Carrying the endless tasks and deliverables you’re responsible for in your head – such as picking up the dozen cupcakes you didn’t have time to make last night for your son’s swim meet bake sale as you run out of work praying for no traffic so you can get there in time to watch him attempt to break the record in the 100 meter freestyle race – can make your heart race as fast as your son in the pool.
So many professionals accept this condition as an unpleasant fact of corporate life. But it’s even worse than that. Chronic stress has been linked to heart disease, asthma, ulcers and other dangerous conditions. So if just wanting to experience joy and ease each day doesn’t seem like a worthy enough goal on its own, it is imperative that we learn to manage our stress for health reasons. Fortunately, there are several strategies and tools that can help.
Tools for Managing Stress While You Manage Your Work and Life
- Good old fashioned paper and pencil – or an app
These quaint objects can take so much off our burdened brains when we simply write down the many things we need to accomplish. Sometimes I can’t remember what I went into the next room to fetch, let alone something that needs to be done a few hours from now. So, I’m a fan of keeping a pocket-sized notebook handy at all times throughout the day so as soon as I think of something that needs to be done in the next day or week, I can write it down immediately and refer to it throughout the day. This has the added benefit of giving you the ability to record an item your boss asks you to do as you rush by her on your way to a meeting that started five minutes ago, which you almost certainly would forget to do when you’re so focused on something else.
You can also assign a priority ranking for each item on your list and commit to completing the most urgent and important tasks before tackling those that are less pressing. If carrying paper around doesn’t seem convenient, try using the notes feature on your smart phone or a free app like Evernote that lets you create notes organized by folders that are stored in the cloud so you can access them on all your electronic devices.
- Your Calendar
People often ask me whether your calendar is a friend or foe. The answer to that really depends on how you use it. If you just add an appointment to it every time someone requests your presence without thinking about
whether it is a good use of your precious time, it can be your enemy. But if you use it to schedule time to complete an important assignment or even – gasp! – time to think, it can be an indispensable ally. If a task has a clear deadline, I often bypass the notebook and schedule it directly into my calendar to be sure it’s completed on time.
- Your Custom Life Closet
What’s this? It sounds strangely out of place, you may be thinking. This is a great way to record your goals for the short-, medium- and long-term along with what you’re going to do to achieve them. This is the subject of my recent article on HBR.org.
Finally, having a friend or colleague to serve as a sounding board, cheerleader, and to hold you accountable can be a great way to stay on track over the long haul.
Recording and ranking your priorities can be a powerful practice to reduce stress while boosting your chances for successfully accomplishing your goals. Doing it with a friend can make the process more joyful – a happy side effect of sound medicine.