Survival Kit for Stress – Tool # 1

Get the Control Back into Your Life!

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” - Stephen Covey

More often than not, we get stressed out when deadlines loom and the mountain of work seems to be getting higher. You may be surprised to hear this: it’s never about the amount of work per se; the stress comes from a feeling of having lost control.

If you look back at the happiest time of your time, most likely you will find it was a time when you had autonomy in your life – a feeling that you have options and time to exercise those options. A good way to test if you have autonomy is to look at your calendar and see how much white space there is and ask, “What’s left for me?”

How does one get autonomy? Firstly, you must manage your time more effectively. Second, you have to learn skills that will help you work smarter. Finally, you must constantly protect space for yourself; to the point of being a little bit selfish and not giving all your time away.

Let’s start by putting first things first, as time management guru Stephen Covey advises. He has a wonderful analogy for effective time management which I have followed to this day, since his First Thing First book came out more than 10 years ago. Picture a big tank, which you want to fill up with big rocks, stones, pebbles, sand and water. For optimum efficiency, in what order would you put these in?

Obviously, the big rocks first, followed by the smaller stones and pebbles, give it a little jiggle, then the sand and finally the water.

Well, in preparing your daily or weekly schedule, Covey stresses that the key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities. Decide first what are the priorities in your life – the most important ones are the big rocks you need to put into your schedule first, and not last, when the extra time comes around (they never do!).

The best is to do a weekly or even monthly schedule so you can put all the various items in – let’s say, you block out your working hours, then fill up the white spaces with activities in order of priority in your life e.g. God, family, self (recreation), career, and so on.

Then do the same with your work hours, prioritise your tasks and duties first, then slot them in. Take into account things like when is your inner rhythm at its peak, so you can schedule the most taxing tasks which need full concentration.

Another tip from Covey is to put your tasks into four quadrants: Urgent and Important; Not Urgent but Important; Urgent but Not Important; and Not Urgent, Not Important. Very often, we get distracted by things which are urgent and screaming for our attention; but we have to be smart enough to turn away things which are not important.

A case in point: we are busy with our work, and suddenly, a phone call comes to tell you your 20-year old niece has just arrived from Australia, can you fetch her please? The smart thing to do is to arrange for her to take a cab instead.

What we often put aside are things we should do – things that are not urgent but are important to our future e.g. taking time off to learn skills that can help us work smarter, or help us move up the corporate ladder, whatever your goal may be. Well, if you are feeling stressed out, use this tool starting today and I assure you, you will soon regain control in your life. To borrow a phrase from Nike, just do it!

Look out for Tool #2 in the next segment of Health Coach International’s Survival Kit for Stress.

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