3 simple ways to subdue stress
Sometimes, declaring mental bankruptcy may be the only manner in which to escape an unsustainable level of stress – but for the most part, reducing stress is a matter of adhering to three simple guidelines.
Get it out of your head
If something is in your head, it is on your mind. If something is on your mind, it consumes your time, energy and attention. And, as the latter are finite resources, it is only natural that you become stressed when you have too many things on your mind. Furthermore, to quote well-known productivity specialist David Allen: “There’s usually an inverse relationship between how much something is on your mind and how much you’re actually doing about it.”
The natural solution, then would be to get things out of your head.
Your brain is not a storage facility, it’s a factory – and should be treated as such. Unless you can silence the hundred small voices crying out for attention in your head, you will never be able to focus properly on any given task, which negatively impacts absolutely everything you do without exception.
What is required to silence the voices is to move everything in your head – be it a potential task, something you should remember or something that might pique your interest at a later point in timne – into an external system. Your storage medium is irrelevant; choose a phone, paper or a PC depending on what best suits your requirements.
The only unbreakable rule is that you must trust the system utterly and completely, or your brain will maintain a process related to the item – akin to selecting copy, as opposed to cut, in your internal file manager.
With everything placed in an external system, your ability to gain a clear overview of what is on your plate increases by an order of magnitude. There are many complicated ways in which to sort and systemize your tasks, all of which should be avoided like the plague in favour of simply spending enough time with your current task load to let your gut decide whether it is sustainable and what your top priorities should be.
When you have reached this point, it is time to simplify. Anything that can be carried out equally well or possibly even better by someone else should be delegated. Anything with limited impact on your progress towards your goals should be sought eliminated. Ruthlessly. Repetitive or redundant tasks and meetings should be escaped unless they generate real value – which happens disappointingly rarely, and particularly so in large organizations.
I call it the death of passion by committee.
The goal here is not to become a minimalist for the sake of minimalism. Rather, this step of the process is intertwined with the next, which is reflection. They come together to allow for a constant evaluation and re-evaluation of what is important and what should be shed.
Finally, you need time to reflect. Don’t you think that it’s a bit odd that most of us schedule time to work and to play, but not to reflect? In simpler times, we often received a gratis dose of reflection courtesy of plain boredom, as we could find ourselves in situations where this was the only option available. Nowadays, there is always something to distract us, which detracts from our ability to focus on what is important to us in the long term. It’s a vicious circle, too, as the effects only worsen over time.
To counteract this, sit down with your calendar and consciously schedule time for reflection – and only that. As useful as small pauses in the hustle and bustle of daily life can be, there is no replacement for distraction-free time which is utilized for nothing other than thinking about the big picture.
The mere process of clarifying of goals tends to reduce stress levels by letting one realize that the effort is worth it – or, just as likely, decide that the opposite holds true with subsequent simplification through elimination as a result. Remember; there’s a difference between work and passion.
Don’t skimp on the amount of time; at least one to two hours twice a week represents a good start, and you will quickly realize whether you need less – or more. Personally, I also attempt four-hour slots recurring monthly to get an even better perspective.
The simple summary
[box]Free up mental resources by storing everything from potential tasks to information outside your head in order to reduce the strain on your inbuilt processing capabilities. This provides a better overview of what rests on your plate, and whether the contents are to your satisfaction. Subsequently, enter an infinite loop of big-picture reflection combined with the continuous process of eliminating and exchanging plate contents until satisfactory.[/box]