Stress Relief via Time Management

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I feel like this title needs a disclaimer before I begin, and it is this:

Getting more done in terms of work, if you err on the side of workaholism anyway, is not always a good goal to have.  If that’s you, your time management strategies should focus on incorporating self-care into your routine.

If, on the other hand, you err on the side of being (oh, let’s just say it) lazy, then these techniques might help you to accomplish more of your personal goals.

But either way, the techniques are the same.  Here are the strategies that work well for me (and if you want more where this came from, I’d encourage you to check out “The Four Hour Workweek,” by Timothy Ferriss!)

  • Make a list of your goals.  Separate them into personal and professional areas, and within each category, separate those into long and short term goals.  Personal goals might be things like getting in shape, spiritual growth, spending time with family and friends, or learning an instrument.  Professional goals might be (for a small business owner like myself) developing a marketing plan, or enforcing one that is already in place.  Or it might be studying a new topic that will enhance your career options down the line, or keeping up with professional literature.

You know how they say, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time?”  The first step to reaching your goals is always to make them explicit.

  • Structure your time. Time that isn’t structured often ends up being wasted.  I use a couple of tools for this: an excel spreadsheet with an ideal weekly schedule, in which I block off my required tasks and then allocate the remaining time to work towards the goals outlined in step 1 (usually in 1-2 hour increments if I have them), my Google calendar to keep track of any additional events that do not recur every week, and a rolling To-Do list on Google Docfor those incidental chores I need to keep track of and which can’t be predicted in advance.

Tools like this keep me focused so that I don’t waste time, and they also force me to incorporate my personal goals into my routine.  Otherwise I’d always find myself doing whatever seemed to be most important in the moment, and before I knew it, all my personal goals would fly right out the window.

The take home message on this one: figure out what your goals are, schedule time to work towards them, and then guard that time to the best of your ability. 

  • Get up early. There are a LOT fewer distractions in the morning than there are later in the day.  Usually nobody expects you to be anywhere or to do anything in particular early in the morning, which makes possible many of your personal goals which might otherwise never happen.  I get up at least two hours before I have to leave for the day (before I have to leave, not before I have to arrive).  That way I can wake up, work out, shower, make a healthy breakfast and lunch, spend time in prayer and reading my Bible, and (depending on the day) sometimes work towards a few other goals, like reading professional literature, writing fiction, or responding to personal emails.
  • Create a margin.  I’ve learned this the hard way – if you have literally every moment scheduled with no buffer in between, that’s a perfect recipe for stress, because in the real world nothing ever goes quite the way we planned.  Leave room for the accident on the freeway that slows traffic down.  For the unanticipated phone call.  For a friend to ask you for a favor.  The proper ratio, I’m told, is 80/20 – schedule only 80% of your time with either personal, family, or professional goals, and leave 20% available for “life” to happen. If you start to notice that 80% creeping up to 90% or 95%, it might be time to reevaluate whether some of your current goals really need to happen now, or whether they might be better saved for a different season in your life.

Ultimately you are the steward of your time, and it is never worth it to allow yourself to get out of peace.  If that happens, the naturopathic answer is not an anti-anxiety medication so that you can maintain your unhealthy breakneck pace… it’s to treat the cause!

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