their secret is finding balance between work and home life, buffers to de-stress in a variety of ways, from spiritual to physical to social. They’ve found balance in their lives and reaped the rewards of long, healthy lives. Can you say the same?
If your answer is “no,” here are some tips that can help you rein the stress that comes from too much to do and never enough time:
- Plan your day: A to-do list is an excellent tool to keep you on track. It should include the things you must do and things that you’d like to accomplish. Be realistic and don’t overload yourself. You might include something like “make an outline for the first chapter of my new book.” Do this every morning. Write it down or program it into your phone. It’s very satisfying to check off the tasks you’ve accomplished. Be sure to include your Me Time.
- Prioritize: What is really essential? Many tasks are not really that important but can eat up time like crazy. Take Facebook, for example. I find it very easy to get sucked into the Facebook black hole for an hour and then realize I have to hurry to meet a deadline. Ignore Facebook, set a timer or save it for the end of the day when you can really enjoy it. Ditto for constantly monitoring e-mail or answering every phone call that comes in. Take your To-Do list and assign each entry a 1, 2 or 3 dependent on the urgency of each entry. Do all the 1s first, then the 2s, etc. Also give yourself the leeway not to complete your To-Do list without guilt or extending your workday unreasonably. As an aside: If you’re routinely working more than eight hours a day, one of several things may be happening. You may not be working efficiently, there might be unreasonable demands on your time or you have created unnecessary work for yourself. Take some time to reflect on this and decide if you can work smarter, not harder.
- Don’t push the deadline: Do yourself a huge favor by avoiding last-minute deadline crunches. They are so stressful and they’re almost always avoidable. If you have a big project due at work or school or even if you’ve invited guests and then decided to paint the living room, stay with these projects on a daily basis until they’re done. When you were in school, did you pull all nighters before finals? Most of us probably did and most of us regretted it. If you did, you know you felt exhausted for days afterwards and that last-minute studying probably didn’t improve your grade. It might have even hurt your grade.
- Eat the elephant one bite at a time: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! This goes right along with not pushing the deadline. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when there is a huge task at hand. What comes next? You throw in the towel and avoid it altogether or get yourself so stressed that you have a meltdown. Say you have to clean out the house of a deceased relative or you suffered temporary insanity and agreed to organize the library at your child’s school or co-ordinate a planning team at work that will launch a new spinoff company. All of these tasks are daunting, but they are all do-able if you break them up in bite-sized pieces. Start with a list of all the tasks that must be completed and in what order. Now (this is extremely important) make a list of people who might help you, including volunteer help and hired help. Next, schedule out the timeframe or, if there is not a specific deadline, give yourself a deadline so it doesn’t drag out forever. Now estimate the time it will take to complete the task, which will give you an idea of how much time you need to devote to the project on a daily or weekly or monthly basis.
- Follow the 10-minute rule: So you hate cleaning the bathroom? Filing away paperwork? Writing your monthly work report at work? Doing your daily strength training? This one is sort of like eating the elephant, too, but it may involve a task that really isn’t that big, but it’s one you really dislike. So grit your teeth and do it anyway, but just for 10 minutes at a time. Most of us can tolerate anything for 10 minutes, so go for it. You might even decide you like the task over time. If not and it is something you must do (pare down that list of MUSTs to the bare minimum), soldier on for the 10 minutes at a pop and you won’t burn out.
- De-clutter: Whether it is on your desk or in your closet or garage, nearly all of us have too much stuff. I believe that excess “stuff” is energetically draining, since we are emotionally and sometimes physically attached to it. If getting rid of stuff is distasteful, use the 10-minute rule. Generally you can clean out a drawer or put away a few files in 10 minutes. Someone once told me to look around my house and unless I could honestly say that I loved everything there (not just “liked” the stuff), out it went. The result is amazingly freeing and there is so much less to clean. I mean, do you really need the shirt you wore for your seventh grade class photo? Create a goal to have at least one empty drawer in each room and keep it that way.
- Take a break: We humans are hard wired to multi-task. Nothing spells burnout faster than driving the same widget into the same frame on an assembly line all day long or sitting in front of a computer or even teaching back-to-back-to-back Pilates classes. I spend much of my time in front of my computer screen. It’s not surprising that my brain gets foggy and my body gets stiff from inactivity. So I take an activity break. It’s great for me to do some fairly mindless repetitive activity, so I’ll go out in the garden and pull weeds for 15 minutes or do a little yoga or take a short brisk walk or even file some of those dread papers. They all help me re-focus and, far from goofing off, they help me to work more efficiently and be more productive. If you have a very physical job, say in construction or teaching those Pilates classes, you can rest your body and brain by sitting down and putting up your feet for a few minutes, perhaps stimulating your brain with a crossword puzzle or a newsmagazine or some meditative music.