Regardless of your role in the organisation, from time to time, the work is simply overwhelming. These stressful times often lead to a burnout. It can be caused by external threats like fear of losing your job, personal or management issues and so on. Nevertheless, in many cases, the stress is mainly related to how we organise our working day and could be solved with some good old time management.
The reason behind the stress is usually not the excessive amount of work but difficulties in following up. This leads to falling behind on many activities thus creating a sense of not being up to the task. Some people get so frustrated that they start blaming others – the organisation, colleagues, customers, even their loved ones.
We constantly get new tasks and appointments, pressure keeps building, leading us to last-in-first-out mindset. This is when the stress starts growing. Even though the new tasks keep coming in, we keep in mind all the tasks that are being delayed and they become our Damocles sword. This unfinished business builds the psychological pressure, eventually leading us to a burnout.
Top 6 Causes of Stress
- The number of tasks: this includes everything you must do, sending an email, making a phone call, reading a document, attending a meeting or simply having a conversation with someone.
- The deadlines: by when you must complete the task, is the date fixed or vague, are there in-between steps.
- The workload: the time you are expecting to spend on the task. It should include both the preparation and performance. For example, a one-hour meeting may need a full day preparation. Consider also travel time and other time-consuming activities associated with the task.
- The task importance: meaning of this task for you personally? Is it challenging? May it have an impact on your career or your personal life?
- The unknown: the more our working day is chaotic, the more we feel the pressure. This also includes the cases where you just remember, at the last minute, something you need to do.
- Individual task VS Team effort: are other people involved in completing the task or is it something you are doing alone, like writing an e-mail or reading a document? If more people are involved, how many?
Sounds all too familiar, doesn’t it? The good news is that most of these factors are under our control, which makes it possible for us to manage them. We prepared a couple of time management tips that will allow you to handle these issues better and reduce the stress of your daily activities.
Time Management Tips – On the Road to Productivity
The main goal is to get things under control in order to be able to face emergencies or unexpected duties and avoid getting stressed out. To do this, you will have to organise your work in two phases: sorting the activities and scheduling your workday.
Sorting the Activities
1. Make the To-Do List
The list should contain 3 parameters: The Task, The Deadline, The (expected) Time Allocation. Even though the to-do list is a living entity which will constantly change, the more accurate it is the more efficiently you will manage your activities.
First, create a complete list of tasks that lie ahead. Next, break down big activities into smaller, simpler ones. Let’s take this construction analogy as an example: building a house is a massive task but if you start thinking about it as buying bricks and putting them together it becomes less intimidating.
2. Define the Priorities
Assigning priorities is not trivial. Most people use the low/high priority and end up with 90% of the high priority tasks. Attributing priorities 1, 2, … does not improve the situation.
I prefer to base myself with The Eisenhower method dividing the tasks using the Urgent and Important criteria. Using this method, you end up dividing your tasks in:
- Urgent & Important (UI): Tasks that have a short deadline and a high impact on you or your objectives. Those are the tasks you should focus on.
- Non-urgent but Important (uI): Tasks that will have a high impact on you or your organisation but with no time pressure connected to them. Address them in time as they may soon become UI.
- Urgent but not important (Ui): Tasks with a short deadline but with less impact on you or your organisation. Aim to delegate them to someone else. If you cannot, they will become UI.
- Non-urgent and not important (ui): Tasks with a minor effect, even if not performed. While you may not be able to ignore them, they should not interfere with the other activities until they change status. Delegating them is a good option.
3. Handle Team Activities
At this point, set apart tasks that you can do alone from those that will require interaction with others – whether you are expecting someone to do something or you need to work together with someone, like have a meeting.
Scheduling Your Working Day
Now that you know what you have to do, you have to know when. Keep in mind that your list will be evolving and priorities changing.
1. Time Allocation
Don’t overbook yourself too often, you will just end up accumulating delays.
2. Mixed Activities
Now is time to fill your agenda with tasks, sort them by deadline and priority, get rid of the Ui and ui by delegating or by postponing them. Concentrate on the UI and uI and sort them by the deadline.
When several tasks have a similar deadline, start by doing the small quick ones. By doing this, you will shorten your to-do list and have more time to allocate the more complex tasks.
If you have an important activity that is causing you a great deal of stress, like signing a contract, discussing a crisis, presentation to a superior, allocate extra time before, either for lesser tasks or just for preparation. If a month of preparation comes down to a thirty-minute meeting, you want to get there in the right state of mind, right?
Of course, there will always be those who push to change your agenda. Whenever a rescheduling request arrives, ask yourself who will benefit from the change in your schedule. If rescheduling does not have real benefits, just learn to say no.
And most of all, don’t be afraid to push back activities if you are overloaded. Better produce few high-quality task than a lot of badly done activities. Remember that your health and wellbeing might be at stake.