Article Summary:Why saying NO will reduce your stress.
This week I was gently reminded of the importance to plan and prioritize projects. I say gently, because the reminder was not directed at me but to my friends and colleagues. I watched a neighbor run back and forth between home and "errandland" three times in less than two hours, a colleague add another work project to her already full plate, and found myself thinking "No wonder busy men and women today are so stressed - we're afraid to say NO." What would happen if we said NO and really meant it? Would the sky fall if you did not bake cookies again for your son's class party? Would the internet shut down if you did not add fresh content to your website as scheduled? Would your manager fire you for passing on a new project? Most of the time, the answer to these questions is, ironically, NO.
It's very easy for me to pass judgment on these overworked overly-stressed people, isn't it? Afterall, I'm an expert in efficiency and time management, conquering clutter and changing people's lives. But the part of me who is a worker, mother, wife, woman, neighbor, daughter, and friend shares the same struggle as you each and every day.
Here are ways you can reduce the stress and constant overload in your work and home life, one day at a time:
1) Prioritize - Use simple tools to plan your day such as lists and really use them to prioritize your time. Don't just make a running list of things to do today, but group them by A, B, and even C priority.
Here's a tip: one of my clients likes to throw in a no-brainer to get herself motivated, such as MAKE A LIST, TURN ON COMPUTER, or PULL CHARTS. It's amazing how good you feel about yourself when you see a bright highlighted task crossed off your list!
2) Delegate - Share the load. Yes, it's easy to do when you are the boss and it's your job to direct and coordinate people and projects. But take that concept home with you, and you can dish out several chores to free up your time.
Teenagers and spouses can run an errand or two, your 10-year-old can set the table for dinner, and even the baby (well, he's 3 but you call him your baby anyway) can grab a pint-sized feather duster and help you chase the dust bunnies away.
Make it as structured as you wish, but do pull this tool out of your Manager's Toolbox often - it's the best way I know to teach the kids responsibility and give mom and dad back a little free time to boot.
3) Limit Interruptions - Don't have an open door policy, screen your phonecalls, and stick to your rules. Manage your cubicle and home the same way, by concentrating on the task at hand and blocking out all the distractions.
It's the new millenneum, so use those shiny power tools! Let the voicemail or answering machine be your secretary to screen calls, provide outgoing announcements, or to put your mind at ease. Turn off the ringer to your cell phone during movies, dinner, and walks in the park with your husband. (It's ok, really. No one will call the SuperParent police on you for not being accessible 24/7.)
4) Consolidate - By limiting interruptions during the day, you can focus on the immediate project or problem, then tackle the others at YOUR convenience. Voicemail has collected all those calls from clients or patients, and after your report is written, it's time for you to tackle them in a big time block.
Run errands on one day of the week, rather than going back and forth to town. Farmers' wives know full well how practical it is to go into town on a routine basis, and even urbanites can learn from this practice. You'll save gas, finish just one more little task, and find some hidden time for yourself.
5) Use time blocks - After using the time savers I mentioned earlier, you should be able to really focus on getting one or two of those A PRIORITY tasks accomplished. Not all of them, but some. And if your lists look like that of most of my clients, crossing just ONE thing off your list would be quite a feat!
Most of us learn better with the help of visual aids, so close your eyes and picture this: Picture a slim attractive mother of 3 gulping down a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in one huge bite, and slurping down a BIG GULP in 4 swallows. Not a pretty picture is it? Wouldn't you like to tell that woman: Slow down, you're going to choke! That burger isn't going anywhere, so eat it slowly and savor it!
Now picture that same woman slowly eating her cheeseburger one small bite at a time, savoring each morsel and enjoying the flavor of the grilled hamburger and cheddar cheese. She pauses to take a sip of her soda, taking the time to delicately wipe her mouth with a napkin. She chews her food and enjoys it, one bite at a time.
Get the picture? No matter what the BIG task is, you can tackle it one bite at a time. Need to clean out the garage, but you're waiting for a weekend of uninterrupted time? It's probably never going to happen! But you CAN clean it an hour each night after you get home from work, and pretty soon it will actually be organized. It's not going to dissolve into the mist like Brigadoon, so taking your time can't really hurt, can it?
One of my clients had not filed her personal papers for a year, and had almost given up. She was waiting for uninterrupted time to do this project all at once, but her husband and 2 kids kept her too busy. After learning her "system" and talking to her about the busy livestyle she led, we came up with a new system, one that she would really use. She used the hour her youngest son napped to sort and do light filing of the huge paper stack, sitting with her older son during his "quiet time" as he watched a video. Mom worked at a slow pace, #1 son got some quality time with her, and #2 son recharged his batteries. Within 2 weeks, the project was completed - what was once an overwhelming task that made her feel overwhelmed had turned into a new filing system, and it didn't take forever to finish. Now she files her paperwork on a weekly basis, and feels such a sense of accomplishment!
Most organizing projects can be approached using the "one bite at a time" method. This is not new, or earth-shattering, but it's nice to be reminded of the common sense tips now and again. Delegating, limiting interruptions, and planning are other management tools that have been around for ages. Use them in all aspects of your busy lives. And start saying No Thank You those additional tasks handed to you during the course of the day - your plate's already full.
Debbie Williams is an author, speaker and organizing strategist who offers tools and training to help you put your life in order. Learn more at from her website at Organized Times.