Managing Stress by Managing Time
Updated: Jan 22, 2021
Stress is a very common reason that people come to therapy, and no matter the primary source of stress, feeling rushed and not having enough time almost always plays a role. If there were more time, we wouldn’t feel so pressured! So what can you do to better manage the precious resource of time?
There are several core areas of time management. One is how to deal with the day-to-day pile up of seemingly endless things that must be done. Related to that is how to prioritize when everything seems like a priority. But beyond the day-to-day, there is figuring out how to determine what values are behind your decisions. There are also skills to learn that impact time - like how to say no, and removing “should’s” so that they no longer burden you.
What Can You Do Day-to-Day?
Grab a pad of paper, or a device that is always with you and start jotting down what time you start and stop activities. At the end of each day, (or when you have time!) review what you have written. Which things do you spend more time on than you would like? Which things could benefit from one of the following:
Eliminate – Automate – Delegate
Can you declutter your time by eliminating anything at all from your day? Are there things that you are doing at certain intervals based on social protocol vs when they actually need to be done?
Is there anything that can be automated? Are you making the best use of technology to support the tasks that must be done? It may take an initial block of time, or several small blocks of time to get more things automated, but when it is accomplished, it will pay off.
Which things are you doing that could be delegated to others in your life, or that you could hire someone to do? Very often there is one person taking care of the bulk of the household tasks. These can often be taught and delegated to others, making it a more equitable and less resentful family environment. Other times, things can be hired out - dog grooming, house cleaning, meal delivery programs, tax preparation, and others.
How can you determine your values?
One way to determine what you value most is to consider what you hope will be said about you at your funeral. Most people do not wish to be remembered for how many extra hours they put in at the office, or for their meticulous appearance. How do you want to be remembered, and how do you need to spend your time to make that happen?
Another way people think about their values is to determine what they would most regret if they were to come to the end of their life. It is important to make changes while there is time.
How can you establish your priorities?
In his book “First Things First”, Steven Covey encourages you not to prioritize your schedule, but to Schedule your Priorities.
Another way to determine how to balance your time is to jot down all of the areas of your life. Include spiritual, health, mental health, social, financial and other areas you may think of. Also list your roles: parent, child, employee, friend, and others. Then rate your satisfaction with each area from 1-5. Allocate time to focus on the lowest scores first, to bring your life into a better balance.
To prioritize each day, list what is essential for that day. Include self-care including breaks, things that will start the dominoes falling properly, things to meet the larger goals. Don’t start on anything else until these are done. Then move on to what is important but not essential.
What are some other skills and considerations?
Some people often do more than is necessary. A key question to ask yourself comes from “The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook” by Edmund Bourne, Phd. The question to ask yourself on a regular basis is this: Is this life-enhancing, or life-restricting?
Often people believe they are getting more done by multi-tasking. However, our brains can only do one thing at a time, so in reality, we are simply dividing our attention and being less efficient at each task. Distractions and divided attention should be minimized.
Most people need to learn to stop saying yes to too many things but don’t know how to say no. We fall into the trap of thinking about what we “should” do vs what we choose to do.
Often there are habits that can be formed, one at a time, to streamline our tasks.
Establishing routines frees your mental processes and your time.
Our brains lose efficiency without proper care - water, nutrition, sleep and truly effective breaks.
People who struggle with ADHD, insomnia and anxiety tend to have particular difficulty managing time and stress.
For more information on these skills and considerations, contact me or another mental health professional.