If you consider your current stress levels in comparison to last year, you may find that they have risen considerably. In these uncertain times we may find that, either on a subconscious or conscious level, we are suffering from a higher level of stress.
Given job uncertainty, many of us are working harder then ever before, and with companies down-sizing, you may now be doing the job of perhaps two people, and in some cases three. To ease the increasing stress levels, there are relaxation techniques that we can use, however, to ease the increasing work load, we can learn to manage our time more effectively, and in turn reduce our stress levels.
Planning and scheduling
Planning is important because it gives you more control, provided you build in sufficient contingencies for the more ‘reactive’ elements in your life and are realistic about what you are planning to do. Let’s start with some basic techniques in planning:
If you have looked forward for a month or so, you may already have some idea of how you are going to spend your day. You may also have a ‘To Do’ list somewhere. So now it’s a question of scheduling the things you need to do, and those that you want to do.
To Do Lists
Lists are a good idea and by all means keep a master ‘To Do’ list somewhere, containing everything you would like to do and some indication of when it needs to be done by. But the things on the ‘To Do’ list for today should be only the ones that HAVE to be done today. Get those out of the way first and then look at the rest. It’s much more satisfying to have one task that must be done and be able to tick it off, than still be faced at the end of the day with an enormous list.
If you really cannot bear to leave anything off your list for today, at least try and prioritise them. Some people find the following system useful:
Put a letter by each item on the list:
A – definitely
B – possibly
C – it would be nice
D – delegate
Get into the habit of giving serious thought to decomposing tasks into manageable ones; for example, rather than listing ‘Organise conference’, break it down into ‘List delegates’, ‘Find venue’, ‘Check speaker availability’ and so on.
When you work best
In planning your day, be aware of when you work best – or when you are likely to work best. If you know that you are pretty useless first thing in the afternoon, schedule something for that time that you do not have to think about too much, and save your ‘best’ times for when you have to be more creative/productive.
A way of categorising information in filing trays, folders, cardboard wallets, e-mail folders, even desk drawers is outlined below. You need five of them, labelled as follows:
- This Week
- Other People
- For things that arrive
- For things that have to be done today
- For things that have to be done over the following week
- For things that have to be done at some point in the future
- For things to chase
Urgent or important?
Urgent AND Important Do it NOW
Urgent but not Important Consider delegating and at least check
Important but not Urgent Decide when. Plan to do it some other time
Not Important and not Urgent Dump it. Do not do it
Potential time wasters
- Are you addicted? Try and break the habit by logging in at set times of the day; for example, first thing in the morning and for an hour in the afternoon.
- Keep messages brief and resist entering into an ‘e-mail’ debate.
- Think carefully about what you want to happen as a result of your e-mail message, and make it as easy as possible for recipients to respond; for example, put a summary at the top and clearly state what you are expecting as a reply.
- Do not kid yourself that by sending an e-mail something has happened. It has not yet. Use the phone instead and encourage other people to phone you at convenient times.
- Even in these days of office automation, we still get inundated with an amazing amount of paper so what can you do with it?
- If you cannot see its relevance and you know someone else has got a copy – bin it! If it’s really important read it carefully and concentrate on the main points. Then file it somewhere sensible. Consider a central filing system – it takes time to set up, but could help everybody’s efficiency in the long run.
Some interruptions might be important so you do not want to prevent ALL of them. You do however need control over when you are interrupted and how long the interruption takes. Try the following:
- Set a time limit and therefore set the interrupter’s expectations.
- Remain standing so that you can more easily turn away when you want the interruption to end.
- Arrange a meeting later on ‘at their place’. You have more control then over when you leave.
- Be firm about the fact that you have something urgent to attend to. You may have to say this several times!
- Avoid accepting monkeys just to get them to go away. [A ‘monkey’ is the next action of a particular problem].
- Help them to get to the point: “Nice to see you. Is this just a social call or was there something specific you wanted to see me about?