Finding time and energy to manage stress
You’re already too stressed; who has the time for stress management? But finding the time and energy has its rewards – and it can be easy.
I’m not going to sit here at my warm keyboard, sipping a mochachocca latte and preach about how easy it is to find time for stress management. Chances are if you are experiencing excess negative stress, you are probably somewhat overwhelmed and are having trouble focussing on getting through today’s “to do” list, let alone on life balance.
So, what I will do, is introduce two techniques that may help you tame the stampede of demands on your time and energy into something less frantic; giving you a chink in the chaos to pause and try one or two resilience-building activities (see the previous column: The resilience-building toolkit).
Cost vs benefit
Many of you will be familiar with the two-by-two matrix, it is a model much favoured by business schools the world over. The real power in using this particular version is that it helps remove emotion from your prioritisation decisions.
• List all tasks that you have to do (at home and at work – remember, we don’t magically leave our private life at the door when we swipe our access cards; mercifully that kind of outdated management thinking has gone the way of leg warmers, shoulder pads and other abominations of the 1980s).
• Assess each task against the two dimensions – i.e. how much benefit (time, money, energy, happiness) will task A give you, versus how much will it cost you (in time, money, energy, happiness)?
• Learning to stand back and be objectively honest, so you can prioritise effectively, is a skill not often taught as part of any curriculum; it just comes with practise.
“But it’s quicker if I do it myself”. I used to say this all the time – it’s the classic refrain of the terminal perfectionist slash Type-A personality. Firstly, understand that you often cause your own stress by having stratospherically high standards and by arrogantly assuming no one else is as capable as you – apologies if that sounds too brutally honest, but it’s true. Learn to say “no” and accept that you cannot be everything to all people and you cannot do everything your way.
Delegation is an art: consider the S.M.A.R.T.E.R. technique as a paint-by-numbers: Be Specific in your instructions; ensure the task is Measurable; mutually Agree on what is being delegated; ensure the delegation is Realistic, both in terms of the task itself and the skills set of the person to whom you are delegating; the delegation must be Time bound and Ethical; it must also be Recorded.
I understand that for many people relinquishing control isn’t easy – we like our comfort zones, no matter how uncomfortable they may be! My advice here is the same as it has been throughout this series of columns: start small and practise. Don’t set unrealistic expectations that you will become an expert delegator overnight when you have spent a lifetime doing everything yourself.
Don’t overanalyse why you have no time – try these techniques, celebrate the successes, use the time freed up to invest in yourself (not to take on other tasks!) and repeat the cycle.
Remember: small changes add up to make a significant difference; however, the horrible, awful truth – and you know this – is that if you do nothing, nothing will happen. With regards to stress, that’s not strictly true – if you do nothing, it is likely to get worse.
In the next column we will re-open the resilience-building toolkit and describe more practical tools, tips and techniques to help you manage your stress and build resilience.
Richard Hawkey, author of Life Less Lived and founder of equilibriumsolutions, spent many years pounding the corporate treadmill until literally falling off; diagnosed with burnout and clinical depression. Now, Hawkey has combined his general management and leadership experience with lessons learnt from mismanaging stress, to become a self-styled anti-stress evangelist. He specialises in identifying stress in oneself and others; the personal and professional impacts; and how one can break out of the negative spiral and emerge vigorous and vital to realise quantifiable benefits.