Stressed for time? Ways to cope

Stressed for time? Ways to cope

Credit: myRegence

Stressed for time? Ways to cope


by JEANNE FAULKNER / myRegence Contributor

Posted on February 22, 2010 at 4:12 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 9:40 AM

The Amish have a saying, "The hurrier I go, the behinder I get." And it's true. When you feel behind, your stress levels increase, you get distracted, you feel less capable. With all those factors working against you, how can you cope?

The first step is figuring out the problem. Are you overscheduled, or a procrastinator? Do you fritter time away on nonsense? Is too much stuff slowing you down? Do you underestimate how long tasks take? If all of these sound familiar, join the club. Millions of Americans feel that lack of time is at the top of their stress list.

Missy Gerber, a professional organizer and time-management expert with Organizers Northwest in Portland, Ore., says: "You can spend all your money and still earn more. If you spend all your time, you can't get it back." Gerber says people are overwhelmed with commitments and inefficient systems. "Their lives have too much clutter. Stress comes from the loss of control they feel when they can't accomplish their goals."

If you're feeling out of control, here are 10 tips from professionals for getting the most from your valuable commodity: time.

1. Simplify
According to Donna Selles, a professional organizer, "When people have fewer things to deal with and they're well-organized, they gain time and satisfaction with what they have." Selles recommends that families work together to simplify, organize and prioritize the way they'll spend time. How? Here's what she recommends:

  • Buy less stuff 
  • Keep one calendar for the whole family
  • Have specific places for everything so you don't waste time hunting
  • Prioritize by asking, "What's really important?"
  • Make simpler menus
  • Be willing to eliminate possessions and time-hogging commitments

2. Do a Brain Dump
Gerber encourages clients to define their goals by writing down their time-management frustrations and hopes. "What do they want to accomplish? What are their professional, physical, spiritual or family goals? Maybe they want to exercise or sit down to family dinner more. Maybe they want to be more efficient at work." To make these goals a reality, do a brain dump. When it's all on paper, you can see what you're dealing with and decide how to achieve goals by breaking them into easy pieces.

3. Create Lists
It's easy to forget things that aren't written down. If you forget the soap, you'll shop twice. If you forget a deadline, you'll scramble to catch up. Start each day (or do it the night before) reviewing your calendar and goals. Break goals down into steps. Make a to-do list. Check off completed items. Move uncompleted items to the next day, but take note of why they didn't get done and watch for patterns.

4. Clock It
Where does the time go? Find out what you do all day. Gerber's clients keep track of all their activities in 15-minute increments by using a spread sheet to map their time. She encourages clients to customize the worksheet to include all categories that occupy their time. "Once you've logged a few days, review it. Are all those 15-minute slots helping you achieve your goals, or getting in your way? Is that half-hour on Facebook really helping?"

5. Don't Over-Schedule
Think of your time as a container. Like a bucket, it can only hold so much. "Most people overestimate how much their buckets will hold," Gerber says, "and underestimate how much time events actually take." If you're planning on a 15-minute commute but it really takes 20 minutes, you're late and your bucket's too full. That's stressful.

6. Create Space
Don't fill up every hour. Leave wiggle room in your schedule for inevitable delays and add-ons. Give yourself the time it takes--and then some--to get things done. If necessary, schedule time to do nothing. If you finish your tasks ahead of schedule, you'll have time to relax--what a concept!

7. Discover the Power of No
If you're spending time on people, events or projects that aren't in line with your goals, eliminate them. Just say: "No, I can't bake cookies for your fundraiser. I can't come to your candle party. Adding one more meeting isn't possible. Let's reschedule." You don't have to do it all. And people who really care about you would prefer that you miss their cookie exchange if it means you'll spend the week stressing because you don't have time to bake.

8. Don't Multitask
Our brains aren't wired to do several things at once. When we do, we do several things poorly. Gerber says, "If you don't have time to do things right the first time, when will you have time to do them over?" Give your full attention to one thing at a time for short bursts. Use a timer to stay focused. If you hit the 15 minute mark and you're accomplishing what you want, feel free to set it for another 15.

Piggybacking (adding onto activities you're already doing) is better than multitasking. Try packing lunches while you cook dinner or linking two close-together errands instead of making two trips.

9. Stop Procrastinating
Dreading doing something is always worse than actually doing it. Gerber recommends tackling the worst thing on the list first. The rest of your day will seem simpler by comparison.

10. Realize That Nobody's Perfect
Don't get paralyzed by perfectionism. Being afraid that you can't do something perfectly is a huge obstacle to meeting many goals. Doing your best is usually good enough. In fact, it's great--perfectionism is overrated.

Even if you incorporate just a few of these steps, you can make a difference in your busy schedule. In fact, you may find you have more time than you thought!

About the Author

Jeanne Faulkner is a freelance writer and registered nurse in Portland, Ore. Her work appears regularly in Pregnancy and Fit Pregnancy, and she has contributed articles to the Oregonian, Better Homes & Gardens, Shape and other magazines.